Chesterton’s Shipwreck


What follows is a republication from a post on my old At Home Thinking blog. It was originally published on April 10, 2006.


I have been thinking about how our personal understanding and knowledge of God comes together. It seems that it mostly arrives in a haphazard fashion. Generally, we do not take a systematic approach to learning about Him. And oftentimes our understanding is incorrect. A friend of mine recently acknowledged that 20% of his theology is likely incorrect. He’s just not sure which 20%.

G.K. Chesterton was one of the greatest thinkers and writers of the 20th century, and one not trumpeted nearly enough. It is said that his work, The Everlasting Man, played a role in the conversion of a young C. S. Lewis. His work Orthodoxy is lauded as one of the great religious classics. And there are many other noteworthy works that flowed from his pen.

Chesterton once observed that our walk through life is much like stumbling upon a shipwreck. Strewn about in front of us, in chaos and disarray, are both worthless debris and precious treasures. Hidden somewhere in the mess is a story. Examining the pieces one by one, we can find a small amount of meaning. But when the pieces are re-assembled, reconstructing the essence of the original and revealing the whole, we begin to see the plan and the purpose that existed from the inception.

Our life in Christ is much like this, with understanding coming to us in tiny bits and pieces. It is up to us, with the aid of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, to assemble the many seemingly disconnected parts, and begin to reconstruct them into a cohesive whole. When we do, we experience the proverbial “aha” each time a little more of God’s purpose and plan come more clearly into focus.

Who among us would attempt to build a house without a set of plans? Who among us would begin ordering materials for a construction project without a detailed list of the items needed? Only the most foolhardy. And yet many of us live out our Christian lives just this way.
"Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." Acts 17:11 NIV

In this passage, Luke lauds the Bereans. He associates their pursuit of Scriptural purity with noble character. They did not blindly accept the words of Paul, but rather poured over the Holy Scriptures to determine if Paul’s teachings were based in the truth. The Bereans set the standard for all Christians who have followed. They believed the Holy Scriptures to be the authoritative Word of God, the filter through which all ideas are to be sifted.

As God’s children, we need to become critical thinkers, learning to sift through ideas, comparing them to the truths of Scripture, and finalizing our own, firm set of convictions. If we are extremely fortunate, life in Christ becomes a series of revelations, epiphanies, and quickenings of understanding. But if we are inattentive, self-centered, and unenergetic in our pursuit of God, we may end up at the end of our days with the components of our lives like Chesterton’s proverbial shipwreck—still strewn about.

To learn more about G.K. Chesterton, visit The American Chesterton Society.

Or visit G.K. Chesterton’s Works on the Web to read Chesterton’s writings.

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