Tuesday, March 14, 2006

God Is Not Pink

G.K. Chesterton’s intellectual and spiritual pilgrimage took some interesting turns, as we read in his famous book, Orthodoxy. One of the things he found attractive about Christianity and the Church is the paradoxical way in which some apparent opposites could be held together: mercy and justice, humility and dignity, marriage and celibacy, losing one’s life to save it, etc. But in order to hold these things together, the Church does not emphasize one over the other, nor seek some compromise that is neither one nor the other. She holds each in its full strength.

“We want not an amalgam or compromise, but both things at the top of their energy: love and wrath both burning… I need not remind the reader that the idea of this combination is indeed central in orthodox theology. For orthodox theology has specially insisted that Christ was not a being apart from God and man, like an elf, nor yet a being half human and half not, like a centaur, but both things at once and both things thoroughly, very man and very God…

“It is true that the historic Church has at once emphasized celibacy and emphasized the family; has at once (if one may put it so) been fiercely for having children and fiercely for not having children. It has kept them side by side like two strong colors, red and white, like the red and white on the shield of St George. It has always had a healthy hatred of pink. It hates that combination of two colors which is the feeble expedient of the philosophers. It hates that evolution of black into white which is tantamount to a dirty gray… Christianity sought in most of these cases to keep two colors coexistent but pure.”

In this the Church is the image of Christ, who is God and man, merciful and just, forgiving and chastising, generous and demanding—each in full measure, and not some compromised version in between. A famous icon of Christ from Mt Sinai gives an image of this fullness, written right into the face of Christ. This may be a bit difficult to attempt on your computer screen, but if you cover one half of the face of Christ, you will see a very stern face, that of the Righteous and Uncompromising Judge. Cover the other half and you will see the face of the Gentle and Compassionate Savior. The same person is both in full—not partly just and partly merciful, but wholly just and wholly merciful, as Christ is true God and true man. To use Chesterton’s colors, God is not pink, but is red and white in full strength and purity. This is not a logical presentation; it is a divine mystery.

When washed in the crimson Blood of the Lamb, our robes become white. In the Book of Revelation, those saints who are given special mention are the martyrs and virgins, the red of bloodshed and the white of purity. They stand as one body before God—not made pink but still one, united but distinct, both red and white. The Holy Trinity is one and three; not mixture of the three blended into one, but the full distinctness of three in the full unity of one.

Chesterton continues on the paradoxes of Christianity: “…this explains what is so inexplicable to all the modern critics of the history of Christianity. I mean the monstrous wars about small points of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word. It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you are balancing. The Church could not afford to swerve a hair’s breadth on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of the irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful and some other idea would become too powerful. It was not flock of sheep the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers, of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world. Remember that the Church went in specifically for dangerous ideas… the idea of birth through a Holy Spirit, of the death of a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins, or the fulfillment of prophecies, are ideas which, anyone can see, need but a touch to turn them into something blasphemous or ferocious…

“This is the thrilling romance of orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There was never anything so perilous or exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic… The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman; it is easy to be a heretic… It is always easy to be a modernist, as it is easy to be a snob… It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”

We do not want a pink God or a pink Church. We want the whole truth, the full power of divine revelation, the exhilarating, terrifying, consoling, pure coexistence of the red and the white. In short, we want God as He is and the Church as He established her, so we can be who we are really created to be. Only thus will we be able to celebrate the truth and love and glory of God forever.