Why am I so fearful of God’s peace?
Since my father’s suicide in September, the pain and suffering encompassing my grief have instilled in the seat of my affection a fear of approaching God’s peace. I possess a mental assurance of rest, but my soul wrestles with restlessness.
During this time I have found solace, an escape route, in the works of G.K. Chesterton.
Chesterton, the master of all things paradoxical, explored man’s rejection of God’s reconciliation in the fantasy-suspense novel The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare.
Published in 1907, this surprising twist on the detective novel offers an allegorical approach to understanding God’s acquaintance with suffering. Chesterton had also been studying the Book of Job around this time, the theme of which is evident in the journey of Thursday’s protagonist Gabriel Syme.
“If you were from the first our father and our friend, why were you also our greatest enemy? We wept, we fled in terror; the iron entered into our souls—and you are the peace of God! Oh, I can forgive God His anger, though it destroyed nations; but I cannot forgive Him His peace.”
The accusations leveled against the “antagonist” Sunday in the climax of the novel reflect the clever paradox Chesterton designed in this narrative: those who sought to uphold order were, in fact, attempting to destroy ultimate peace.
Confronted with the revelation that their enemy was indeed their greatest ally, each of the undercover detectives expresses resentment and pain, even childlike hurt, as they come to terms with reality. Then the accuser par excellence approaches to slander Sunday for his alleged inability to suffer.
But it is the paranoia of Gabriel Syme that I found most captivating as I read the novel. As an undercover detective posing as an anarchist, Syme found himself isolated and afraid of death. He could trust no one, and the person he set out to defeat was his greatest comfort.
“It is not true that we have never been broken. We have been broken upon the wheel. It is not true that we have never descended from these thrones. We have descended into hell.”
Syme’s chief occupation was a poet, communicating thoughts and ideals in abstract. This obscure nightmare, on the other hand, offered him the concrete reality of human suffering.
“The central idea of the great part of the Old Testament may be called the idea of the loneliness of God,” writes Chesterton in his introduction to the Book of Job. In this essay, Chesterton explores the role of human suffering in the divine and unbending purpose of God. Or, as Chesterton said, “the book is so intent upon asserting the personality of God that it almost asserts the impersonality of man.”
But what are the purposes of God in Job’s suffering? The account of Job does not answer this question, despite the fact that God rebukes both Job’s accusations and his friends’ defenses. Chesterton uses this omission to draw a typology between Job and Christ.
“In the prologue we see Job tormented not because he was the worst of men, but because he was the best…I need not suggest what high and strange history awaited this paradox of the best man in the worst fortune,” Chesterton concludes.
Chesterton himself would never expound on the meaning of Thursday, too humble to admit his genius and his ability to craft a soul-wrenching allegory on the suffering Messiah.
What is clear in the nightmarish haze of Thursday, however, is that the loneliness of God described in Job’s suffering is reversed in the loneliness of the Incarnation — God’s suffering. This loneliness accomplished peace for his people, so that in our pain and suffering we have an Advocate.
The year following the publication of The Man Who Was Thursday, Chesterton released his most important work, Orthodoxy. In some ways his spiritual autobiography, Chesterton explored the various paradoxes of the Christian faith.
In the closing chapter, Chesterton marveled over the paradox of joy in the Christian faith. Suffering and sorrow is commonplace for the Christian, but everlasting joy is unique and extraordinary. In Jesus, Chesterton points out the visibility of his sadness and imagines the source of his joy.
“There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth,” Chesterton ponders in the closing words of Orthodoxy.
Jesus, my source of peace and rest. The God-Man who bears my affliction.
Only in the blackness before it entirely destroyed his brain he seemed to hear a distant voice saying a commonplace text that he had heard somewhere, “Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?”
The loneliness of suffering forces us to reckon with ourselves, naked and bare. The horror of self-realization and temptation of pity cause us, and have caused me, to resist reconciliation. Sabbath with God only comes through abandoning the notion that we have everything figured out and running toward the One we used to hate.
And just as Gabriel Syme, fear captures my heart as I approach from behind the peace of God, yet I know joy will overcome me when I look back upon his face.