Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Which Came Last, the Chicken or the Egg?

Since the dawn of Puritanism (at least) we have heard that in order to prescribe a cure for man's spiritual ills, you must first diagnose his disease.

Rubbish, says G.K. Chesterton.

In his little book What's Wrong with the World, Chesterton decries what he calls the "medical mistake":
"The first great blunder of sociology... is stating the disease before we find the cure. But it is the whole definition and dignity of man that in social matters we must actually find the cure before we find the disease."
Though Chesterton was a contemporary of Geerhardus Vos, the former spent his life in England and, as a Roman Catholic, was probably unfamiliar with the Princeton divine. Nevertheless they both seemed to agree on at least one thing: Man can only be understood if we contemplate his telos or end.

Chesterton uses the famous "Chicken or Egg" quandary to illustrate his point. He says that the real question is not which came first, but which comes last. One is a means, he argues, and the other is an end.

"Leaving the complications of the human breakfast-table out of account, in an elemental sense, the egg only exists to produce the chicken. But the chicken does not exist only in order to produce another egg. He may also exist to amuse himself, to praise God, and even to suggest ideas to a French dramatist."
The fixation upon eggs rather than chickens (or upon present conditions rather than the divine object), Chesterton concludes, is as morbid and poisonous as insisting on asking what is wrong while forgetting to ask what is right.

Returning to Vos, we may safely conclude, therefore, that though all divine image-bearers share in the collective ache of Romans 8:22-23, for the believer life is a pilgrimage with a destination, while for the unbeliever it feels more like a hamster-wheel.

Hence his burden, hence his frustration... and hence his art.