My eighth graders just finished reading Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Some of the kids loved it. Others were disturbed by the absurdities. Many of them asked questions. Lots of questions. Their logic radars were on high alert, but to their frustration, there weren’t always explanations.
I realized that I could have helped them pick the story apart, but I really didn’t want to overanalyze, therefore killing the story. So I began to ask myself: Why read nonsense literature? What’s the place of nonsense in the life of a Christian? Then I remembered something I had read a few months ago in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, a contemporary of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien:
The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of today discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world….
The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion…To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain….
The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason. (30-31 and 34, emphasis mine)
I shared these quotes with my students, trying to emphasize that while I want them to develop good reasoning, ask questions, and seek solid answers, I don’t want to squelch their faith. That is not the purpose of logic. At the end of the day, there are some things that are simply beyond our understanding. We are finite beings living in a world created by an infinite God.
So we read chapters from the book of Job, tracing his suffering, God’s sovereignty and goodness, as well as God’s “answer” to Job’s questions. As one student pointed out, God’s answer was really more a series of rhetorical questions. Finally, we read Job’s response:
I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42.2-6)
In the madness of our lives, all we can sometimes do is choose to rest in the truth that God is good, He is sovereign, He loves us, and He is not obligated to explain Himself. And somehow, once we have that perspective, we are comforted. At least for a little while.
Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009. Print.
The ESV Study Bible. Ed. Lane T. Dennis. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Print.