Frank Johnson

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G. K. Chesterton was both a colorful figure and a prolific writer. He lived in England in roughly the first half of the 20th century. He wrote stories about a fictional Catholic priest named Father Brown, who had a penchant for solving mysteries. He also wrote essays about economics that criticized both socialist and capitalist notions. And, he wrote often about philosophy and religion. He was a rather famous convert to Catholicism, ironically crediting the faulty arguments of non-believers with convincing him of the fundamental truth in Christianity. Perhaps that is why he is often considered the master of paradox.

Chesterton was also the master of the pithy sentence — like this one, for instance: “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” He was justly skeptical of the person who constantly touted keeping “an open mind.” Think about it. You can debate the salient claims of different modes of rescue in the flooded streets of Houston or even the theoretical burden and benefit of the occasional hurricane; but, if you are standing waist deep in water outside your front door on a Houston street, it might just be wise to quit debating and get into the neighbor’s boat while you still can. There may be better boats, and it might be more thrilling to ride in a helicopter, but if the boat will take you to safety, it is wise to get into it.

Chesterton, as with the followers of Jesus through the ages, confessed personal confidence in the rather “hard saying” of Jesus: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Now that is a watershed statement, isn’t it? I suppose that we can debate whether Jesus believed this or was just trying to reassure his followers on the eve of his crucifixion; but really, it comes down to this: is it true? Was Jesus right?

If not, then the story of Jesus may have some historical value (and the historical record is rather overwhelming in favor of his real existence), but it would then be a fatally tragic story. He died young, after all. Rather, Christians believe it is a tragic story with a triumph to follow. Christians have always confessed faith in the simple but compound affirmation of both his death and his resurrection. They have done so because people who were there when both of these events were claimed to have taken place saw them and then reported their surprised and amazed experiences. Those eyewitness accounts were preserved in the written record of the New Testament of the Bible.

The Christian message is that truth can be found because truth is centered in a Person (with a capital P). In fact, for most adult converts to the faith, there is this remarkable moment that comes when, in the Chestertonian sense, the mouth opens, perhaps with hesitancy but with wonder and hope, and then shuts again on the bread that is offered and finds that it nourishes the soul with something that is beyond the temporary and the ordinary.

Indeed, that reminds us of another one of those quizzical but stirring sayings of Jesus: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in my will never be thirsty” (John 6:35, NIV). Granted, he was speaking of spiritual hunger and thirst, but that is quite the saying, nevertheless. The hope of Jesus’ followers is that everyone will keep an open mind, just long enough to close it on the truth — ah, and ultimately on the Truth Himself.

Frank Johnson is the pastor of the Chestnut Street Baptist Church in Ellensburg.

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