[From the archives.]
G.K. Chesterton is one of my favorite writers. He’s not always the easiest person to read, but what he has to say is worth the read none the less.
He wrote the Father Brown mysteries as a fascinating study in detective work, faith and the human condition. It’s not that every one of these short stories have you wondering who did it right up to a big reveal at the end, but rather that you are wondering what insight Chesterton will bring to inform your understanding of what has been going on in the characters’ lives. The fascinating part is then discovering what that means for your life too.
His spiritual memoir Orthodoxy takes the reader along on his journey to become a Christian who embraces the sound doctrines of the faith – hence the name of the book – all while taking good-natured pokes at himself and others. What else would you expect from a man who dined with George Bernard Shaw? (Plus, this is the book that gave us the quote “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.” Bonus!)
The Man Who Was Thursday is Chesterton’s best known novel. This compelling story follows an undercover police officer (code-named Thursday) who attempts to crack a nefarious ring of conspirators, a criminal enterprise with a reach that extends from England to the European continent and back. One thing to keep in mind as you read it, though, is the clue found in the subtitle of the book: “A nightmare”. This is the book that explores what we all know from experience – dreams mean things, but the meaning is usually just beyond our grasp.
Then there’s The Ball and the Cross, a rather strange tale of one man’s experience with Satan, worldly powers, fellow reality seekers, and those who have found God. This is the best book you’ve never heard of on seeing the world as it really is.
Reality Through Fantasy
The Ball and the Cross begins with the line “The flying ship of Professor Lucifer sang through the skies like a silver arrow”. This is a line written in 1909, the early years of manned flight when no airship sang through the skies like anything let alone like a silver arrow. Professor Lucifer, of course, is Satan and his ship is a monstrosity of invention that attempts to herd any wayward thinker into line by traveling faster almost than the thinker’s own thoughts.
As the Professor’s passenger, a monk named Michael, points out, the ship is prone to run into things, and as the story unfolds what it runs into is reality. Michael is the representative of those who see reality as it really is, because he is the representative of God. His role is not unlike that of his namesake, the angel Michael in Daniel 12:1 who stands as the protector of God’s people and whose battle with Satan is always carried out in the name of the Lord
This book is about seeing things as God intends us to see them, but it is presented as a wild flight of fancy where Professor Lucifer ends up hounding a man who is trying to make sense of it all. The conclusion shows that in reality Satan can claim no souls when those souls have been given instead to Christ at the cross.
The title of the book is itself an indication of where the story is going. The cross of the title is of course the Cross of Christ, the place where God saved those he calls to himself. The ball is a bit more obscure but we come to understand that it represents the world without Christ. The book makes no mistake about where reality lies.
True reality is found in the Cross of Christ.