An essay from G.K. Chesterton begins, “In all the current controversies, people begin at the wrong end as readily as at the right end; never stopping to consider which is really the end.”(1) In a world very impressed with our ability to create and acquire our own high-tech “carts,” putting the cart before the horse comes very naturally. Even very thoughtful people can fail to think through the point of all their thinking. Chesterton continues, “One very common form of the blunder is to make modern conditions an absolute end and then try to fit human necessities to that end, as if they were only a means. Thus people say, ‘Home life is not suited to the business life of today.’ Which is as if they said, ‘Heads are not suited to the sort of hats now in fashion.’” His observations are akin to the experiment of Solomon. Cutting a child in two to meet the demand of two mothers is hardly fixing what we might call the “Child Problem.”
The reverse of the end and the means is hardly a modern problem, though some argue the trend is increasing. As C.S. Lewis observed many years ago, logic seems to be no longer valued as a subject in schools. Never having taken logic as a school subject, or even noticed its absence for that matter, I might agree the observation still rings with some truth. But any critique of illogic is perhaps startling when juxtaposed by how much we currently seem to value a constant surge of information. In the chorus of incessant infotainment, T.S. Eliot’s lament from “The Rock” seems almost a heretical voice:
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.
The inconsistency of information-dependence and logic-disinterest aside, the silent battle within our over-stimulated ethos of options and information seems to become one against indifference. Weary from pleasure and choice, apathy becomes a major obstacle. We get to the point where we do not even remotely care whether the horse or the cart comes first.
In the book recounting the lineage of Israel’s Kings, Elijah went before a people who had grown indifferent to the differences between Baal and Yahweh. “How long will you waver between two opinions?” Elijah asked them. “‘If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, then follow him.’ But the people said nothing” (1 Kings 18:21).
Cultural commentators note among us a similar indifference. While there is an increasing interest in spirituality and a desire to locate deeper meaning in life and experience, we waver between the gods and goods that seem to offer any answers. And while the need to pursue meaning is certainly a cultural insight we do well to cultivate, the danger is perhaps in allowing this desire to be the end in itself, the goal by which God or Buddha or nature might serve as a means to fill. Like the men and women before Elijah, our illogic is only compounded by our indifference. Should we attempt to fulfill our spiritual voids without first asking why they are there? Could not the desire itself exist because the God of creation, the beginning and the end, placed it within? If the LORD is God, why would I not want to follow?
When Elijah asked the prophets of Baal to call him to reveal himself, the test of truth was not avoided, but the ultimate decision was still before the people. “Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. ‘O Baal, answer us!’ they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. No one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:26). In a loud voice Elijah then called out, “Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (1 Kings 18:37). The fire of the LORD immediately fell upon the altar. And when the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God!”
In this season of Lent a similar invitation looms large before any who seek. We are invited both to see anew our motivations and the reasons of our own hearts. We are invited to examine the call of Christ to follow him to the Cross, wherever it might lead. At the end of that road, however tumultuous the means, we shall perhaps find that it was always Christ who carried us. Even now, he is among us, one worthy of being our end. If the LORD is God, why would we not want to follow?
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) G.K. Chesterton, As I was Saying (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 63.