The Heart of the World
Aug 31, 2011
“But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”
“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”
“Oh yes. I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”
“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.”
“But I do. That’s how I believe.”1
One of my favorite things about being a Christian is the fact that there’s no such thing as “too good to be true.” The phrase is a contradiction: being Christian means knowing that the good and the true are the same. The truer a thing is, the more good it is, and vice versa.
I know the Brideshead quotation sounds like pure naïveté. In one sense it is. Anybody who lives in the world knows that true things, facts, are very often not good and not beautiful. You just have to read the news. Forget that, you just have to walk down the street: every time I walk out of the Y, the same junkies are sitting on the curb, too drugged out even to know how miserable they are.2
Forget even walking down the street, you just have to grow up in the 21st century, in your own family. I don’t care how wonderful your family is; whenever you get any group of people together there will be bitterness, misunderstanding, and even cruelty. That’s not what people are at heart, but it’s what sin does to the world.
Christianity doesn’t deny any of those things. On the contrary, I don’t know of any system of thought that takes suffering more seriously: even after Jesus rose from the dead in glory, there were still nail wounds in his hands.
Christianity doesn’t even say, “Yes, the world’s dreadful but if you just wait long enough you’ll die and then you’ll get to be happy!” To be Christian isn’t to ignore suffering or to wait for it to be over, but to “accept and use suffering as Christ did: that is, as a creative, redemptive act.”3 To make suffering the tool of love.
Christianity says this: the best things are also the truest things, and the most beautiful. Beautiful things are beautiful because they are true. That’s what beauty is: it is what truth does to us. We are built to be drawn to truth, to love it like a mole loves dirt, like meat loves salt.4
Being a Christian means never having to decide between what’s true and what you love. It’s just that figuring out what you love, and what love is, takes time, and learning how to strip away everything else.