Review: The Man Who Was Thursday

I can’t think of a single book that, upon finishing, I felt the immediate desire to flip back to page one. Until The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton.

I quickly saw why Chesterton and C.S. Lewis are often linked. If The Chronicles of Narnia paints pictures of creation, redemption, God’s sovereignty and faithfulness, and the believer’s life on earth and in heaven, then The Man Who Was Thursday in a sense allegorizes both the creation narrative and The Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15).

A quick synopsis: Gabriel Syme is recruited to be a policeman whose only job is to combat the growing threat of the anarchist movement. He goes undercover in a group of anarchists and quickly gains rank. Upon learning of a plan to assassinate a political leader after being among the leadership of the anarchist group, Syme attempts to thwart the attack and dismantle the group, only to find people along the way who were also undercover policemen on the same mission. (I’ll refrain from going further as spoilers abound!)

The book has several overarching themes, which you can really only piece together once you’ve finished reading the book. (Chesterton keeps you guessing the whole time.) None of these will spoil the book for you, I promise.

1. Anarchy versus Law – This is the only one that’s obvious throughout, but the resolution is not what you would expect. The key to this is the phrase,“Sin is lawlessness.”

2. What is the one thing all people seek but never catch? “…You will have found out the truth of the last tree and the topmost cloud before the truth about me. You will understand the sea, and I shall still be a riddle; you shall know what the stars are, and not know what I am. Since the beginning of the world all men have hunted me like a wolf–kings and sages, and poets and law-givers, all the churches, and all the philosophies. But I have never been caught yet,and the skies will fall in the time I turn to bay. I have given them a good turn for their money, and I will now” (130). You’ll have to read the book if you want the answer. Or take a guess.

3. Destruction versus Creation – The anarchist seeks to make everyone as he is – miserable, destitute, under the delusion that the power to destroy is ultimate power. The anarchist cries out for the suffering of all that could be called good, and says that “the unpardonable sin of the supreme power is that it is supreme” (154). His enemy is the Creator, whose good intentions cannot be thwarted by a stick of dynamite.

4. Why we suffer – Chesterton maintains that all suffer, the policeman (Christian) and the anarchist (unbeliever) alike. He seems to argue that the suffering of the believer not only allows him to identify with Christ’s suffering but also to expose Satan’s lie – that God doesn’t care, and doesn’t know the hardship believers face because He never suffered. The cross exposes this lie, and the suffering of believers is a continual reminder of Christ’s condescension for the lawless world.

This is only one chart of four that I made after reading the book, so consider this a greatly abridged review. I highly recommend reading this book. It’s unexpectedly challenging as it graciously invites the reader to consider the ideas within.

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