A question between mysticism and madness

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.

– G. K. Chesterton, Introduction to the Book of Job

Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.`Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

Job 42:3

Have you and I discovered in this Advent that there are some things that are “too wonderful for us to know”? That there are mysteries in this life that give us a strange sense of peace rather than perplexity? If so, we have been led by God to that most important of gifts from above: a sound mind or sanity. God has constructed the universe with things that are beyond our reach, and as Chesterton observes, “we step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws“. These are the things that sanity tells us to keep as mysteries.

The Mystic

Sanity is the subject of most of Chesterton’s writings for the simple reason that the world is going mad. In fact, as Dale Ahlquist points out:
America leads the world in many things, including mental illness. Our mixed up society helps produce mixed up people. We are mixed up about religion, education, sex, and two other very basic things: politics and economics. We are basically insane when it comes to the role of money and laws and our daily bread. We want as much money as possible, we also want the government to supply everything we want, and we don’t expect to have to pay for it.

An ongoing theme in all of Chesterton’s writings is sanity and its connection to mysticism. The basic argument of Orthodoxy is that the Apostle’s Creed would be the best basis for a sane society, that modern philosophies not only do not lead to truth, they lead to madness. We see the theme in Chesterton’s fiction as well, such as in the series of mystery stories called The Poet and the Lunatics.

“Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus, he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus, he believes that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.”

― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Sanity is about wholeness, completeness. Insanity is about narrowness and brokenness. We live in broken society and it is ruled by two very broken, narrow social philosophies that seem to be at war with one another when they are in fact co-conspirators against the common man: socialism and capitalism, or Hudge and Gudge, to whom we were introduced in “What’s Wrong with the World.

In this broken society, it is satisfying that we can be whole with the help of Christ. Indeed, it is more than satisfying, it is a relief! It is His gift of mysticism that keeps us sane.

“Some Determinists fancy that Christianity invented a dogma like free will for fun — a mere contradiction. This is absurd. You have the contradiction whatever you are. Determinists tell me, with a degree of truth, that Determinism makes no difference to daily life. That means that although the Determinist knows men have no free will, yet he goes on treating them as if they had.

The difference then is very simple. The Christian puts the contradiction into his philosophy. The Determinist puts it into his daily habits. The Christian states as an avowed mystery what the Determinist calls nonsense. The Determinist has the same nonsense for breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper every day of his life.

The Christian, I repeat, puts the mystery into his philosophy. That mystery by its darkness enlightens all things. Once grant him that, and life is life, and bread is bread, and cheese is cheese: he can laugh and fight. The Determinist makes the matter of the will logical and lucid: and in the light of that lucidity all things are darkened, words have no meaning, actions no aim. He has made his philosophy a syllogism and himself a gibbering lunatic.

It is not a question between mysticism and rationality. It is a question between mysticism and madness. For mysticism, and mysticism alone, has kept men sane from the beginning of the world. All the straight roads of logic lead to some Bedlam, to Anarchism or to passive obedience, to treating the universe as a clockwork of matter or else as a delusion of mind. It is only the Mystic, the man who accepts the contradictions, who can laugh and walk easily through the world.” – G.K. Chesterton, Blatchford Controversies, 1904

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