“We Have Sinned and Grown Old, and Our Father Is Younger than We”

Remember how the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” begins: Jack bought magic beans which, when planted, grew into a giant beanstalk that reached to the sky.

Now, what if Jack found a way to mass produce those beans. Then everyone would have them. They would no longer be magic, they would just be part of the way the world works: apples seeds grow into apple trees and “magic” beans grow into giant beanstalks. If something always happens it’s not seen as magic, it’s seen as a natural law.

In our world, apples always fall down instead of up. We would say that this is because of the law of gravity, not because they are magic apples. But isn’t gravity a kind of magic, in the sense that it’s wonderful and awe-inspiring? And also in that it seems arbitrary—why down instead of up?

Isn’t all of creation magical by that definition? What if apples fall down because they’re magic apples? What if the sun always rises in the morning because it’s a magic sun? Understanding the science behind these things doesn’t make them any less magical, but probably more so—just ask any scientist.

Maybe what makes the world less magical to us as we grow up is its repetitiveness. Children are still young enough to be surprised by what we take for granted. G. K. Chesterton argued something along these lines in his 1908 classic, Orthodoxy.

In that book, Chesterton suggested that some of the wonder of creation is lost on us, even on the scientists among us. We get used to nature always doing the same thing, and what is predictable is not seen as magical.

“All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance.”

Because of its reliability, the sun has come to be regarded like piece of machinery. Psalm 19:5, however, describes the sun as a happy bridegroom and a satisfied runner. The sun doesn’t just do its duty to natural law, it “rejoices like a strong man to run its race.”

Like the psalmist, Chesterton saw the repetitiveness of nature as a sign of energy, speculating that maybe the “sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising.”

Chesterton also complained that the scientists of his day had learned so much about how things work that they had confused that with knowing why things work, as if they had explained away the magic.

“But the scientific men do muddle their heads, until they imagine a necessary mental connection between an apple leaving the tree and an apple reaching the ground. They do really talk as if they had found not only a set of marvelous facts, but a truth connecting those facts. They do talk as if the connection of two strange things physically connected them philosophically. They feel that because one incomprehensible thing constantly follows another incomprehensible thing the two together somehow make up a comprehensible thing. Two black riddles make a white answer.”

Maybe the repetitiveness of nature has dulled us to its mysteriousness. We get so used to things existing a certain way that we are no longer shocked by the fact that things exist at all.

Chesterton described how the fairy tales he had heard as a child taught him to view the world as a shocking and magical place, and how he later discovered that Christianity spoke to that same sense of wonder.

“I had always vaguely felt facts to be miracles in the sense that they are wonderful: now I began to think them miracles in the stricter sense that they were willful. I mean that they were, or might be, repeated exercises of some will. In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician.”

This brings us to the quote about our Father being younger than us. Of course we are not actually older than God. It’s just that, unlike Him, we are cynical, callous, and easily bored. I think that’s what Chesterton was getting at with his language about a young God.

“For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”

Related Posts:

G. K. Chesterton’s “Adventures in Pursuit of the Obvious”

G. K. Chesterton on Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin

we have sinned and grown old