Over the last week, I have been laying out the Orthodox Christian perspective on marriage and why it is not an option to simply ‘go with the flow.’ The question is: what are we supposed to do? In the wake of what seems like an overwhelming movement against God and His church, how shall we then live ?
The first thing that should be clear to everyone is that the trajectory that Christian culture has taken over the last 30 years has been unwise. The rise of the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority pitted ‘us’ against ‘them’ and helped to create a culture where dialogue is not possible and bully tactics were encouraged (whatever it takes to win). Now, as the Moral Majority has turned into the minority and the power has shifted, we see the same strong-arming aimed at the church. When the gun is aimed at you, you recognize how uncomfortable it must have been to be on the other end. The political/cultural power struggle has not worked, and more importantly, was not a strategy the church should have ever backed in the first place.
So what should we do? Time magazine offered a very pessimistic option in an article by Rob Dreher, called “Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country.” In the article, he offers what he calls the ‘Benedict Option’ (the saint not the traitor), which is a flee from culture in order to regroup, live in peace, and survive to be a positive influence in the future.
Others have pushed back against this retreat, most notably those who believe that transformation is the Christian goal. In optimism, they have argued for the Jeremiah model where living for the good of society will provide a positive future. The article ends by stating: The Jeremiah Option gives me reason to hope that Jews, Christians, and the rest of us can find peace together.
I was re-reading GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy the other day and in it he tells the tale of the optimist and the pessimist, who are described this way: the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and that the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself. He comes to the conclusion that the pessimists (Benedict Option) falls short because while it is critical it does not love; he lacks the loyalty that leads to great things. The optimist (Jeremiah Option) falls short because while it loves deeply it fails to discern; he ends up defending that which is indefensible.
This will simply lead us to an argument of the two ditches, where we point to both extremes and proclaim, ‘stay somewhere in the middle.’ The middle is a place where people sit rather than stand. The middle is a home for those who want a comfortable place to rest. This life is not about rest; it is about a passionate pursuit of GOOD. This is why the optimist (things are good) and the pessimist (things are not good) both seem so unsatisfactory; they both offer a conclusion that is easily rejected in the experience of life. Chesterton asserts that Christian dogma, the story of God makes sense of it all:
I had found this hole in the world: the fact that one must somehow find a way of loving the world without trusting it; somehow one must love the word without being worldly. I found this projecting feature of Christian theology, like a sort of hard spike, the dogmatic insistence that God was personal, and had made a world separate from Himself. The spike of dogma fitted exactly into the hole in the world — it had evidently been meant to go there — and then the strange thing began to happen. When once these two parts of the two machines had come together, one after another, all the other parts fitted and fell in with an eerie exactitude. …
But the important matter was this, that it entirely reversed the reason for optimism. And the instant the reversal was made it felt like the abrupt ease when a bone is put back in the socket. I had often called myself an optimist, to avoid the too evident blasphemy of pessimism. But all the optimism of the age had been false and disheartening for this reason, that it had always been trying to prove that we fit in to the world. The Christian optimism is based on the fact that we do not fit in to the world. I had tried to be happy by telling myself that man is an animal, like any other which sought its meat from God. But now I really was happy, for I had learnt that man is a monstrosity. I had been right in feeling all things as odd, for I myself was at once worse and better than all things. The optimist’s pleasure was prosaic, for it dwelt on the naturalness of everything; the Christian pleasure was poetic, for it dwelt on the unnaturalness of everything in the light of the supernatural. The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place, and I had still felt depressed even in acquiescence. But I had heard that I was in the wrong place, and my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring. The knowledge found out and illuminated forgotten chambers in the dark house of infancy. I knew now why grass had always seemed to me as queer as the green beard of a giant, and why I could feel homesick at home.
In the end, Chesterton comes to the conclusion that we should be both pessimistic and optimistic; not in a safe middle ground way, but in a reckless manner. We should be more optimistic than the most positive person because we not only believe that good is possible, but that it is inevitable. We should be more pessimistic because we know how deep the stain of sin goes. He says:
We must hate the world enough to change it, and yet love the world enough to think it worth changing.
Our hatred for the world does not dilute the love and the love does not dilute the hatred. They live together as friends; they fuel one another. The gospel makes us MORE human and makes us able to be homesick at home. Chesterton goes on:
The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.
Our love for the world flows out of our love for the Creator. Our hatred of sin comes from our love of the Creator. Our willingness to engage in the monstrosity of life comes from our love of the Creator. Our hope for something better comes out of our love for the Creator. We live this life, not with a plan of what will work, or what is going to achieve a desired end. We live this life boldly proclaiming the truth of God and living out His grace and love simultaneously, revealing an otherworldly approach that comes to us from an otherworldly source. We must be different enough that people notice and connected enough that people can see it.