For all sad words of tongue and pen;
The saddest are these: ‘It might have been’.
Thus wrote John Greenleaf Whittier, to which Bret Harte replied:
If, of all words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are, ‘It might have been’,
More sad are these we daily see;
‘It is but hadn’t ought to be!’
It is interesting to contemplate on what might have been. Often a person will day-dream of opportunities lost and paradise averted. Much useful time can frittered away in this manner, and there are cases of whole lives destroyed because of an obsession with ‘what might have been’.
We would be better served contemplating not on the good things we might have had, but on the bad things that might have come upon us. As the famous 19th century poet said upon seeing someone in a terrible state, “But for the grace of God, there goes Robert Barrett Browning.”
This principle applies on a larger scale as well. Consider for example, what the Christian Church today mught have been like had Arius and his heresy won the day back in the 4th century AD. Imagine us belonging today to the Coptic Arian Church, instead of the Coptic Orthodox Church. What might have happened?
To begin with, I don’t believe we would have had a Church by the 21st century. Arius, you will recall, denied the divinity of Christ, claiming Him to have been a mere man who was simply imbued with a larger dose than usual of the power of God. Thus, the One who died on the Cross was not God, but a man like us. What difference does it make?
Quite a lot! This mystery of God made man is one of the main engines that drives the faith of the Christian. That the Creator of all the cosmos should so humble Himself as to take vulnerable flesh is astonishing; astounding; mind-blowing! It sets Christianity apart from all mere ‘philosophies’ which tend to be theoretical and academic in nature, for this is a reality, Truth embodied and enacted. It sets Christianity apart from other religions, for none has the granduer and vision of this mystery.
What increases the distance between Christianity and other beliefs is the central role of love. For the Incarnation of Christ was not a party trick, it was no sign intended merely to astound and entertain, it was an act of unimaginable love. If love gives, then the Incarnation was the giving to end all givings. One cannot imagine any expression of love greater than this one. Yet, all of that falls by the wayside if Christ is not God.
It’s like the engine falling out of the car. Sure, sheer momentum will keep it rolling for some time, but sooner or later it must come to a stop, with no hope of moving again, until an engine is restored. The Christian faith, I think, would have dwindled gradually until it petered out altogether.
Can you imagine the glee of the Muslim who finds an ally in the Arian, for both belief systems deny the divinity of Christ and proclaim Him only to be a particularly good man. Can you imagine how easy it would have been for Arians to slip smoothly into Islam, with its denial of a Holy Trinity? An Arian Christianity would have been one without its main motivation to resist the innovations of Islam, and who knows what the history of the world might have been?
And if the Church had survived till now, can you imagine an Arian Church trying desperately to face the challenges of 21st century Western society, standing upon this weakened and empty base? Instead of a living, risen Saviour, a Saviour who united us with God and who dwells in us daily, we would have only a ‘very good man’ for our inspiriation. We would not have seen the face of God made flesh. We could not say that God had dwelt among us, so that by His sacrifice on the Cross, and His daily sacrifice on the altar, He dwells not only among us, but inside us, in our very bones and muscles.
The Christian Church had a very close shave back then, in the 4th century. There was a time when Pope Athanasius was warned that he stood alone against this whole world, to which he offered his own famous reply:
“One with God is the majority.”
We owe him a deep, deep debt of gratitude.