Book: "Raymond or Life and Death"

Author: Sir Oliver Lodge FRS

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- (Part 3) - Chapter 17 - Life and Death -

The Christian Idea of God

A Plea for Simplicity


          INVESTIGATION is laborious and unexciting; it takes years, and progress is slow; but in all regions of knowledge it is the method which in the long-run has led towards truth; it is the method by which what we feel to be solid and substantial progress has always been made. In many departments of human knowledge this fact is admitted-though men of science have had to fight hard for their method before getting it generally recognised. In some departments it is still contested, and the arguments of Bacon in favour of free experimental inquiry are applicable to those subjects which are claimed as superior to scientific test.

If it be objected that not by such means is truth in religious matters ascertained, if it be held that we must walk by faith, not by sight, and that never by searching will man find out any of the secrets of God, I do not care to contest the objection, though I disagree with its negative portion. That no amount of searching will ever enable us to find out the Almighty to perfection is manifestly true; that secrets may be revealed to inspired 'babes' which are hidden from the wise and prudent is likewise certain; but that no secret things of God can be brought to light by patient examination and inquiry into facts is false, for you cannot parcel out truth into that which is divine and that which is not divine; the truths of science were as much God's secrets as any other, and they have yielded up their mystery to precisely the process which is called in question.

We are part of the Universe, our senses have been evolved in and by it; it follows that they are harmonious with it, and that the way it appeals to our senses is a true way; though their obvious limitation entitles us to expect from time to time fresh discoveries of surprising and fundamental novelty, and a growing perception of tracts beyond our ancient ken.

Some critics there are, however, who, calling themselves scientific, have made tip their minds in a negative direction and a contrary sense. These are impressed not only with the genuineness of the truth afforded us through our senses and perceptions, but with its completeness; they appear to think that the main lines of research  have already been mapped out or laid down, they will not believe that regions other than those to which they are accustomed can be open to scientific exploration; especially they imagine that in the so-called religious domain there can be no guides except preconception and prejudice. Accordingly, they appear to disbelieve that anyone can be conscientiously taking trouble to grope his way by patient inquiry, with the aid of such clues as are available; and in order to contradict the results of such inquiry they fall into the habit of doing that of which they accuse the workers,-they appeal to sentiment and presumption. They talk freely about what they believe, what they think unlikely, and what is impossible. They are governed by prejudice; their minds are made up.  Doubtless they regard knowledge on certain topics as inaccessible, so they are positive and self-satisfied and opinionated and quite sure. They pride themselves on their hard-headed scepticism and robust common sense; while the truth is that they have bound themselves into a narrow cell by walls of sentiment, and have thus excluded whole regions of human experience from their purview.

It so happens that I have been engaged for over forty years in mathematical and physical science, and for more than half that period in exploration into unusual psychical development, as opportunity arose; and I have thus been led to certain tentative conclusions respecting permissible ways of regarding the universe.

First, I have learned to regard the universe as a concrete and full-bodied reality, with parts accessible and intelligible to us, all of it capable of being understood and investigated by the human mind, not as an abstraction or dream-like entity whose appearances are deceptive. Our senses do not deceive us; their testimony is true as far as it goes. I have learned to believe in Intelligibility.

Next, that everything, every single thing, has many aspects. Even such a thing as water, for instance. Water, regarded by the chemist, is an assemblage or aggregate of complex molecules; regarded by the meteorologist and physiographer, it is an element of singular and vitally important properties; every poet has treated of some aspect of beauty exhibited by this common substance; while to the citizen it is an ordinary need of daily life. All the aspects together do not exhaust the subject, but each of them is real. The properties of matter of which our senses tell us, or enable us to inquire into in laboratories' are true properties, real and true. They are not the whole truth, a great deal more is known about them by men of science, but the more complex truths do not make the simpler ones false. Moreover, we must admit that the wholetruth about the simplest thing is assuredly beyond us; the Thing-in-itself is related to the whole universe, and in its fulness is incomprehensible.

Furthermore, I have learned that while positive assertions on any given subject are often true, error creeps in when simple aspects are denied in order to emphasise the more complex, or vice versa. A trigonometrical sine, for instance, may be expressed in terms of imaginary exponentials in a way familiar to all mathematical students; also as an infinite series of fractions with increasing factorials in the denominators; also in a number of other true and legitimate and useful ways; but the simple geometrical definition, by aid of the chord of a circle or the string of a bow, survives them all, and is true too.

So it is, I venture to say, with the concept God.

It can be regarded from some absolute and transcendental standpoint which humanity can only pretend to attain to. It can be regarded as the highest and best idea which the human mind has as yet been able to form. It can be regarded as dominating and including all existence, and as synonymous with all existence when that is made  sufficiently comprehensive. All these views are legitimate, but they are not final or complete. God can also be represented by some of the attributes of humanity, and can be depicted as a powerful and loving Friend with whom our spirits may commune at every hour of the day, one whose patience and wisdom and long- suffering and beneficence are never exhausted. He can, in fact, be regarded as displayed to us, in such fashion as we can make use of, in the person of an incarnate Being who came for the express purpose of revealing to man such attributes of deity as would otherwise have been missed.

The images are not mutually exclusive, they may all be in some sort true. None of them is complete. They are all aspects-partly true and partly false as conceived by any individual, but capable of being expressed so as to be, as far as they go, true.

Undoubtedly the Christian idea of God is the simple one. Overpoweringly and appallingly simple is the notion presented to us by the orthodox Christian Churches:

A babe born of poor parents, born in a stable among cattle because there was no room for them in the village inn-no room for them in the inn-what a master touch! Revealed to shepherds. Religious people inattentive. Royalty ignorant, or bent on massacre. A glimmering perception, according to one noble legend, attained in the Far East-where also similar occurrences have been narrated. Then the child growing into a peasant youth, brought up to a trade. At length a few years of itinerant preaching; flashes of miraculous power and insight. And then a swift end: set upon by the religious people; his followers overawed and scattered, himself tried as a blasphemer, flogged, and finally tortured to death.

Simplicity most thorough and most strange! In itself it is not unique; such occurrences seem inevitable to highest humanity in an unregenerate world; but who, without inspiration, would see in them a revelation of the nature of God? The life of Buddha, the life of Joan of Arc, are not thus regarded. Yet the Christian revelation is clear enough and true enough if our eyes are open, and if we care to read and accept the simple record which, whatever its historical value, is all that has been handed down to us.

Critics often object that there have been other attempted Messiahs, that the ancient world was expectant of a Divine Incarnation. True enough. But what then? We need not be afraid of an idea because it has several times striven to make itself appreciated. It is foolish to decline a revelation because it has been more than once offered to humanity. Every great revelation is likely to have been foreshadowed in more or less imperfect forms, so as to prepare our minds and make ready the way for complete perception hereafter. It is probable that the human race is quite incompetent to receive a really great idea the first time it is offered. There must be many failures to effect an entrance before the final success, many struggles to overcome natural obstacles and submerge the stony products of human stolidity. Lapse of time for preparation is required before anything great can be permanently accomplished, and repeated attempts are necessary; but the tide of general progress is rising all the time. The idea is well expressed in Clough's familiar lines:

"For while the tired waves, vainly breaking, Seem here no painful inch to gain, Far back, through creeks and inlets making, Comes silent, flooding in, the main."

So it was with the idea of the Messiah which was abroad in the land, and had been for centuries, before Christ's coming; and never has he been really recognised by more than a few. Dare we not say that he is more truly recognised now than in any previous age in the history of the Church-except perhaps the very earliest? And I doubt if we need make that exception.

The idea of his Messiahship gradually dawned upon him, and he made no mistake as to his mission:

The word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's who sent me. As the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. The words which I say unto you I speak not of myself; the Father which dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.

The Father is greater than I. But, for all that, He that hath seen me hath seen the Father. 

Yes, truly, Christ was a planetary manifestation of Deity, a revelation to the human race, the highest and simplest it has yet had; a revelation in the only form accessible to man, a revelation in the full-bodied form of humanity.

Little conception had they in those days of the whole universe as we know it now. The earth was the whole world to them, and that which revealed God to the earth was naturally regarded as the whole Cosmic Deity. Yet it was a truly divine Incarnation.

A deity of some kind is common to every branch of the human race. It seems to be possessed by every savage, overawed as he necessarily is by the forces of nature. Caprice, jealousy, openness to flattery and rewards, are likewise parts of early theology. Then in the gods of Olympus -that poetic conception which rose to such heights and fell to such depths at different epochs in the ancient world-the attributes of power and beauty were specially emphasised. Power is common to all deities, and favouritism in its use seems also a natural supposition to early tribes; but the element of Beauty, as a divine attribute, we in these islands, save for the poets, have largely lost or forgotten-to our great detriment. In Jehovah, however, the Hebrew race rose to a conception of divine Righteousness which we have assimilated and permanently retained; and upon that foundation Christianity was grafted. It was to a race who had risen thus far-a race with a genius for theology- that the Christian revelation came. It was rendered possible, though only just possible, by the stage attained. Simple and unknown folk were ready to receive it, or, at least, were willing to take the first steps to learn.

The power, the righteousness, and other worthy attributes belonging to Jehovah, were known of old. The Christian conception takes them for granted, and concentrates attention on the pity, the love, the friendliness, the compassion, the earnest desire to help mankind-attributes which, though now and again dimly discerned by one or another of the great seers of old, had not yet been thrown into concrete form.

People sometimes seek to deny such attributes as are connoted by the word 'Personality' in the Godhead - they say it is a human conception. Certainly it is a human conception; it is through humanity that it has been revealed. Why seek to deny it? God transcends personality, objectors say. By all means: transcends all our conceptions infinitely, transcends every revelation which has ever been vouchsafed; but the revelations are true as far as they go, for all that.

Let us not befog ourselves by attempting impossible conceptions to such an extent that we lose the simple and manifest reality. No conception that we can make is too high, too good, too worthy. It is easy to imagine ourselves mistaken, but never because ideas are too high or too good. It were preposterous to imagine an over-lofty conception in a creature. Reality is always found to exceed our clear conception of it; never once in science has it permanently fallen short. No conception is too great or too high. But also no devout conception is too simple, too lowly, too childlike to have an element-some grain-of vital truth stored away, a mustard seed ready to germinate and bud, a leaven which may permeate the whole mass.

I would apply all this to what for brevity may be called Human Immortality. It is possible to think of that rather simply; and, on the other band, it is possible to confuse ourselves with tortuous thoughts till it seems unreal and impossible. It is part of the problem of personality and individuality; for the question of how far these are dependent on the bodily organism, or whether they can exist without it, is a scientific question. It is open to research. And yet it is connected with Christianity; for undoubtedly the Christian idea of God involves a belief in human immortality. If per impossible this latter could be authoritatively denied, a paralysing blow would have been struck at the Christian idea. On the other hand, if by scientific investigation the persistence of individual memory and character were proved, a great step in the direction of orthodox theology would have been taken.

The modern superstition about the universe is that, being suffused with law and order, it contains nothing personal, nothing indeterminate, nothing unforeseen; that there is no room for the free activity of intelligent beings, that everything is mechanically determined; so that given the  velocity and acceleration and position of every atom at any instant, the whole future could be unravelled by sufficient mathematical power.

The doctrines of Uniformity and Determinism are supposed to be based upon experience. But experience includes experience of the actions of human beings; and some of them certainly appear to be of a capricious and undetermined character. Or without considering human beings, watch the orbits of a group of flies as they play; they are manifestly not controlled completely by mechanical laws as are the motions of the planets. The simplest view of their activity is that it is self -determined, that they are flying about at their own will, and turning when and where they choose. The conservation of energy has nothing to say against it. Here we see free-will in its simplest form. To suppose anything else in such a case, to suppose that every twist could have been predicted through all eternity, is to introduce practernatural complexity, and is quite unnecessary.

Why not assume, what is manifestly the truth, that free-will exists and has to be reckoned with, that the universe is not a machine subject to outside forces, but a living organism with initiations of its own; and that the laws which govern it, though they include mechanical and physical and chemical laws, are not limited to those, but involve other and higher abstractions, which may perhaps some day be formulated, for life and mind and spirit?

If it be said that free-will can be granted to deity but to nothing lower, inasmuch as the Deity must be aware of all that is going to happen, I reply that you are now making a hypothesis of a complicated kind, and going beyond knowledge into speculation. But if still the speculation appears reasonable, that only the Deity can be endowed with free-will, it merely opens the question, What shall be included in that term? If freedom is the characteristic mark of deity, then those are justified who have taught that every fragment of mind and will is a contributory element in the essence of the Divine Being.

How, then, can we conceive of deity? The analogy of the human body and its relation to the white corpuscles in its blood is instructive. Each corpuscle is a living creature endowed with the powers of locomotion, of assimilation, and, under certain conditions now being inquired into, of reproduction by fission. The health and polity of the body are largely dependent on the activity of these phagocytes. They are to us extremely important; they are an essential part of our being.

But now suppose one of these corpuscles endowed with intelligence-what conception of the universe will it be able to form? It may examine its surroundings, discourse of the vessels through which it passes, of the adventures it encounters; and if philosophically minded, it may speculate on a being of which perhaps it and all its like form a part -an immanent deity, whose constituents they are, a being which includes them and includes all else which they know or can imagine-a being to whose existence they contribute, and whose purposes they serve or share. So far they could speculate, and so far they would be right. But if they proceeded further, and entered on negations, if they surmised that that immanent aspect of the universe in which they lived and moved and had their being was the sole and only aspect, if they surmised that there was no personality, no feeling, no locomotion, no mind, no purpose, apart from them and their kind, they would greatly err. What conception could they ever form of the manifold interests and activities of man ? Still less of the universe known to man, of which he himself forms so trivial a portion.

All analogies fail at some point, but they are a help nevertheless, and this analogy will bear pressing rather far. We ourselves are a part of the agencies for good or evil; we have the power to help or to hinder, to mend or to mar, within the scope of our activity. Our help is asked for; lowly as we are, it is really wanted, on the earth here and now, just as much wanted as our body needs the help of its lowly white corpuscles-to contribute to health, to attack disease, to maintain the normal and healthy life of the organism. We are the white corpuscles of the cosmos, we serve and form part of an immanent Deity.

Truly it is no easy service to which we are called; something of the wisdom of the serpent must enter into our activities; sanity and moral dignity and sound sense must govern our proceedings; all our powers must be called out, and there must be no sluggishness. Impulses, even good impulses, alone are not sufficient; every faculty of the human brain must be exerted, and we must be continually on guard against the flabbiness of mere good intentions.

Our activity and service are thus an integral part of the Divine Existence, which likewise includes that of all the perceptible universe. But to suppose that this exhausts the matter, and that the Deity has no transcendent Existence of which we can form no idea,- to suppose that what happens is not the result of his dominant and controlling Personality, is to step beyond legitimate inference, and to treat appearance as exhaustive of reality.

Always mistrust negations. They commonly signify blindness and prejudice-except when thoroughly established and carefully formulated in the light of actual experience or mathematical proof. And even then we should be ready to admit the possibility of higher generalisations which may uproot them. They are only safe when thrown into the form of a positive assertion.

The impossibility of squaring the circle is not really a negative proposition, except in form. It is safer and more convincing when thrown into the positive and definite form that the ratio of area to diameter is incommensurable. That statement is perfectly clear and legitimate; and the illustration may be used as a parable. A positive form should be demanded of every comprehensive denial; and whatever cannot be thrown into positive form, it is wise to mistrust. Its promulgator is probably stepping out of bounds, into the cheap and easy region of negative speculation. He is like a rationalistic microbe denying the existence of a human being.

I have urged that the simple aspect of things is to be considered and not despised; but, for the majority of people, is not the tendency the other way? Are they not too much given to suppose the Universe limited to the simplicity of their first and everyday conception of it? The stockbroker has his idea of the totality of things; the navy has his. Students of mathematical physics are liable to think of it as a determinate assemblage of atoms and ether, with no room for spiritual entities-no room, as my brilliant teacher, W. K. Clifford, expressed it, no room for ghosts.

Biological students are apt to think of life as a physicochemical process of protoplasmic structure and cell organisation, with consciousness as an epiphenomenon. They watch the lowly stages of animal organisms, and hope to imitate their behaviour by judicious treatment of inorganic materials. By all means let them try; the effort is entirely legitimate, and not unhopeful. That which has come into being in the past may come into, being under observation in the present, and the intelligence and cooperation of man may help. Why not? The material vehicle would thus have been provided-in this case, without doubt, purposely and designedly--for some incipient phase of life. But would that in the least explain the nature of life and mind and will,and reduce them to simple atomic mechanism and dynamics? Not a whit. The real nature of these things would remain an unanswered question.

During the past century progress has lain chiefly in the domain of the mechanical and material. The progress has been admirable, and has led to natural rejoicing and legitimate pride. It has also led to a supposition that all possible scientific advance lies in this same direction, or even that all the great fundamental discoveries have now been made! Discovery proceeds by stages, and enthusiasm at the acquisition of a step or a landing-place obscures for a time our perception of the flight of stairs immediately ahead; but it is rational to take a more comprehensive view.

Part of our experience is the connexion of spirit with matter. We are conscious of our own identity, our own mind and purpose and will: we are also conscious of the matter in which it is at present incarnate and manifested. Let us use these experiences and learn from them. Incarnation is a fact; we are not matter, yet we utilise it. Through the mechanism of the brain we can influence the material world; we are in it, but not of it; we transcend it by our consciousness. The body is our machine, our instrument, our vehicle of manifestation; and through it we can achieve results in the material sphere. Why seek to deny either the spiritual or the material? Both are real, both are true. In some higher mind, perhaps, they may be unified: meanwhile we do not possess this higher mind. Scientific progress is made by accepting realities and learning from them; the rest is speculation. It is not likely that we are the only intelligent beings in the Universe. There may be many higher grades, up to the Divine; just as there are lower grades, down to the amoeba. Nor need all these grades of intelligence be clothed in matter or inhabit the surface of a planet. That is the kind of existence with which we are now familiar, truly, and anything beyond that is for the most part supersensuous; but our senses are confessedly limited, and if there is any truth in the doctrine of human immortality the existence of myriads of departed individuals must be assumed, on what has been called "the other side."

But how are we to get evidence in favour of such an apparently gratuitous hypothesis? Well, speaking for myself and with full and cautious responsibility, I have to state that as an outcome of my investigation into psychical matters I have at length and quite gradually become convinced, after more than thirty years of study, not only that persistent individual existence is a fact, but that occasional communication across the chasm- with difficulty and under definite conditions-is possible.

This is not a subject on which one comes lightly and easily to a conclusion, nor can the evidence be explained except to those who will give to it time and careful study; but clearly the conclusion is either folly and self-deception, or it is a truth of the utmost importance to humanity-and of importance to us in connexion with our present subject. For it is a conclusion which cannot stand alone. Mistaken or true, it affords a foothold for a whole range of other thoughts, other conclusions, other ideas: false and misleading if the foothold is insecure, worthy of attention if the foothold is sound. Let posterity judge.

Meanwhile it is a subject that attracts cranks and charlatans. Rash opinions are freely expressed on both sides. I call upon the educated of the younger generation to refrain from accepting assertions without severe scrutiny, and, above all, to keep an open mind. 

If departed human beings can communicate with us, can advise us and help us, can have any influence on our actions,- then clearly the doors are open to a wealth of spiritual intercourse beyond what we have yet imagined.

The region of the miraculous, it is called, and the bare possibility of its existence has been hastily and illegitimately denied. But so long as we do not imagine it to be a region denuded of a law and order of its own, akin to the law and order of the psychological realm, our denial has no foundation. The existence of such a region may be established by experience; its non-existence cannot be established, for non-experience might merely mean that owing to deficiencies of our sense organs it was beyond our ken. In judging of what are called miracles we must be guided by historical evidence and literary criticism. We need not urge a priori objections to them on scientific grounds. They need be no more impossible, no more lawless, than the interference of a human being would seem to a colony of ants or bees.

The Christian idea of God certainly has involved, and presumably always will involve, an element of the miraculous' - a flooding of human life with influences which lie outside it, a controlling of human destiny by higher and beneficent agencies. By evil agencies too? Yes, the influences are not all on one side; but the Christian faith is that the good are the stronger. Experience has shown to many a saint, however tormented by evil, that appeal to the powers of good can result in ultimate victory. Let us not reject experience on the ground of dogmatic assertion and baseless speculation.

Historical records tell us of a Divine Incarnation. We may consider it freely on historical grounds. We are not debarred from contemplating such a thing by anything that science has to say to the contrary. Science does not speak directly on the subject. If the historical evidence is good we may credit it, just as we may credit the hypothesis of survival if the present-day evidence is good. It sounds too simple and popular an explanation-too much like the kind of ideas suited to unsophisticated man and to the infancy of the race. True; but has it not happened often in the history of science that reality has been found simpler than our attempted conception of it? Electricity long ago was often treated as a fluid; and a little time ago it was customary to jeer at the expression - legitimate in the mouth of Benjamin Franklin, but now apparently outgrown. And yet what else is the crowd of mobile electrons, postulated by [not] the very latest theory, in a metal? Surely it is in some sense a fluid, though not a material one? The guess was not so far wrong after all. Meanwhile we learned to treat it by mathematical devices, vector potential, and other recondite methods. With great veneration I speak of the mathematical physicists of the past century. They have been almost superhuman in power, and have attained extraordinary results, but in time the process of discovery will enable mankind to apprehend all these things more simply. Progress lies in simple investigation as welt as in speculation and thought up to the limits of human power; and when things are really understood, they are perceived to be fairly simple after all.

So it seems likely to be with a future state, or our own permanent existence; it has been thought of and spoken of as if it were altogether transcendental - something beyond space and time (as it may be), something outside and beyond all conception. But it is not necessarily so at all; it is a question of fact; it is open to investigation. I find part of it turning out quite reasonably simple; not easy to grasp or express, for lack of experience and language-- that is true, - but not by any means conveying a feeling of immediate vast difference and change. Something much more like terrestrial existence, at least on one aspect of it, than we had imagined. Not as a rule associated with matter; no, but perhaps associated with etheran etherial body instead of a material one; certainly a body, or mode of manifestation, of some kind. It appears to be a state which leaves personality and character and intelligence much where it was. No sudden jump into something supernal, but steady and continued progress. Many activities and interests beyond our present ken, but with a surviving terrestrial aspect, occasionally accessible, and showing interest in the doings of those on earth, together with great desire to help and to encourage all efforts for the welfare of the race. We need not search after something so far removed from humanity as to be unintelligible.

So likewise with the idea of God.

No matter how complex and transcendentally vast the Reality must be, the Christian conception of God is humanly simple. It appeals to the unlettered and ignorant; it appeals to "babes."

That is the way with the greatest things. The sun is the centre of the solar system, a glorious object full of mystery and unknown forces, but the sunshine is a friendly and homely thing, which shines in at a cottage window, touches common objects with radiance, and brings warmth and comfort even to the cat.

The sunshine is not the sun, but it is the human and terrestrial aspect of the sun; it is that which matters in daily life. It is independent of study and discovery; it is given us by direct experience, and for ordinary life it suffices.

Thus would I represent the Christian conception of God. Christ is the human and practical and workaday aspect. Christ is the sunshine - that fraction of transcendental Cosmic Deity which suffices for the earth. Jesus of Nazareth is plainly a terrestrial heritage. His advent is the glory, His reception the shame, of the human race.

Once more, then. Although there may be undue simplification of the complex, there is also an undue complication of the simple; it is easy to invent unnecessary problems, to manufacture gratuitous difficulties, to lose our way in a humanly constructed and quite undivine fog. But the way is really simple, and when the fog lifts and the sunshine appears, all becomes clear and we proceed without effort on our way: the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein. The way, the truth, and the life are all one. Reality is always simple; it is concrete and real and expressible. Our customary view of the commonest objects is not indeed the last word, nay, rather, it is the first word, as to their nature; but it is a true word as far as it goes. Analysing a liquid into a congeries of discrete atoms does not destroy or weaken or interfere with its property or fluidity. Analysing an atom into  electrons does not destroy the atom. Reducing matter to electricity, or to any other etherial substratum, does not alter the known and familiarly utilised properties of a bit of wood or iron or glass, in the least; no, nor of a bit of bone or feather or flesh. Study may superadd properties imperceptible to the plain man, but the plain man's concrete and simple view serves for ordinary purposes of daily life.

And God's view, strange to say, must be more akin to that of the plain man than to that of the philosopher or statistician. That is how it comes that children are near the kingdom of heaven. It is not likely that God really makes abstractions and "geometrises." All those higher and elaborate modes of expression are human counters; and the difficulties of dealing with them are human too. Only in early stages do things require superhuman power for their apprehension; they are easy to grasp when they are really understood. They come out then into daily life; they are not then matters of intellectual strain; they can appeal to our sense of beauty; they can affect us with emotion and love and appreciation and joy; they can enter into poetry and music, and constitute the subject-matter of Art of all kinds. The range of art and of enjoyment must increase infinitely with perfect knowledge. This is the atmosphere of God. "Where dwells enjoyment, there is He." We are struggling upwards into that atmosphere slowly and laboriously. The struggle is human, and for us quite necessary, but the mountain top is serene and pure and lovely, and its beauty is in nowise enhanced by the efforts of the exhausted climber, as he slowly wins his way thither.

Yet the effort itself is of value. The climber, too, is part of the scheme, and his upward trend may be growth and gain to the whole. It adds interest, though not beauty. Do not let us think that the universe is stagnant and fixed and settled and dull, and that all its appearance of "going on" is illusion and deception. I would even venture to urge that, ever since the grant to living creatures of free will, there must be, in some sense or other, a real element of contingency,- that there is no dulness about it, even to the Deity, but a constant and aspiring Effort.

Let us trust our experience in this also. The Universe is a flux, it is a becoming, it is a progress. Evolution is a reality. True and not imaginary progress is possible. Effort is not a sham. Existence is a true adventure. There is a real risk.

There was a real risk about creation-directly it went beyond the inert and mechanical. The granting of choice and free will involved a risk. Thenceforward things could go wrong. They might be kept right by main force, but that would not be playing the game, that would not be loyalty to the conditions.

As William James says: A football team desire to get a ball to a certain spot, but that is not all they desire; they wish to do it under certain conditions and overcome inherent difficulties - else might they get up in the night and put it there.

So also we may say, Good is the end and aim of the Divine Being; but not without conditions. Not by compulsion. Perfection as of machinery would be too dull and low an achievement - something much higher is sought. The creation of free creatures who, in so far as they go right, do so because they will, not because they must,- that was the Divine problem, and it is the highest of which we have any conception.

Yes, there was a real risk in making a human race on this planet. Ultimate good was not guaranteed. Some parts of the Universe must be far better than this, but some may be worse. Some planets may comparatively fail. The power of evil may here and there get the upper hand: although it must ultimately lead to suicidal destructive failure, for evil is pregnant with calamity.

This planet is surely not going to fail. Its destinies have been more and more entrusted to us. For millions of years it laboured, and now it has produced a human race - a late-comer to the planet, only recently arrived, only partly civilised as yet. But already it has produced Plato and Newton and Shakespeare; yes, and it has been the dwelling-place of Christ. Surely it is going to succeed, and in good time to be the theatre of such a magnificent development of human energy and power and joy as to compensate, and more than compensate, for all the pain and suffering, all the blood and tears, which have gone to prepare the way.

The struggle is a real one. The effort is not confined to humanity alone: according to the Christian conception God has shared in it. "God so loved the world that He gave" - we know the text. The earth's case was not hopeless; the world was bad, but it could be redeemed; and the redemption was worth the painful effort which then was undergone, and which the disciples of the Cross have since in their measure shared. Aye, that is the Christian conception; not of a God apart from His creatures, looking on, taking no personal interest in their behaviour, sitting aloof only to judge them; but One who anxiously takes measures for their betterment ' takes trouble, takes pains--a pregnant phrase, takes pains,--One who suffers when they go wrong, One who feels painfully the miseries and wrongdoings and sins and cruelties of the creatures whom He has endowed with free will; One who actively enters into the storm and the conflict; One who actually took flesh and dwelt among us, to save us from the slough into which we might have fallen, to show us what the beauty and dignity of man might be.

Well, it is a great idea, a great and simple idea, so simple as to be incredible to some minds. It has been hidden from many of the wise and prudent; it has been revealed to babes.

To sum up: Let us not be discouraged by simplicity. Real things are simple. Human conceptions are not altogether misleading. Our view of the Universe is a partial one but is not an untrue one. Our knowledge of the conditions of existence is not altogether false - only inadequate. The Christian idea of God is a genuine representation of reality

Nor let us imagine that existence hereafter, removed from these atoms of matter which now both confuse and manifest it, will be something so wholly remote and different as to be unimaginable; but let us learn by the testimony of experience - either our own or that of others that those who have been, still are; that they care for us and help us; that they, too, are progressing and learning and working and hoping; that there are grades of existence, stretching upward and upward to all eternity; and that God Himself, through His agents and messengers, is continually striving and working and planning, so as to bring this creation of His through its preparatory labour and pain, and lead it on to an existence higher and better than anything we have ever known.  



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The International Survivalist Society 2001

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