The Man Who
The Problem of Evil
"A man cannot expect any
adventures in the land of anarchy. But a man can expect any number of
adventures if he goes travelling in the land of authority. One can find
no meanings in a jungle of scepticism; but the man will find more and more
meanings who walks through a forest of doctrine and design. . . . It is
only since I have known orthodoxy that I have known mental
the Problem of Evil
- Darwin in his Origin of the Species
complains that if God existed, then the world is poorly designed, so
materialistic evolution is a better explanation. Nietzsche, taking
Darwin one step further, denies the problem of evil entirely,
insisting that if we move "beyond good and evil" only then
can embrace the world for what it is.
- Chesterton argues that the evolutionary
and Nietzschean views of the world (and therefore of evil) do not
begin with a deep enough sense of their own limited understanding. His
theodicy is a sapiential one. His practice explores the skeptical
limitations of human knowledge.
- Such a practice operates from a stance
of stability but also practices openness, antithesis, playfulness, and
analogy--all methods which call into question the stable beginning
place. The goal is both to see what can be known about the problem of
evil, but also to recognize what cannot be known.
- The problem of evil becomes a puzzle
that one explores in order to reach one's limits and, thus, respond to
God in trust, awe, and fear.
- In his 1907 introduction to Job,
Chesterton observes the following four aspects to God's answer to Job
in the whirlwind:
- God uses a higher skepticism to answer
the more limited skepticism of humans.
- Strangely, God's riddles give Job
- God insists that the world is far more
mysterious than we can know.
- God's hidden knowledge of the world is
finally joyous and not despairing.
- How does Chesterton continue to explore
the themes of madness and reason, as well as fear and joy, in the
second half of the book?
- How important is it that we recognize
the book is a dream (even a nightmare)?
- Does the reader's conception of Syme
change by the end? If so, how?
- Why do the detectives each conceive of
- How do the days of creation reveal some
aspect of each detective?
- What is Chesterton's understanding of
impressionism? Why does he find it problematic?
- How does he employ apocalyptic language
as the book progresses?
- What is the double-sided secret of the
world? What does this suggest about the problem of evil?
- How is Gregory a satan, an accuser, such
as the one in Job?
- Why does the novel end the way it does?
"I have often been asked what I mean
by the monstrous pantomime ogre who was called Sunday in that story; and
some have suggested, and in one sense not untruly, that he was meant for a
blasphemous version of the Creator. But the point is that the whole story
is a nightmare of things, not as they are, but as they seemed to the young
half-pessimist of the '90s; and the ogre who appears brutal but is also
cryptically benevolent is not so much God, in the sense of religion or
irreligion, but rather Nature as it appears to the pantheist, whose
pantheism is struggling out of pessimism."
"You ask me who Sunday is? Well, you
may call him Nature, if you like. But you will note that I hold that when
the mask of Nature is lifted you find God behind. All that wild exuberance
of Nature, all its strange pranks, all its seeming indifference to the
wants and feelings of men, all that is only a mask."
--Interview, 24 January 1926
"I think you can take him to stand for
Nature as distinguished from God. Huge, boisterous, full of vitality,
dancing with a hundred legs, bright with the glare of the sun, and at
first sight, somewhat regardless of us and our desires. There is a phrase
used at the end, spoken by Sunday: 'Can ye drink from the cup I
drink of?' which seems to mean that Sunday is God. That is the only
serious note in the book, the face of Sunday changes, you tear off the
mask of Nature and you find God."
- Do you find Chesterton's explanation of
Sunday satisfying? Why or why not?
- Likewise, do you find his answer to the
anarchists (and to the problem of evil) satisfying?
- If you were to describe the natural
world, how would you?
- In Orthodoxy, Chesterton holds
that Christianity, rather than seeking to achieve an Aristotelian
mean, holds the various extremes of human emotion and virtue in
equipoise by giving them appropriate places in which to express
rightly their extremity. Is this true?