“Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good. Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other good things in a society no longer work that the society begins to decline; when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless.”
So says G.K. Chesterton in one among many poignant observations in ‘The Everlasting Man.’
But whether this is his magnum opus or not, it is at a minimum his response to a principal antagonist in H.G. Wells, specifically his work in ‘The Outline of History.’
And indeed, Chesterton’s was an apt description of where we are now. Many – particularly Christians in America – have grown pessimistic, weary in doing good, dogmatically insistent on going with the flow because they are tired of the good. Thus our food does not feed, our cures do not cure, and our blessings refuse to bless.
This is what it means that we are now in a Recession. But the kind of Recession we are in, easily enough transformed into a full-blown Depression, is chiefly spiritual. It stems from being obsessively aware of our feelings and sensations, even being sensual, but being ultimately senseless where truth, goodness, and beauty are concerned.
More and more America resembles Chesterton’s description in ‘The Everlasting Man’ “of the static commercial oligarchies like Carthage,” “standing and staring like mummies.” Ours is increasingly the tired democracy he warns about as ending up in despotism and tyranny, and all because men grow weary of doing good themselves and prefer to appoint as few men as possible to the task as their representatives doing it for them.
But on this note, where Chesterton is long gone except in memory and his prolific writings, we do well to consider. Are we producing such thinkers in our day? And what we do with them when we get them?
“Despotism can be a development, often a late development and very often indeed the end of societies that have been highly democratic.” But the cure for what ails us is not to camp out on such pronouncements in resignation, but rather to heed them and be spurred to action.
The men who grow tired of evil rather than of good do not turn pessimistic. Instead, they are stirred to manful action. We need more men to “play the man” along the lines of Proverbs 12:9 instead of playing the great man. Whatever impressions I’ve given as late to the contrary, by all means be lowly as Jesus was lowly! But realize therein that lowliness before God is the antithesis to fearing what man may do to us, and that there is an inverse relationship between our fear of God and our fear of man.
Is that not why we have grown weary of doing good, because we fear what men may do to us when we do? And what of what the Apostle Paul wrote the Thessalonians about aspiring to live a quiet life? We do not know what is our business that we should mind it. Instead, we are content to have our faculties reduced to only what we can see, touch, taste, hear, and feel with our natural senses. And we have become experts about our emotions and subsequent impressions.
But if we are to avoid the mummification of our society, and thereby its subsequent downfall and ruin, we do well to consider that such is our business, and mind it. But God gave us the mind for more than careful study of our feelings. And therein lies the trouble with our therapeutic age which carries evolutionary assumptions to their devolutionary conclusions. In becoming wise in our own eyes, our foolish hearts have been darkened, and we do not believe that we are everlasting men in Christ. We do not expect eternity so much as we say we are preferring to meditate on it.
Being so Heavenly minded ought to produce in us Earthly good. Yet Earthly good is often slandered and libeled as fleshly and carnal by those who resemble more the brothers of David than David himself. Where the equivalence of Goliath presents itself, shepherd boys are encouraged to keep quiet and go home. All the while, the pessimism inherent must be overruled at all costs.
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