In our post-Christian society we hear much about the failures of Christianity. The late Christopher Hitchens even wrote a book entitled How Religion Poisons Everything. I am a pastor, I have studied church history, I have for four decades followed closely the news of the church in the world today, I have served in the church, and I am myself a Christian who has failed in many ways– so I am very familiar with the failures of Christianity in general and Christians in particular. However, I am much more in agreement with G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) than with Christopher Hitchens. Chesterton said in one of his best known lines: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
In a less familiar quote Chesterton said (New Witness, August 18, 1922):
“It seems brazenly irrational that because people have failed to be Christians they should say that Christianity has failed. It might be mildly suggested to them that they need not look quite so far afield for the failure. My mother tells me not to climb a certain apple-tree to steal apples, and I do it in spite of her. A bough breaks, a bulldog pins me by the throat, a policeman takes me to prison…
“I eventually return to shake my head reproachfully at my mother, and say in a sad and meditative manner; ‘I had hoped better things of you. Alas, there is something pathetic about this failure of motherhood to influence the modern mind. I fear we must all admit that maternity as an institution is barren and must be abandoned altogether.’
“The impudence of this illogical shifting of responsibility!… Man is ready to treat Christianity like the imaginary mother; instead of blaming himself for not having obeyed her, he begins to abuse her for not having been obeyed. He first despises her advice, and then despises her for giving advice that can be despised.”
Proverbs 19:3 — A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the Lord.
Ezekiel 18:25 — “You say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?”
Jeremiah 9:12-14a — Who is wise enough to understand this? Who has been instructed by the Lord and can explain it? Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross? The Lord said, “It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law. Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts…”
Forgive me my sins, O Lord: the sins of my present and the sins of my past; the sins of my soul and the sins of my body; the sins I have done to please myself and the sins which I have done to please others. Forgive me my casual sins and my deliberate sins, and those which I have labored so to hide that I have hidden them even from myself. Forgive me them, O Lord, forgive them all; for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
–Thomas Wilson (d. 1775)