CHAPTER III — THE INEFFABLE
Limitations of Speech
Undoubtedly there is some advantage in a blind man’s inability to watch with anxious impotence as his words tread their dangerous way to the mind of an other, plodding ineptly, their frail strength weighed down with the heavy burden of thought. But then neither can he detect the garbling of the message, the complete per version of misunderstanding or the meaninglessness of a word that has lost its burden on the way; so of course he misses the incalculable advantage of rushing a host of other messengers immediately in the hope that one will make the crossing safely, of supplementing the gawky word with a swift flash of an eye, the grace of a smile, the sincerity of a gesture that say so much more than will fit into a word.
That words are poor messengers is evidenced by the wholehearted support we give them whenever such support is possible. Where the words must stand alone, in a letter, a telegram, a book, we put them down in fear and trembling; but then, they are the best messengers we have, so we make the most of them. Where they actually break down we are brought up short in the realization of our helpless dependence on them.
Violence of Passion
And they do break down. The man who is so angry he sputters may be so angry he is incapable of forming words; or it may be he can find no words staunch enough to contain the thunderbolts he would like to hurl. Certainly a man consumed by hate is silenced by a bitterness too great for words; the coward is a victim of nameless fears, fears so deep and so violent that they will never have a name. These passions, and many another, stir up within a man the literally unspeakable things, things that pass beyond the boundaries of speech and so are necessarily imprisoned in the heart of their victim; his fight against them must always be a lonely battle.
Ignorance of Listeners
A tourist, whose rugged independence forces him to abandon the protective offices of his guide, soon discovers a quite different example of the breakdown of words. He may ruin his disposition and hoarsen his voice before it dawns on him, but eventually he will come to recognize the fact that shouted words in his own language do not solve the difficulty. In the same line, but much more befuddling, is the professor’s difficulty when his words bounce off his students as though they were wearing thought-proof vests, when example, illustration, contrast, synonymous repetition do nothing at all to the wall of blankness that protects their minds from his incursions. But these difficulties of communication are not insuperable; time, patience and work should clear them up. There is yet another case of the breakdown of words that no amount of effort can overcome.
Sublimity of the Concept
A feeble example of the impossibility of squeezing the ineffable into the confines of words is had in the almost tangible silence that envelopes a moment of crucial parting of those whom love has made one, that moment when we put the whole burden of speech into a tight, lingering handshake, a desperate embrace, or the hopeless silence of tears. Here there are things to be communicated, but things too sacred, too deep, too wide for words. Or, again, there is that mysterious moment of intellectual maturity when reason’s intuition sees antinomies merge and still remain distinct, an insight that must always remain utterly personal because it surpasses words. But if human love and human knowledge of created things reach heights too sublime for the plodding steps of words, obviously human love and human knowledge of the limitlessness of the uncreated soar to levels where words are almost a profanation of the concepts they might attempt to express. A light can be so bright that it destroys sight, a sound so loud it deafens the ears; and there can be a truth so great it defies the messengers of truth which are words. That truth is the truth about God.
There is, then, an infinite chasm between the unspeakable things that are too base, too irrational for words and the ineffable things that are too high, too intelligible for the framework of speech. The chasm, however, does not stop the modern philosopher who has had so much practice identifying contradictories and laughing logic out of court. He has bridged the chasm by making the ineffable divinity an unspeakable thing.
The Christians’ Unknown God
The picture he draws of the Christian God is revolting enough to drive any man to atheism; but the paint he uses for the picture is not squeezed from the tubes of facts, rather it is the free-flowing, bodiless stuff of an imagination gone wild. To him the Christian God is the embodiment of tyrannical absolutism. In our modern political ideas there is no room for this sort of thing; men can no longer be looked on as the slaves, the puppets of a Caesar-like God living in epicurean felicity while his underlings drag out their lives in misery. What kind of a god is this, they say, who governs less wisely than a dishonest member of a corrupt political machine? Their god must be constantly striving, however unsuccessfully, against evil, or they will disown him. They have no sympathy for thc hypocritical god who covers an essential corruption of man with the bright cloak of trust, leaving the essential rottenness untouched. If god is not battling against evil, even physical evil, but rather is pretending that the evil is not there, then he isn’t much of a god and we shall get along without him.
The modern philosopher protests so much against God that he creates the suspicion he is having a hard time convincing himself; the longer and louder he protests, the more unsound are the reasons he offers. He argues, for instance, that God should be, if not as variable as fashions at least as changing as the ages. So in one age an idea of God is completely satisfying while, in the succeeding ages, an entirely new one is necessary to satisfy men. No belief retains its divinity unchanged through different generations; our race has changed, so our God must change. The Christian idea of God is old fashioned, an aloof, rigid idea; it is the notion of a God incapable of participation in human affairs, sublimely above them and, at least as far as concrete evidence is concerned, not so intimately worried about them.
A World in Flux
Our world has changed. The views of the men and women of that world have changed. Our instruments of investigation are vastly improved, our methods of inquiry are better, more accurate; and the particular interests involved are quite different, for the things we seek and discover were not objects of inquiry for our Christian ancestors. We need a new god. Our philosophy today is different; philosophers today are not theo-centric but homo-centric. Their chief interest is not God but man; they have a new conception of the supernatural, the bible and Christ. Of course that conception does not leave much of the supernatural, of the bible or of Christ; but it has the one indispensable quality — it is new. To match it, we must have a new concept of god. Moreover, we envision the world as dynamic, reality as dynamic; the world and reality are not stable but a mysterious flow sweeping on to yet unsuspected perfections. The absolute God of the Christians simply will not do for this changed point of view.
Not a Puppet but a Lord
The plastic surgeon of philosophy who does not hesitate to do a face-lifting job on God could hardly be content with man as God made him. The finished product would move the mother of men to deny her parenthood indignantly; and no one could blame her. Man is no longer the puppet and slave of God; he is the supreme lord of the world. Apparently there is no medium. But for all his exalted position, he is a bedraggled figure. Physical evil, sickness and death, are his supreme misfortunes; that is to say, he is so highly vulnerable that he must slink through life in terror of ill health, a blow on the head or the crack of a gun which would utterly destroy him and his happiness. He is an ignorant fellow, his knowledge limited to a suspicious acceptance of history, the cluttering details of science and the vague findings of the collective judgment of men, though he may get an irrational lift out of that emotional thing called religious experience. If this ignorant, frightened creature exercises his unhappy privilege of looking beyond the sunset of today his eyes focus on the goal of all his terrified living — oblivion; and the gates are thrown wide to despair.
A Despairing Lord
The philosophical plastic surgeon may run his caressing eyes fondly over the product of his surgery; certainly no one else can, least of all a philosopher whose chief interest is truth. This is much too high a price to pay that the modern philosopher be happy. This monster he has created is not a Christian man, indeed is not any kind of man. The corruption allegedly fixed on man by Christianity got much too late a start to deserve the name Christian; Christianity began before the sixteenth century. The philosophical plastic surgeon started out to remove a blemish that was non-existent and ended by utterly disfiguring the image of God whose treasures were so deeply buried within the impregnable fortress of his soul as to be secure from all but himself, whose mind could leap the boundaries of sense, of time and space, whose goal was eternal life, a goal worth much more than the struggles, failures, discouragements and dashed hopes that have to be faced in the living of life. This unspeakable thing created by modern philosophy is not man as we know him, as men and God have known him from the beginning.
Still less is the God modern philosophy attacks, the God whose existence Thomas proved in the preceding chapter of this volume. As Thomas knew Him, the God of the Christian was not a being from whom a reasonable man would recoil in horror; rather this God is a being to enthrall the heart of a man, a being for whom man would leave all things and lose his life to have all things and to save his life. This is the God whose ineffable nature and divine messages engaged the minds and hearts of Fathers, doctors and theologians down the centuries; who was the inspiration of the saints, the courage of the martyrs, the purity of the virgins, the charity of all men; this was the God who came from Mary’s womb to die on the Cross that men might have more abundant life.
The Ineffable God
Such a God is well worth the knowing. In this chapter we propose to give a rough description of Him, a description adequate enough to allow us to recognize divinity, yet totally inadequate from the point of view of the rich personality of God. Just as we might describe a man by talking of his dark hair, his blue eyes, his long swinging stride yet know full well that only deep acquaintance, solid friendship and even the full consecration of love can make that man really well known, so we describe God as simple, utterly perfect, good, infinite, present everywhere, unchangeable, eternal, one; knowing well that only eternal vision and unending love can dissipate the haze which shrouds divinity’s heights from the mind of men.
God’s Perfections in General
This list of divine perfections is by no means exhaustive. We shall learn more of God as we progress further and further with the analysis of the divine nature. This is merely the brief, muttered formula of introduction. There is much still to be said of God’s knowledge, of His will, His mercy, His providence and His justice: all these will be taken up in the succeeding chapters of this book.
The particular attributes selected for treatment in this chapter were chosen as the most obvious implications in view of the proof for the existence of God in the last chapter, the proof of the existence of a first unmoved mover, the first uncaused cause, the absolutely necessary being, the absolutely perfect being, the supreme intelligence at the root of the order of the world.
It is to be noted that our knowledge of these divine perfections is not arrived at by way of “religious experience”, they are not the projections of faith states, of self-hypnotism, they are not the ethereal transports of the poet or the rich imaginings of pious souls; they are not the result of an outlook, an age, a political or scientific theory. They are rigid deductions, implications from an established fact. And implication, here, is to be taken in its full strong sense, the sense of being contained, wrapped up in what has been previously established. There are, it is true, other senses of the word, senses that have about them the unhealthy pallor of a slyness, a cowardice, of an uncleanness that shirk the bright sunlight of direct speech to haunt the alleys of suggestion, hints, indirect or double-meaning speech.
The sense in which we are using the word here is as bright as sunlight on sand, as clean as the smell of the sea; the sense in which, for example, thc motherhood of Mary is implied in the statement “Christ was the son of Man.” In this same sense it follows that, since I am a man, I am a rational animal; since this person is a woman, she is not a man. These are inescapable implications whose validity rests entirely on the validity of their foundation.
The most obvious implication from the proofs for the existence of God is that God is in no sense a composite or complex being; He is wholly simple. Before going on to establish the obvious character of this divine attribute of simplicity, it might be well to admit frankly that we have done such strange, contradictory things to simplicity that God might consider this particular attribute a dubious compliment. There is a great difference between the simple things we pity or patronize for their simplicity and the simple things to which we pay the tribute of profound respect and admiration. A simple-minded man is one who, through lack of ability or opportunity, does not know any better; whereas a richly simple gown is the result of supreme ability and unlimited opportunities. The simplicity of the child’s essay is altogether different from thc simplicity of the literary craftsman’s easy grace with words. In the one case we see simplicity as the mark of imperfection, in the other, as the stamp of genius; in both cases we are right, but it must be seen that we are using the word simple in decidedly different senses.
Simplicity is a badge of imperfection and will remain so in the world of created things where perfection must be measured in terms of potentialities and their realization. Man stands at the peak of the physical universe precisely because of his rich potentialities; his life is richer, fuller, as more of those potentialities are realized, as even greater potentialities are acquired, in a word, in proportion to the increased complexity of his life. He may cast an envious glance at a cat sleeping in a sunny window; life is so simple for a cat. But the envy is not real; no man wants to spend his life curled up in sleep. particularly in a window.
Yet this rich potentiality, the very basis of the complexity which makes up the perfection of created things, is itself a statement of imperfection. It implies imperfection; it is a declaration that something can still be had, that there is a void still to be filled up by some one some thing else. The being who has no potentialities, but only pure actuality, who is the source of all potentiality, alone escapes the stigma of imperfection and is free of the basic element of complexity. This being is utterly, completely simple; this is the being who receives nothing but gives all things. The simplicity we so admire and respect in created things, the simplicity that smacks of genius, is not really simplicity at all but the appearance of simplicity; men have succeeded in giving to rich complexity a smooth unity by a perfect coordination to a single end and we salute the faint image of divinity thus produced.
To say that God is simple means, in the concrete, that He is in no sense composite. He is not, has not, a body; He is not a golden calf or a painted idol. He has not divinity as man has humanity; He is divinity. His nature is not a cup filled to overflowing with existence, He is not full of life; He is existence, He is life. There are no family quarrels of the gods; there is nothing in God upon which to base a difference in divine nature. He does not grow fat or thin or red in the face; His thought is not a procession of concepts as is ours, for there is nothing accidental, transient, unessential in God. Because He is simple He cannot enter into composition with others as sugar does with coffee or oxygen with hydrogen; He cannot be immersed in the inert mass of matter like Bergson’s élan vital, expending His divine life fighting free with all the agony of a boy fighting his way out of sleep. God is simple because He is the firstthe completely independent source of all being.
One of the greatest concentrations of perfection the world has seen was to be found in that small house of Nazareth when Gabriel saluted the Immaculate Virgin; yet even in this sublime company there was the spectre of imperfection, which is limitation, that haunts all creation. The angel had the potentialities of successive thought that all eternity would not exhaust; the virgin had the undeveloped potentialities of mind and heart that are the task as well as the glory of human nature; both had the imperfection inherent in the limited character of their respective nature, for the angelic no less than the human nature has its boundaries fixed. The most intimate glimpse of the limitless perfection of God given to man on this earth is to be had in the picture of the Madonna with the divine child in her arms; for there is all the perfection of human nature along with its inevitable limitation, but there also is the unfathomable abyss of the boundless source of all perfection.
There is simply no place for imperfection in God. In Him there are no potentialities to be realized, as all potentialities must be realized, by something other than themselves. He is absolutely independent because He is first; all others depend on this first cause Who cannot depend on any other without ceasing to be first. More than that, He has in Himself the perfections of everything else that ever has, ever will, indeed, that ever could exist. Unless He be their cause they cannot be; He cannot be the cause of perfections that are not in some way already His.
Virtually, Formally and Eminently
When we come down to detail, the argument for the utter perfection of God seems to involve insuperable difficulties. If we try to picture God as a combination of the ferocity of a wolf and the pathetic friendliness of a dachshund, the beauty of youth and the serenity of age, the grandeur of a sunset and the peace of night we shall drive ourselves insane. But why should we try this sort of thing in our thought of the divinity when we are so careful to avoid it in our thought of the created universe? We know that a father contains within himself all the perfections of the human nature of his son and in exactly the same way; if we had to put this in a technical phrase, any journeyman philosopher could tell us that these perfections were possessed formally. We are quite sure an acorn contains the perfections of an oak; but we do not try to picture the oak’s huge trunk and stubborn leaves as packed into the tiny confines of an acorn. We know these perfections do not exist in the acorn in the same way as in the oak; they are had, not formally, but virtually, radically, in the acorn. We do not hesitate to attribute the perfections of a poem to its author; but we do not make the absurd mistake of expecting the poet’s mind to get musty, yellow with age, or covered with dust on a library shelf. It is not the poet that leaps out of the frightened child’s mouth in elocution class. In this case the poet possesses the perfections of his poem but in a completely superior manner, eminently.
It is in this last fashion, eminently, that the perfections of all creation are found in God; He is the cause of them all, they exist in Him, not virtually, not identically, but eminently. The conclusion that all reality is godlike is quite true. What we see in the world of existence, of beauty, of goodness, of grace and all the rest is had from God Who is overflowing with perfection. These creatures share, participate in the perfection of God. This was a truth close to the heart of Francis of Assisi and Martin de Porres, a truth that made all irrational creation and the whole world of men a lover’s note to be read slowly, tenderly, repeatedly, to be treasured caressingly until the writer in person made plain all the beauties that could not be squeezed between the lines. It is right that the strength of a storm at sea, the innocence of a child, the calm of a country twilight should stir us to the depths of our being for these are shadows of divinity passing by.
It might be well to note here, for accuracy’s sake, that we speak of divine attributes in a double sense, often without realizing the distinction. Thus when we state these attributes positively, such as simplicity and perfection, we are speaking only by way of analogy; that is, we do not mean to attribute these things to God in exactly the same way in which they belong to men but in an infinitely superior manner. On the other hand, when we state them negatively, insisting, for example, that God is incomposite and devoid of all imperfection, we are talking literally, univocally, and expect our words to be taken without qualification.
Another caution that may not be amiss is that we have an entirely accurate notion of the particular attribute under discussion. Thus, to speak of the goodness of God in the sense of sanctimoniousness is to divorce the discussion from reality, as, well as to flavor it distastefully. The notion of goodness adds nothing to being but the smack of desirability, that is, a thing can be good, desirable, only insofar as it is possible or thought to be possible; it can be pursued and enjoyed only insofar as it has being. We do not desire an automobile that can be folded up and dropped into a purse. We can see the advantage of a servant with five arms, but we do not advertise for such a one. We do, however, have a real desire for real things–for friends, a ham sandwich, new clothes, knowledge. It is this smack of desirability that goodness adds to being which is at the root of all activity.
Activity, then, is striving for the desirable thing, for something good; boredom, on the other hand, is the absence of knowledge of and interest in the good and is the nearest approach to stagnation to be found among living things. As a matter of fact. everything in the world has its desirable something, its goal. Concretely that goal is the completion, the perfection, the complete fulfillment of the particular creature; every creature is good in proportion as it is, it is better in proportion as it has approached its goal. Briefly, a thing is good insofar as it is real. Bluff, defect, incapacity have nothing desirable about them because there is nothing real about them. But He Who is, the cause of all reality, the perfect Being, is the highest goodness for He is the most real Being. Not that He has goodness; rather He is goodness, as He is reality. On His goodness all other goodness is modeled, from His goodness all other goodness proceeds; all other goodness is a similitude, a participation, a limited miniature of the limitless goodness of God.
Because of the smack of desirability which goodness adds to being, God is most desirable, most lovable. So true is this that everything in the universe hustles eagerly to this goal of goodness, each in its own way: man with alert steps along the dangerous road of knowledge and love, brutes with the unerring aim of instinct, the inanimate world with the blind, plodding step of physical necessity devoid of all knowledge. For each creature in the universe is spurred on to action by the goal of its own perfection, a goal which is nothing but a similitude, an image, a mirroring of the goodness of God.
No limits are to be placed on the goodness of God, as no limits are to be assigned to any other divine attribute. How can you have a fence with nothing, absolutely nothing, on the other side of it? What is there of reality, that God will not have, to mark the spot where the fence must begin? Limitation is essentially a declaration of potentialities achieved or potentialities capable of achievement; without potentiality limitation is a contradiction in terms. And there can be no potentiality in God, for potentiality is a declaration of dependence. God has not received existence within the limits of a human, an animal or an angelic nature; He has not received at all, He is. The idea of reception is the idea of change, of potentiality actualized, of perfection within limits–something that our proof for His existence forced us to exclude from God. He is infinite, and He alone; for He alone is first, receiving from no one, giving to all.
In a very real sense, this utterly limitless God overflows the limits of the universe. He is everywhere within it, yet not contained by it. Everything in the universe comes from God; existence is His proper effect. Where anything exists, there is God. Understand, now, this is not merely a matter of God first giving existence and then abandoning the universe to its fate; He does not give us a pat on the back as we leave the corner of nothingness to jump into the ring of life, leaving us to take the blows while He shouts advice that takes none of the sting out of the blows. Existence belongs to God; as long as existence endures, there is the hand of God sustaining it as a mother supports her infant or the throat of a singer sustains his song. God is everywhere, and only God; for only God is the infinite, the first cause explaining every existent thing.
The ubiquity of God, in common with all the divine perfections, is not a cold, abstract thing meaningless to men. Its significance for human living is inexhaustible. In thc concrete, it means, for instance, that God is in the surge of the sea, the quiet peace of hills and valleys, the cool refreshment of rain, the hard drive of wind-driven snow. In the cities He is in the bustling of crowds, the roar of traffic, the struggle for pleasure, for life, for happiness, in the majesty of towering buildings. In homes He is not to be excluded from the tired, drowsy hours of night, the hurried activity of morning, from the love and quarrels, the secret worries and unquestioning devotion, the sacrifice and peace that saturate a home. In every individual one of us God is more intimately present than we are to ourselves. Every existing thing within us demands not only the existence of God but also His constant presence, from every rush of blood from our hearts to every wish, every thought, every act. In other words, everything that is real must have God there as the explanation, the foundation, the cause of every moment of its reality.
Thomas puts this all succinctly and beautifully when he says that God is in the world, in everything and everyone in the world, by His essence, causing all things, by His presence, all things being naked and open to the eye of this intelligent cause, by His power on which everything depends, to which everything is subject.
There is in this conception a majesty that transforms the earth. The mistaken exaggerations of Eastern philosophy made men walk carefully lest, treading on a living thing, they tread on the soul of a man. We have no fear of treading on the soul of man nor on God; but we do live in a world vibrant with divinity. We can give a real reverence to every being because within it, supporting its very existence, is the living God Himself. There is terror in this conception, the terror of moving in an atmosphere pervaded with divinity, of being ourselves wrapped about with divinity, penetrated with the infinite. But there is also courage and comfort here to be had from no other source. We bar the world in general from everything but the surface of our lives; friends are allowed to enter a few rooms of our palace; love throws open the gates as far as it is given us to open them–as wide as physical signs or clumsy, stumbling, inadequate words can open our souls, as wide as sacrifice and devotion can keep those gates open. Only God can walk freely about the innermost corridors of our being. And He does. Unless He be there, we could not be.
The pessimistic pantheism of the East, to which our modern philosophy edges closer every day, distorted the truth of the intimate presence of God to the point of identifying everything with divinity. On such premises there was good grounds for pessimism. All distortions are false, this one is as absurdly false as the identification of my image in a mirror with myself or the inability to see any difference between the poet and his poem. None of the things created by God are divine; rather they are the mirrors of divinity, the effects of the divine cause that depend every instant on that cause for their reality.
Nor is this intimate presence of God in the world to be mistaken for that tortured, twisting, developing god of the moderns that fights its way towards perfection through the struggle of the universe, changing as we change, getting better as we improve. God is altogether unchangeable. For what is change but the realization of a potentiality, the receiving of something new or the loss of something old. In God there can be no potentiality, nothing to be lost, nothing to be gained. He is pure actuality, pure being, possessing all things. He is beyond change and He alone; for He alone is first, dependent on no other, free of all potentiality.
To the modern philosopher this notion makes God completely static; if this be true, then this is a dull, stagnating, deteriorating God. His reason is not dissimilar from thc reasons for a New Yorker’s distaste for travel, an Englishman’s tolerance of the continent or an American tourist’s amusement at the strange antics of the rest of the world. In his own little world of creatures, the modern philosopher sees clearly that there must be change for progress, that immutability is closely akin to stagnation and deterioration. The point is that he is provincial enough to judge everything, even God, by the standards of that created world. It is true that change is inseparable from perfection in the world of unrealized potentialities; but it is also true that such a world is inconceivable without a Being of pure actuality, a Being Who is pure activity, Who has no potentiality, no possibility of losing or gaining but is a white flame of perfection. Such a Being is not in a state of static inertia; His is an activity so intense that change of any kind is impossible to it.
This God did not begin; He cannot end. For both beginning and end proclaim a change, a reception or a loss, an imperfection, a dependence. He is eternal and He alone; eternal with that absolute, complete eternity of a divinely unchangeable Being.
Obviously there is only one such God. More than one demands some ground for difference — something one would have and another lack; this God lacks nothing. Where would infinity stop, which has no limits, that another infinity might begin? How could there be beginning or end, limitation, to the infinite perfection and pure act that is God? He is one, distinct from the world of finite, limited creatures, yet intimately within it. In the beautiful words of the divine Office: “To the King of ages, the immortal, invisible, the only God be honor and glory forever and ever.”
Unspeakable Modern Gods
This is the God rejected by modern philosophers. Caught by the glitter of their words, thousands of men and women have turned their backs on the only God and their faces to the gods of modern philosophy. What is offered to them?
A Subjective God
One group of philosophers suggests a subjective god, one of our own manufacture. To some of these, such a god would be no more than a projection of our subconscious states or of our social and racial instincts. The god-makers would be, for the most part, the weak, the oppressed, the downcast; for such a god is offered by way of compensation for inferiority. The superior man, they say, does not need this sop; but for the others, who still remain children, it is necessary that they have some enduring symbol of parental shelter to which they may run when life becomes too much for them. Others of this group suggest a deification of humanity: the spirit of a people, of the world of humanity, or of living beings taken in their associated and ideal experiences. This conception of divinity, says one of these philosophers, is best expressed by such terms as “alma mater” or “Uncle Sam”! Still others advise that we make our divinity of a quality of the world peculiarly akin to ourselves; or perhaps the material best suited is the higher reality on which we lay hold when we comprehend a truth or obey a noble impulse. These are the doctrines American universities are swallowing whole!
A Finite God
A second group of philosophers cast their vote for a finite god, not a subjective god, but one who needs our help, who is sustained by the world, whose interests are at stake in the world. God cannot be infinite, omnipotent, a static absolute if he is to work and make a difference to us. They will have a god who began but will never end; one who is not a creator, not infinite. But one who began with the human race, grows with it, an ideal gathering up to itself the achievements of humanity.
In the last analysis, both of these are stark atheism, the name of god is a cover-all to hide the ugly body of doctrine; both are violently opposed to the solid facts. In both there is a pathetic note: a note of weakness and of fear. The thesis paints a picture of lonely men trying to find comfort in a crowd, bundling themselves together with their fellows in the hope that somehow they will add up, not to a number of men, but to divinity; and it paints a picture of men who are not only weak but who are searching desperately for an escape from the fear of life, the fear of liberty, the fear of action.
An Undeveloped God
The third group takes a further step towards madness in advocating a kind of fluid, undeveloped god. God is the perfect in process, the principle of all struggling towards perfection through matter; yet this principle is fluid for everything real is a process of becoming. Others, within the group, insist that god is the next higher step, the empirical quality just above the highest we know; divinity, in other words, is the mechanical rabbit that lures human greyhounds into running their hearts out in a hopeless race. Maybe this undeveloped god is the finite world with its nisus towards deity; maybe this god is evolution: maybe it is the spirit of rational order. Make it anything you like; but do not dare to make it divine!
A Pantheistic God
The fourth group of modern philosophers come out frankly for a pantheistic god. Some say God is the life force identical with man and the universe. Others, not covering their shame with a blush of words, insist there is no ontological separation of one being from another; and this, if it means anything, means I am my dog and my dog is God just as I am. The connection between God and the universe is an organic one.
These last two groups represent the brutal pessimism of the Orient not yet carried to its logical conclusion; logically, these opinions should lead to utter despair and offer self-destruction as the goal of human life. Both are open violations of the facts; on such a basis, obviously the universe could not exist. It is important to remember that all four of these modern ideas of God are sponsored by men of learning, honored in their universities, hailed as leaders of thought.
Crisis of the Ages
God has been crucial to the thought and life of all ages, not only the existence of God, but knowledge of Him, love and hatred of Him. Men of all ages have had to think a great deal about God, for men of all ages have had to think a great deal about a goal to which they might direct their lives. To many men in many ages, the crisis has been one of loyalty, of the heart rather than the head; the difficulty has been in resisting the lure of the world’s tempting byways, and of holding fast to the path they knew to be the true one. This crisis will never be absent from the lives of men for it is the crisis of sin. Some men have failed to meet that crisis with any courage. Others will meet the same failure, but their difficulty, and the difficulty of all the sorry ones who follow after them, has not been in finding the courage to admit the truth of God and His law, but the courage to live up to the truth they admitted even though it condemned them.
The Modern Choice
In our day, as in all days, the crisis of loyalty, the crisis of sin exists. But today, on an increasingly alarming scale, men are being forced to meet another crisis, the crisis of choice, the crisis of the head more than of the heart. It is being made difficult for them to know the true God, let alone give Him their hearts, for modern leaders have set up false gods and demanded, with all the influence of their position, their learning, their skill in words, that men bow down and adore.
The choice offered to the man of the twentieth century might be summed up by saying that he is offered a human god, an inhuman god and the divine God. The human god is the product of subjective sentiment or of communal huddling together to the destruction of personality, a god that takes the alternative forms of personal sentiment, humanitarianism or of absolutism. The inhuman god may be the intangibility of a process under the name of evolution or the absurdity of pantheism. The divine God is the Christian God some of whose attributes we have looked at in this chapter. There is, of course, no rational choice between these three. The first two have no foundation in reality or reason; they are flagrant violations of fact arrived at only as a result of the denial of reality, of reason, of the supernatural, while the last is an inescapable truth.
The choice, from man’s point of view, can be stated in concrete terms. One gives immediate and complete oblivion in the crushing force of an absolutism where the individual is less than a cog, or in the vague future of the race in the name of humanity to the denial of men; the second is a matter of hiding from life in the sweet nothings of subjectivism with its promise of sure oblivion after death; the third insists on the dignity of man’s personality, on its eternally vital character, it demands that man, fully responsible and with eyes wide open, carve out a personal destiny that can never end. This last is the only God, simple, perfect, infinite, unchangeable, supporting the universe and present in the depth of all that is.