FATHER OF ALL
The paternal viewpoint
AT PRESENT, the day set aside in tribute to father is a miniature, and firmly masculine, Christmas. When it escapes its present timid preliminary stage we shall no doubt erect a statue flatteringly expressive of fatherhood. Its sculptor will have to be of the stuff of genius; he will have to catch the fleet grace of motion imprison it in stone, as the Greeks did, without weighing own the swift feet of motion by the stolid strength of the stone. For the hoary jokes that swing about the traditional father pacing the corridors of a maternity hospital, are sparrows twittering on the side of a mountainous truth.
Perhaps the young father does not realize it, but those anxious hours outside a delivery room start him off on a life-long walk. All the rest of his days he will mentally pace corridors; all the rest of his days, the moments of the present, which seem so precious and fleeting to others, will be stupid strollers that block his path to the next hour, the next day, the next year upon which so much depends; year after year he will stand on tiptoe, trying to peer over today’s shoulder, craning his neck to see around the next corner, straining his eyes to see just a little beyond the horizon that limits the sure knowledge of a man.
This last might, in fact, be a better, because more universal, motif for that statue of father: the figure of a man shading his eyes with his hands, his head tilted a little to increase the range of his sight, looking up and out, far out, scanning the future with the clear, responsible, judicious eyes of a sailor standing his watch. Such a symbol, freed of the note of anxiety but made formidable by the accent of responsibility, would show the intimate bond between the fatherhood of God and the fatherhood of man.
Both are providers, taking that word, not in its limited sense of a faithful wage-earner who furnishes bread and butter, but in its more proper sense of one who sees ahead, who copes not only with the present but also with the future. The eternal Father provides, in this sense, for all of the future; an earthly father, for that little piece of the future that is of such intimate concern to those given to his care. It is that correlative of providence — the handing over of the lives of others to the hands of a man — that is behind much of the panicky flight of the twentieth century from parenthood. “Splendor” is too noisy a word to describe the steady light of that quiet courage which makes a man responsible for the care and nourishment of this mite of life during its long progress to the vigor of manhood; for the intellectual cultivation and discipline which alone can guarantee freedom to this latest citizen of earth and heaven: for the mysterious unfolding of moral character that will either be a condemnation to hell now and forever, or the violence behind the storming of heaven. We can appreciate, to some little degree, the agony of remorse that fastens its iron grip on a neglectful father of an undernourished, crippled, sickly child; unless the experience becomes our very own, we shall never plumb the depths of sorrow in the heart of a man whose child has set its feet on a path unworthy of man.
Paternity, in the ordinary course of affairs, richly repays a man for the responsibilities it imposes. There is a literally personal share reserved for the father in the strength, the beauty, the brilliance, the sanctity of his children. But long before these ultimate rewards are ripe for the reaping, there is a treasure too great to be risked outside the strong walls of a home; only the members of the family are privileged to peep into that treasure chest; no one has found the words to list its items. The absolute, unquestioning confidence, the unshakeable faith of a child burrows its way deep enough into the heart of a father to allow him a glimpse of what the unquestioning confidence and unshakeable faith of man does to the heart of God. It is not the appealing trick of a gesture, the impish attraction of a smile, the naiveté of a word that breaks down the barriers a man has built up to protect his heart; the child, asleep or awake, in smiles or in tears, its feet straining with excitement or dragging with fatigue, reduces the father to helpless devotion by its own joyous dependence. Neither would have it otherwise.
The children’s viewpoint
There is probably no man so consistently misjudged as a father; and there are few judges more unfair than his own children. To the very young, he has an air of indifference, of preoccupation and impatience; for they are living in the present while he is straining his every faculty in the crucial struggle with the future, a future much more crowded with possible moral catastrophes for his children than with dangers of starvation, meagre comfort or vanishing luxury. A little later on, the children will submit him to constant comparison with all his competitors who enter their field of acquaintance. Too often the rule of thumb is a purely material one. If his success, in terms of clothes, houses and cars, has been a mediocre one, he can thank God for his preoccupation with the future which blinds him to the bitterness of silent condemnation, or the even greater bitterness of pity. Only much later, too late in fact, does he get the solid judgment that comes from an evaluation of his efforts to build men and women; a few solid blows from life quickly determine whether the training, the counsel and the example of home have built enough moral stamina in the children for the facing of life, or whether the soft flabbiness of neglect will make it necessary to hide from life through all of adult years.
Viewpoint of the eternal Father
Of course the Eternal Father, Who is God, has not escaped this general misjudgment of fathers. Those of His children who are extremely young wholly engrossed with the toys of the present, find Him aloof, indifferent, preoccupied. Why does He look ahead, providing for the long future of eternity which is of no present interest to us, instead of drying our tears, repairing our toys, taking us in His lap and comforting us? He’s not a father to us at all. The older children have looked around a bit. They have seen life, the outside of it, and are complacent in the naive sophistication which that superficial view has given them. From their superior heights they pass judgment on the eternal Provider, pitying Him the miserable job He has done, roundly condemning Him as a complete failure, or even going the lengths of denying His paternity. The rough contacts of life may eventually scratch the glittering surface of that sophistication, the humiliation of failure may cut down the height of the judgment seat, memory’s journey over the long road of the years may distinguish crumbling landmarks from those that endure; if that happens, the children mature and in their maturity pass a saner judgment on the Provider of men. The comforting thing about this long tale of misjudgments is that correction does not come too late, if it comes at all; this Provider is never beyond the reach of our apologies, never out of range of the whisper of our thanks.
The fact of Providence
The denial of providence’s long vision of the future to God is a childish misjudgment. It is only by burying our head in the presents mass of detail that we can blind ourselves to that providence; it shouts for our attention, whether we focus our eyes on the world we live in or on the God who made the world and us. In the second chapter of this book we have proved the existence of the supremely intelligent Cause of the world; to deny God’s providence is to suppose that this supreme intelligence acted with less foresight than a half-wit; Look at the thing honestly in its human framework. If our ordinary actions are intelligent, we know what we are going to do, or at least what we are going to try to do, before we start. An editor of a magazine does not cool his heels at a newsstand doggedly waiting to see what his magazine looks like and what it contains; he knew before the magazine went to press. The arrangement of the rooms in the house he has designed does not surprise the architect; if it does, he has been a very stupid architect indeed.
This is what can be expected of intelligences, this is what intelligence means: the ability to act for an end intelligently, selecting the best means, having in mind from the beginning the goal and the best way to attain that goal. In denying this to God we strip ourselves of intelligence: not only because such a position is stupid, but because the divine is the only possible source of our own intelligence. Providence in God means no more than intelligent planning for divine action. It means that God acted intelligently in building the world and governing it. He knows where He is going and how, what this particular stone is for and where it belongs. To challenge this in God is to challenge the intelligence of God; and a challenge of divine intelligence is a challenge of the unquestionable facts of the world.
Approaching the question of God’s providence from the other side, the side of the world, we find every detail of the universe cast in the role of a friendly guide effusively anxious that we see the central truth of the fact of providence. In a previous chapter, the internal finality of the world was insisted upon, even though such insistence seemed to be laboring the obvious: the fact that the ear was ordered by its very nature to the one act of hearing, the eye to the one act of seeing and so on. It was made clear then that this internal finality demanded a supreme intelligence, that it was not sufficiently accounted for by chance, by necessity, or by a limited intelligence. Now, as a matter of fact, such undeniable internal finality forces the mind to a recognition of an external finality, that is, to the recognition of an order to an end beyond the individuals, a world order to which each individual creature makes its own contribution.
A tree sinks its roots to search out minerals and moisture; it is not the minerals who climb the tree to pick apples. It is not the grass which clips the sheep off short, but the other way around. When cows start to hit men on the head with a mallet, hang their haunches up to age and complain of the toughness of the human hide, it will be time enough to revise our ideas on the way of the world. As things stand now, it is the plant which uses the mineral, the animal that uses the plant, the man who uses the animal; that is, it is the superior being which orders the inferior to its own superior end. In other words, the external end of the plant is the internal end of the animal; the plant furnishes the appropriate material which makes possible the end for which the animal organism exists.
The obvious interaction of creatures in the world, their subordination one to another, necessarily means a subordination of their proper ends, one to another. Things do not sit glumly in this world like so many patients in a doctor’s office, aloof, detached, encased in an impenetrable wrapping of individuality, with no reference to each other. Rather, their mere juxtaposition strikes up an intimate interrelation with all the totally unselfconscious abandon of a child among interested strangers. No one thing exists merely for itself or by itself; it is bound to things above it and below it, using the one, serving the other. Things, in other words, have an order to each other; there is an order, a finality, over and above the order to the immediate end of any one creature. There is a world order; the plan of that world order in the mind of God is called providence. For, obviously, that order, like all order, is the fruit of intelligence; it does not explain itself, but is explained only by an intelligence that cannot itself be part of that which it is ordering to the end of the world.
It is quite true that we cannot always trace the lines of that world plan. We do not know, for example, why a giant shell should have crashed into the church of St. Genevieve in Paris at the precise moment when it was most crowded; a great deal of speculation on the part of the author did not clear up the mystery of the collapse of the fictional bridge of San Luis Rey with these particular persons on it. It is just as true that unauthorized interpreters of the divine mind have often invoked divine providence for reasons of personal vengeance or childish spite: to them, there is no doubt that the strained tonsils of a loud spoken neighbor or the financial failure of a bitter rival are evidences of God’s smooth ordering of the world for their convenience. One great American news magazine mocks at a Chinese earthquake as a divine solution to a problem of overpopulation.
But why must we try to understand every detail? The element of mystery in the world order is not surprising. Our naiveté in demanding a complete copy of the divine plans, a copy adapted to our intelligence, is more than surprising, it is humiliating: with a clear knowledge of the mistakes our reasoning has led us into, of the misjudgments we have made, of the natural truths that leave our minds reeling, we pout because divinity is not made plain in tabloid form!
The mystery is there. The fact that it is a mystery gives us no more right to deny the fact, forced on us from so many different angles, than a wounded man has to deny his wound because he cannot trace the source of the bullet The order of the world is a fact that has struck the intelligence of the most ignorant of men as well as the most learned, the shepherds watching their flocks under the brilliance of an Eastern night as well as the astronomer watching the stars that shed that brilliance. The providence behind this order, the plan of the order in the mind of God, has not, consequently, been a matter of esoteric knowledge; it has been a common heritage of the human mind. The existence of that providence can be rigidly proved by unaided human reason, as we have seen; but, for the benefit of those who, for one reason or another, have not such a proof at hand and whose mind might be unsettled by the sophistries of agnostics or atheists, the existence of divine providence has been revealed by God Himself. Providence is a truth much too central to human living to be left to the sole support of a mind that stumbles with the grace of long practice and falls into the arms of fatigue as into the embrace of a life-long friend.
A psychologist may spin out an hypothesis that is, to him, as beautiful as a child is to its mother. But if a consequence of that hypothesis is the denial of a soul, a mind and a free will to man, he must either chuck the hypothesis out the window or admit that he is merely playing with toys. Some psychologists have refused to do either one or the other when faced with this dilemma; but, then, neither did they act the part they had written for other men — or, perhaps, quite unconsciously, they did that very thing. At any rate, every scientific hypothesis must be checked by comparing it and its consequences with the known facts, when such facts are at all available. Following the same technique with a denial of divine providence, it becomes obvious that such a denial will not stand for an instant even as an hypothesis, Such a denial would mean that a supreme deity did not exist. This would not worry the antagonist of providence; but it would mean that neither he nor the world could exist for a moment. Moreover, it would mean a denial of all intellect, even of the intellect of the psychologist; for obviously, if the first intelligence does not exist, the secondary intelligences have no more chance to exist than the baby’s squall without the baby. Imagine an expectant father walking the floor cuddling a squall while he awaits the arrival of the first child of the family! Yet we are behind the times when we protest that we cannot picture a psychologist cuddling his intellect while he awaits the evolution of the supreme intelligence.
A shallow cup held under a rushing flow of water will hardly catch more than a sip; called up on the carpet, it might argue, in the human way, that there was no more water or obviously it would have been filled to the brim. When we hold the human mind under the swift flow of infinite truth, it misses most of that truth and comes up with the truculent denial of all but what it has grasped. Under the shock of the truth that divine providence is absolutely universal, extending to the smallest detail of everything past, present and future, the mind of man is numbed. Reasoning readily shows that this means no more than that God works intelligently. Everything exists only insofar as He causes it, and, of course, He knows what He is doing. But still the truth leaves us as calm as a subnormal student in a calculus class; much more of it has splashed out of our mind than was held there.
Characteristics of Providence: Universal
There is a little more encouraging light in our eyes when it is pointed out that the knowledge of God has, roughly, the same relation to the universe that the architect’s knowledge has to the house he planned; that is, the ordering of the effects of the first Cause to the end He intended is precisely as wide as the effects produced by the first Cause. Of course it is barely possible that a plumber with original ideas might set up a sink in the living room, to the complete surprise of the architect; the plans of God cannot, however, be wrecked, nor can the divine Architect make mistakes.
The truth about providence begins to seep through the rocky outer surface of our minds when we come down to details. We cannot be altogether unmoved by the realization that the sun rises and sets in this way and no other, with this exact, inviolable regularity, that rain always wets us, or fire burns us because they were so planned by God. It is because God made them that way that a sigh lasts only an instant while an angel lives forever, that a man is born and dies in a few years while the planets swing around their courses for millions and millions of years. That a man acts freely while the physical world about him follows inexorable physical laws is because he, and the world, were made that way by God; because the freedom he enjoys is a product of the same divine causality which produced the necessity of the physical world. By this time we are beginning to see that the plan of God, like His causality, extends not merely to things that are, but to the way they are; not merely to what happens, but to how it happens. The very difference of things find their only full explanation in God.
Immediate: Distinction from government
The difference between the extent of God’s causality and ours becomes clearer when we advert to some of our own limitations. We can, for instance, make a dog come our way simply by pulling on the leash with sufficient strength; but we do not pretend to be responsible for the dog’s acting in dog-like fashion. We can wrap a blanket around him, but we cannot stuff a bark down his throat. Our causality is necessarily limited to acting upon things; God’s extends to the innermost principles of the natures of things. He is not merely responsible for the dog, but for the nature of the dog; He is not merely responsible for the nature, but for the way that nature acts — whether necessarily, contingently or freely. Unless He be its cause, freedom can no more exist than can necessity. This insistence on the universality of the causality of God is very much to the point here for the plan of God, since He is intelligent, extends as far as His causality.
Relative immediacy of Providence and government
The plan of God, going to this great detail, would account for the action of every creature in its rush to its own goal. Actually the universality of divine providence extends much further for the creature is not an isolated being, it lives in a world in which it plays, on however small a scale, its cosmic part. It is true that providence extends to the proper end of each being in the world; the plant and animal have the apparatus and organization calculated to accomplish their own preservation and growth to maturity. Over and above this, every living thing has a purpose to accomplish relative to the species, a duty to be done for which it is prepared with unfailing efficiency and regularity. This preparation, too, is in the plan of God. Moreover, each species is not an isolated affair. It, too, has its purpose, its taste to accomplish in the cosmic scheme of things; a purpose that may be described in a general way as the service of its superiors. Again it is prepared with complete efficiency and regularity for this cosmic end; this order to the world end in the mind of God is the plan or providence of God. Little wonder that our mind staggers under the impact of this truth. Little wonder that our eyes are dazzled whether we consider its divine attention to the minutest detail or its magnificent reach to the ends of the universe. It is as wide as the world, and wider; as wide, in fact, as the action of God. That is much too wide for the mind of man to embrace and hug to its breast.
The children’s criticisms — objections against Providence
We are children and God is our Father, our Provider. His eyes sweep the far horizons of the future, of eternity; ours are fixed on all-engrossing moments of the present. Some of us, not seeing our Father’s far distant goals, decide that He is not much of a Father; even, perhaps, that we are orphans who not only have no father now, but never did have. This order about us and within us needs no further explanation than that which is offered by necessity or by accident, that is, by chance. Still others pity the efforts of our Father, pointing out the fact of physical evil as evidence that He has made a botch of His work as Provider; others positively condemn Him as a complete failure, a condemnation based on the existence of that moral evil which is called sin. These are the childish viewpoints of spoiled children: they do not need the Father; or they do not want the kind of Father Who tolerates suffering and sin.
If they were fairly reticent in their misjudgments, as decency would demand while they are still in their Father’s house, they might be passed over in silence and left to life’s hard maturing process. Of course they are not reticent; such children never are. They are bitter, critical, hastily unfair, dogmatically indocile and, above all, blatant. They must be dealt with firmly.
In the second chapter of this book we have seen the fallacy of the explanation of order by chance or necessity. Here it will be enough to recall that argumentation by noting that the explanation of order by chance violates common sense; we are not at all as happily surprised that the constituents of the eye add up to an organ of sight as we are that a roll of the dice should turn up a seven. It is opposed to all scientific thought which refuses to admit it is unveiling a will-o’-the-wisp in discovering nature’s laws. It is opposed to philosophic thought; we investigate airplane accidents; we do not make up schedules for them because we cannot conceive of the accidental as the regular course of affairs. Any devotee of horse racing would go bail for the statement that accidental results do not follow with monotonous regularity; any orchestra leader would resent the claim, if he understood what it meant, that chance unites a number of different causes in such a way as to produce, regularly, an effect that is essentially one and perfect; any amateur gardener would scoff at the notion that chance produces multiple and perfectly connected elements from a seed that is essentially one. For, to all these men, it is obvious that mere chance does not constitute the order of things, does not explain the regularity, the harmony, the efficacy of what science calls the natural action and interaction of creatures in the world.
Necessity, the force of nature, the emergence of new elements or adaptation to surroundings do not offer an explanation; they merely push the problem back, hoping to bluff it into obscurity. How explain the necessity? What causes the adaptations or the emergence? The problem is exactly the same; it can be solved only in the name of a supreme intelligence or of sheer chance — and chance is absurd as an explanation.
The problem of physical evil represents a much more serious difficulty against divine providence to us of the twentieth century. Some of the difficulty comes, no doubt, from the fact that it digs its way into our hearts as well as into our heads; and when we start thinking with our hearts we can call the product thinking only smilingly. Only a poet can talk this way without embarrassment. Much more of the difficulty comes from a faulty outlook which is peculiarly ours. A close-up view can be much too close for comfort, much too close for truth; if we take an ant’s eye-view of the world by standing on our heads we can be terrified of the things we ordinarily tread under foot, a blade of grass or a fallen leaf. When we stand on our heads to look at the world, of course the things close to our eyes will look enormous; of course we shall be blinded to everything but what is within range of our eyelashes. We might as well have no eyes at all, depending on our eyelashes as an ant depends on its feelers.
As regards physical evil, we are often standing on our heads when we make our judgments, we have our eyes glued so close to the material world that our values are ludicrously distorted. From this undignified position sickness, ill health, bodily injuries loom as major catastrophes. They are absolutely fatal to one who cannot see beyond the material world he has jammed against his eyes. They to seriously interfere with pleasure, with work, with family life. But they do not impede the central activity of human life — the meriting of heaven; indeed, they often distinctly aid it. Why do you suppose that Christ commanded men to take up a cross if suffering is a major evil? Why did He visit His saints by such diseases and physical agonies? Why did He flood the soul of His mother with sorrow? Why did He himself undergo such a terrible death at so early an age? These questions demand answers before we gamble everything on health and comfort.
To this upside down observer death has all the horror of complete and blank finality. If it means the end and collapse of achievement, the end of joy, the end of life, the end of love, it is a major tragedy. But if it is only the beginning of all these things, of all that will complete our happiness, and the end only of those things that rob us of happiness it ceases to be a dread terror stalking a man through all the byways of life. Loss of fortune, of friends the discovery of a love’s falseness, all these are major tragedies only if we have made major ends of the things we lose by them. If we have glued our eyes to earth and neglect to look over the horizon into the infinity of the world of the spirit, we necessarily carry our heart on our sleeve; it will be crushed, battered, wounded, defaced, betrayed and broken. Because, you see, that is no place for a human heart.
Unquestionably God does cause physical evil, at the very least, through the operation of the natural laws of which He is the author. Sometimes, frequently enough to assure us of His providence, we can see the reason for the evil. We can understand that the plant must die to feed the animal; that animals must die to feed men; for we can understand the impossibility of order without subordination of one thing to another. We even see, now and then, how priceless was the suffering which brought a man to his senses, toppling him from the insecure throne of self-sufficiency and setting him humbly about the business of making his way home. Of course we cannot see all the reasons, nor can we see reasons all the time. But what a tragic disappointment it would be if God’s plot could be seen by us so long before we had finished the book.
By far the most serious of the children’s criticisms arises from the existence of sin. This difficulty clears up to a great extent when the exact nature of sin is accurately grasped; but, then, so penetrating an insight is a little too much to expect from children who refuse to grow up. Sin is, primarily, a privation, a lack of order to God in some act. Or, more simply, sin is a human act with a hole in it. Just as dough is not necessary to build up the pleasing and practical emptiness of a hole in a doughnut, so nothing positive is necessary to build up the pleasing and apparently practical emptiness of the hole in a human act. The action of the first cause, God, is not demanded for this defect, precisely because it is a defect, a lack of something. The first cause must be responsible for everything that exists; the trouble with this bad human act is just that there is something that does not but should exist in it. In a word, for this defect, the human will needs no help from God.
Secondarily, there is a positive element in sin — the physical act itself; just as in the doughnut there is the positive element surrounding the hole. For this positive element we must go back, through the human will, to God. Look at it in the concrete. All a pickpocket does is put his hand into a pocket and extract a wallet. We do the same thing several times every day, though with none of the eager excitement enjoyed by the pickpocket. Physically considered there is nothing wrong with the acts indeed, from this physical point of view, the thief’s extraction of a wallet is far superior in its smooth grace to the honest man’s grumbling fumble. The difference is that the pickpocket puts his hand in someone else’s pocket to take a wallet that is not his own. This is the precise defect of order. God is certainly the ultimate cause of the physical act in sin; He causes it by moving the human will freely to it. The defect, the formal element that makes sin, sin, is not caused by God; it is merely permitted, tolerated.
That brings us sharply against the problem of freedom. Why does God permit this defect? Why does He not make it impossible to sin? The answer to those questions is very, very simple:because this permission is demanded by the nobility of man.
God could have made us physically incapable of violating the laws by which we are led to our goal; in such a case we might be beasts, or vegetables, or minerals. We would certainly not be men and women. He could have created us in possession of eternal happiness, but it would not have been so divinely generous of Him. For He would thus have robbed our lives of loyalty and victory, of the stubborn courage that drags us to our feet after a severe beating; of merit, responsibility, personal accomplishment, of faith and hope and the whole life of virtue; of the light of the life of Christ and the exquisite joy of fellowship in His sufferings. It has been well said that it is the possibility of sin that made possible the lives of the saints. Because men can lie, cheat, steal, kill, make beasts of themselves there is great merit in truth, honesty, justice, and chastity. Because we can hate so bitterly and live so selfishly, human love is the precious thing it is. It is only because the gates of hell are wide open for us that we can batter down the walls of heaven with our own fists.
Briefly, the terror of evil in the world springs from the heart of a coward. It is the normal echo of that effeminate attitude towards life that holds out, as life’s ideal, uninterrupted coddling, endless days of petting, coaxing, protection. This is the view of life that shrinks from sharing the weariness and discouragement of struggle, the glory of personal victory, because of the possibilities of failure.
Power of the eternal Father
In this investigation of divine providence, we have simply been looking facts in the face. The direct glance of facts now push us one step farther along in our scrutiny of the nature of God, the further step to the acceptance of the rather terrifying truth that yet lies at the roots of our hope, the truth of God’s omnipotence. Lest our wavering intellect, in spite of facts and irrefragable proof, should hesitate, trembling before the awfulness of such a concept, we have again the bolstering declaration of in fallible authority. Strictly speaking, however, authority is not necessary in this matter; our reason can handle this alone. In fact, once we understand what is meant by omnipotence, the intellect holds out open arms to embrace it.
The nature of omnipotence
Power is not attributed to God in the sense of the power of a canvas to be turned into a masterpiece. Such a principle of passive reception is an open confession of perfection not yet had; a thing inconceivable in God. Nor is divine power to be taken in the sense of the power of a painter to produce a masterpiece. Great as such power may be, it, too, is kept humble by its necessary confession of imperfection; it, too, implies a change, a motion, a passage from potentiality to actuality. It is a clear statement of help received, of dependence on another mover. God is completely independent, altogether unmoved.
Power in God must be understood in a sense that is unique: the sense of a principle of action on others, in itself implying no imperfection whatsoever. No example of it can be given for it exists nowhere outside of divinity. The power of creatures is no more than a shadow recording the presence of divine power.
However, starting from the world we know so well, we can rise up to some knowledge of divine omnipotence. In our world, creatures are principles of action, that is they have power, in exact proportion to their own actuality, their own realized potentialities. Thus, for instance, I cannot teach others the art of ballet dancing because I have not that knowledge; I can teach others only what I myself know. A man can put the stamp of intelligence upon his work only in the degree in which he possesses intelligence; he cannot generate angels, even if angels could be generated, because he does not himself enjoy angelic life. God, as we have already proved, is pure act, complete perfection. His power, then, is complete, as unlimited as His perfection, almighty.
Divine omnipotence, then, means that God can do all things. The jocose objections that are offered against this divine attribute are harmless things as long as we understand that they are meant to be funny and are not objections at all but contradictions in terms. With this clearly in mind we can, with the somewhat weary patience that is our only defense against a punster, sustain such questions as: can God make past things present? Can God make an object so big He cannot move it? And so on. In a way, these objections are an aid to a clear notion of omnipotence. They bring out its real meaning, namely, the power to do all that can be done, to make all that can be made; or, more simply, to do whatever does not involve a contradiction. What does involve a contradiction is not to be classified as impossible to some created cause, not to God’s power, but impossible to itself. A circular square cannot be made; a soulless frankenstein can never escape from the pages of fiction; a creature can never be infinite; for in all these there is contained an open contradiction.
Happiness of the eternal Father: Fact of God’s happiness
There is one last question to be investigated in this analysis of the nature of God. a question that comes to us naturally as involving the high point of existence: is God happy? The question has seemed in very bad taste to the gloomy religionists of the past few centuries, the men and women who identified godliness with stern frowns or resigned sighs. To speak, or even speculate, on happiness in reference to divinity was as vulgar as gossip about the king’s indigestion. On this basis, heaven should be pictured as a dreary front parlor exuding dignity with the angels tip-toeing in terror down the halls in dread expectation of the roaring anger of a God as wrathful as a victim of gout.
How such a notion ever came into being is totally inexplicable on rational grounds. A simple analysis of happiness shows that it demands an intellectual nature, the possession of a good, and a consciousness of that possession. Consequently a dog or a cat can never know happiness; it can be satisfied, its appetites quieted, but it cannot know that these appetites have been satisfied. The animal, in other words, is incapable of that reflexive act that enables us to look at ourselves. Obviously, a man may have much good and yet be thoroughly unhappy by the simple trick of concentrating on the things he does not have, or by cultivating a kind of unconsciousness of the goods he does possess. But it is utterly impossible for God to be unhappy: He is supreme intelligence, He is supreme goodness, He knows Himself, His goodness, perfectly with an eternal, uninterrupted act. Our happiness, then, like all our other perfections, is but the faintest rejection of the full, infinite, ineffable happiness of God. Gloom, grouches, bad temper or blues simply cannot have a place in God for sorrow, defect, imperfection are excluded by the very notion of divinity.
Our little share in that overflowing divine happiness makes up the eternal happiness of heaven. In fact, the happiness of God includes all other happiness; whatever desirability there is in any other happiness, whether that happiness be true or false, Preexisted complete and in a much more eminent, a divine, way in the happiness of God.
It seemed so important to St. Thomas that men see God as a happy God that he drew up a table of extremely rough parallels, in the hope that some little glimmer of the smile of God would light up the darkest days of human life. He made the parallel between the clear, penetrating, translucent beauty of human contemplative happiness and God’s continuous contemplation of His own infinitely perfect divine nature and of all other natures; between the solid, substantial, creative happiness that belongs to the activity of men and the happiness of God’s creation and government of the world. From what might be called earthly happiness — pleasure, riches, power, dignity, fame — he looked to the infinite joy of God in Himself and His creatures, to the infinite sufficiency of divinity, the divine omnipotence, the eternal kingdom of God, the universal admiration of the created world. The parallels are clumsy; but they should rule out of the minds of men the horrible caricature of a gloomy God.
The home over which so happy a Father presides is a grand place to live in. Wherever He is, is home. Now, while we are on the road, it is a makeshift affair, a tent thrown up for the night, but still home; when the journey of life is done with, that happy Father will give us the full happiness He has been planning for us all along the road, His eyes looking far down the future to eternity. It is, however, extremely difficult for the most provident, the happiest of Fathers to give happiness to carping, critical, unfair children. If they insist on misjudging their Father in the light of their childish minds and distorted information no one can do much of anything about it.
A little faith, a more docile acceptance of the long view of the Father, makes all the difference between happiness and misery. To accept that long view of providence does not involve a denial of that weakest of all intelligences, the human mind; it is not a slavish surrender of man’s supreme faculty. True enough, the intellect of man has rights, rights which cannot be denied without a denial of our own manhood, of our claim to superiority to the irrational world. It has the right to demand that it be not violated, that these truths about the nature of God be not against reason not in contradiction to it. It also has limits, limits which are definitely those of a finite creature. It is violating itself when it expects or demands the comprehension of the infinite; it is being childish when it demands that the Father see no further than the smallest of His children.
The intellect is forced to the conclusions we have discussed in this chapter, forced by fact, by simple adherence to the fundamental laws of thought and of being. Those conclusions, moreover, are bolstered by infallible authority’s crystal-clear pronouncements. The difficulties urged against these conclusions do not show there is any contradiction involved; there is nothing contrary to reason here, merely something above it. For there is mystery here, as there is mystery wherever the divine movement is involved; the comprehension of the mystery is possible only to the mind that can comprehend the infinite. We do make those difficulties seem more forceful, not by further argumentation, but by standing on our head, holding the world so close to our eyes that our whole scale of values is inverted; the difficulties seem enormous only when we blind ourselves to the truth.
Answers to the children
A fatherless world
It is fortunate for these ungrateful children that the violence of their misjudgments cannot destroy the benevolent paternity of God. The make-believe world they construct for themselves is a horrible habitation; but there is always the comforting knowledge that it is only make-believe. Pushing the Father aside as utterly incompetent, they take on their childish minds His work of running the house of the world, and break down before that work, as a man always breaks down before a job that is too big for him; they end up trying to escape from the house of the world to which they have denied all doors and windows. Some of them will deny the very existence of the Father, the very framework of the house of the world, pulling the walls down on their own heads to escape into a chaos without order and without meaning. They are unbalanced children who insist that the toys of life are life’s essentials; they are frightened children to whom despair is a playmate; they are children at war with God, with the world and above all with themselves, a war that breeds a hatred that looses its most deadly venom against the children themselves. They are the children of a Fatherless world.
Children at home
It is, thank God, only a world of their own distorted minds. In reality God’s children are at home even during this rough passage to heaven. The walls of the house of the world are rough, unfinished, crude things; but within that home there is the serenity, the courage, the peace and self-respect that is the right of children, the product of a provident Father. In place of panic in the face of chaos, there is the calm quiet of children with perfect trust, for here is a Father whose provident eyes search the long horizons of eternity. Here there is no fear, no despair; for here the intelligence and power of the Father are assured. Failure, misfortune, discouragement, sickness, even sin itself have their meaning in the divine scheme of things. Here there is that sane balance that recognizes success, praise, high position, good fortune, health, as only steps in a divine plan, steps which are perhaps no more significant than their opposites. Here is peace for here is order; and the supreme self-respect, the supreme helpfulness to neighbor, that comes from sharing in that divine providence, from partaking in the dignity of causality, from being in command of our own souls with the future what we care to make it.