Father Brown and the Absurdity of Truth

In 1910, G.K. Chesterton introduced an amateur detective who was also a Catholic priest named Father Brown. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, who used deductive reasoning and science to solve mysteries, Father Brown used rational thought and intuition into the human heart to unravel baffling crimes. In most of his stories, the setting is either a quaint and beautiful scene steeped in an absurd scenerio or a landscape that looks like it emerged from a nightmare.

As I read The Innocence of Father Brown and The Wisdom of Father Brown, this pattern kept impressing me. Chesterton has a good knack for describing a scene, and the constant bounce between nightmare and fairy tale stood out to me. The way he describes his hero detective is also interesting. Brown is painted as unassuming and unimportant; shabby and shapeless; the type of person you wouldn’t expect to want in case of a mystery. And yet, in each story, he comes out as the hero who brings sanity to the absurd. His solutions are often unconventional and seem preposterous in and of themselves.

So Chesterton paints his world as ridiculous and the truth as unseemly and often appearing inane. I think Christians can learn from this. Paul looked at the truth of the gospel and called it “foolishness” to outsiders, when it is really the wisdom and power of God. We can try to explain the gospel rationally, scientifically, philosophically, and in numerous other ways, but at the end of it all, to those who are perishing, it is absurd and foolish.

Meeting with such a response, it is appealing to water down the message or contort it to fit “modern times.” But just as little Father Brown stuck by the truth when all others laughed it off as fanciful, Christians must stand by the truth of the gospel that saved them though the world portrays them as stupid and bigoted. We can do this because, like in Father Brown’s situations, the absurdity of the truth will be revealed to be the sanest thing in all the mad world and God will vindicate us.

4 thoughts on “Father Brown and the Absurdity of Truth

  1. This reminds me of this quote:

    “The wisdom of this world is precious in the eye of the world; and the wisdom of God in His poor, weak, despised earthen vessels is still foolishness with them; but the Lord so orders it, that He still justifies his despised wisdom in his despised vessels, and makes the wisdom of the world appear foolish to all the single and uprighthearted, who thirst after and wait for the revelation of His truth.”

    –Isaac Penington

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