Recently, I had the dubious pleasure of re-reading The Man Who was Thursday, by G. K. Chesterton. I call it a “dubious pleasure” because, while the story is staggering and profound, it is bewildering. I’m not even certain where the sense of profundity derives from, only that it’s there, somewhere, beneath layers of anarchists and undercover policemen, dreams and symbols, balloon rides and accusations and costumes. Driving the entire story is a man named Sunday who is accountable to no one but himself. Is he God? What the heck is Chesterton getting at?
I read this book years ago. I scratched my head and recommended it to people who asked for book recommendations. (They usually didn’t ask a second time.)
I re-read it again, struggling for comprehension. It’s still elusive.
But one scene stopped me. I read it, re-read it, and slowly nodded.
Gabriel Syme is a detective has been engaged as a “philosophical policeman” to thwart a group of anarchists. He’ll end up going undercover and being elected as “Thursday” to the Central Council of Anarchists, a group of seven–all named for days of the week–headed by the mysterious Sunday. As it turns out, every other man/day of the week is also an undercover police detective posing as an anarchist and all of them have been hired by an extremely large man in a darkened room. None of them see that man’s face until the end. It is Sunday.
(Y’all, it’s fiction. Suspend your disbelief.)
In a flashback, Chesterton tells of Syme’s recruitment by another police officer and then his “interview” with a man in Scotland Yard. He enters a dark room. Another man, who has his back to him, asks if he is the new recruit.
“Are you the new recruit?” said the invisible chief, who seemed to have heard all about it. “All right. You are engaged.”
Syme, quite swept off his feet, made a feeble fight against this irrevocable phrase.
“I really have no experience,” he began.
“No one has any experience,” said the other, “of the Battle of Armageddon.”
“But I am really unfit–”
“You are willing, that is enough,” said the unknown.
“Well, really,” said Syme, “I don’t know any profession of which mere willingness is the final test.”
“I do,” said the other– “martyrs. I am condemning you to death. Good-day.”
–G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who was Thursday, chapter 4
Those final two lines of dialogue stopped me. Martyrs require no other qualification than a willingness to die for what they believe. I’ve heard stories of martyrs (usually early Christians) all my life and never considered that they did not have to be perfect or especially saintly or knowledgeable or hard workers or whatever; they only had to be willing to die.
Then I wondered: Would I be willing to die for what I believe?
Then I wondered more: What does a “willingness to die” look like?
It could mean actual death, of course. Beheading. Stake-burning. Crucifixion.
But could it also mean a willingness to set aside
- my own agendas?
- my obsession with my opinions?
- my own inclination to talk too much and listen too little?
Could it also mean
- loving my enemies?
- forgiving the unforgivable?
- curtailing my spiritual freedom if it causes others to stumble?
Those aren’t things that I can do on my own. I definitely wouldn’t do them if left to my own desires. I’d sit around taking selfies and making certain every item on my to-do list is checked off and sharing my opinions on everything, including things on which I know nothing, and interrupting others every time they speak. Yuck.
But I know that my fitness for any God-ordained task doesn’t derive from my own innate abilities but from God himself. So I also have to conclude that any willingness to die for God–whether that’s physical or not–comes from him. And any ability to live for God–whatever form it takes, whatever task he gives–also comes from him.
So I’m neither unwilling nor unfit for whatever work God calls me to do.
In the eyes of other people, I may look like a very unlikely candidate for that job, and I may believe that myself at times.
In the eyes of God, unlikely-looking is no deterrent. Those same people end up doing unimaginable things. He equips. He grows. He does the impossible. He gives me himself so I can be used by him for his work.
Who should I listen to: other people or God?
Chesterton’s novel may leave me with other unanswered questions, but even I know the answer to that one.
If God’s called me to a task, He’s already given me everything I need to do it. He’s given me himself. And that is enough.