IS THERE A GOD?
By Thomas Whitelaw, M.A., D.D.
V. THE DECLARATION OF THE CHRISTIAN:
"I CANNOT DO WITHOUT A GOD. WITHOUT A GOD I CAN NEITHER ACCOUNT FOR THE UNIVERSE AROUND ME, NOR EXPLAIN JESUS CHRIST ABOVE ME, NOR UNDERSTAND THE SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES WITHIN ME"
1. Without a God the material universe around the Christian is and remains a perplexing enigma.
When he surveys that portion of the universe which lies open to his gaze, he sees marks of wisdom, power and goodness that irresistibly suggest the idea of a God. When he looks upon the stellar firmament with its innumerable orbs, and considers their disposition and order, their balancing and circling, he instinctively argues that these shining suns and systems must have been created, arranged and upheld by a divine Mind. When, restricting his attention to the earth on which he stands, he notes the indications of design or of adaptation of means to end which are everywhere visible, as witnessed, for example, in the constancy of nature's laws and forces, in the endless variety of nature's forms, inanimate and animate, as well as in their wonderful gradation not only in their kinds but also in the times of their appearing, and in the marvelous adjustment of organs to environment, he feels constrained to reason that these things are not the result of chance which is blind or the spontaneous output of matter, which in itself, so far as known to him, is powerless, lifeless and unintelligent, but can only be the handiwork of a Creative Mind. When further he reflects that in the whole round of human experience, effects have never been known to be produced without causes; that designs have never been known to be conceived or worked out without designers and artificers; that dead matter has never been known to spring into life either spontaneously or by the application of means; that one kind of life has never been known to transmute itself spontaneously or to be transmuted artificially into another, neither a vegetable into an animal, nor an animal into a man; and when lastly, accepting the guidance of science, he perceives that in the upward ascent or evolution of nature dead matter was, after an interval, perhaps of millions of years, followed by vegetable life, and this again by animal existence, and this by man precisely as Scripture asserts, he once more feels himself shut up to the conclusion that the whole cosmos must he the production of mind, even of a Supreme Intelligence infinitely powerful, wise and good. Like the Hebrew psalmist he feels impelled to say, "O Lord! how manifold are Thy works: in wisdom hast Thou made them all!" (Ps 104:24).
Should the philosopher interject, that this argument does not necessarily require an Infinite Intelligence but only an artificer capable of constructing such a universe as the present, the answer is that if such an artificer existed he himself would require to be accounted for, since beings that are finite must have begun to be, and therefore must have been caused.
Accordingly, this artificer must have been preceded by another greater than himself, and that by another still greater, and so on traveling backwards forever. Hence, it was argued by Kant that pure reason could not demonstrate the existence of God, but only of a competent demiurge or world-builder. But this reasoning is fallacious. The human mind cannot rest in an endless succession of effects without a First Cause, like a chain depending from nothing. Kant himself seemed to recognize the unsatisfactory character of his logic, since, after casting out God from the universe as Creator, he sought to bring Him in again as Supreme Moral Governor.
But if man's moral nature cannot be explained without a Supreme Moral Lawgiver, on what principle can it be reasoned that man's intellectual nature demands less than a Supreme Intelligence?
2. Without a God the Christian cannot explain to himself the Person of Jesus.
Leaving out of view what the Gospels report about His virgin birth (though we do not regard the narratives as unhistorical or the fact recorded as incredible), and fixing attention solely on the four records, the Christian discerns a personality that cannot be accounted for on ordinary principles. It is not merely that Jesus performed works such as none other man did, and spoke words such as never fell from mortal lips; it is that in addition His life was one of incomparable goodness-of unwearied philanthropy, self-sacrificing love, lowly humility, patient meekness and spotless purity-such as never before had been witnessed on earth, and never since has been exhibited by any of His followers. It is that Jesus, being such a personality as described by those who beheld His glory to be that of an only-begotten from a Father, full of grace and truth, put forth such pretensions and claims as were wholly unfitting in the lips of a mere man, and much more of a sinful man, declaring Himself to be the Light of the World and the Bread of Life: giving out that He had power to forgive sins and to raise the dead; that He had pre-existed before He came to earth and would return to that pre-existent state when His work was done, which work was to die for men's sins; that He would rise from the dead and ascend up into heaven, both of which He actually did; and asserting that He was the Son of God, the equal of the Father and the future Judge of mankind.
The Christian studying this picture perceives that, while to it belong the lineaments of a man, it also wears the likeness of a God, and he reasons that if that picture was drawn from the life (and how otherwise could it have been drawn?) then a God must once have walked this earth in the person of Jesus. For the Christian no other conclusion is possible. Certainly not that of the New Theology, which makes of Jesus a sinful man, distinguishing Him from Christ, the so-called ideal figure of the creeds, and calling Him divine only in the sense that other men are divine though in a lesser degree than He. But even the New Theology cannot escape from the implication of its own creed. For if Jesus was the most Divine Man that ever lived on earth, then naturally His Word should carry more weight than that of any other, and He taught emphatically, not only that there was a personal God whose Son He was, but that men should pray: "Our Father which art in Heaven."
3. Without a God the Christian cannot understand the facts of his own consciousness.
Take first the idea of God of which he finds himself possessed on arriving at the age of intelligence and responsibility. How it comes to pass that this great idea should arise within him if no such being as God exists, is something he cannot understand. To say that he has simply inherited it from his parents or absorbed it from his contemporaries is not to solve the problem, but only to put it back from generation to generation. The question remains, How did this idea first originate in the soul? To answer that it gradually grew up out of totemism and animism as practiced by the low-grade races who, impelled by superstitious fears, conceived material objects to be inhabited by ghosts or spirits, is equally an evasion of the problem. Because again the question arises, How did these low-grade races arrive at the conception of spirits as distinguished from bodies or material objects in general? Should it be responded that veneration for deceased ancestors begat the conception of a God, one must further demand by what process of reasoning they were conducted from the conception of as many gods as there were deceased ancestors to that of one Supreme Deity or Lord of all. The only satisfactory explanation of the latent consciousness of God which man in all ages and lands has shown himself to be possessed of is, that it is one of the soul's intuitions, a part of the intellectual and moral furniture with which it comes into the world; that at first this idea or intuition lies within the soul as a seed corn which gradually opens out as the soul rises into full possession of its powers and is appealed to by external nature; that had sin not entered into the world this idea or intuition would have everywhere expanded into full bloom, filling the soul with a clear and radiant conception of the divine Being, in whose image it has been made; but that now in consequence of the blighting influence of sin this idea or intuition has been everywhere more or less dimmed and weakened and in pagan nations corrupted and debased.
Then rising to the distinctly religious experience of conversion, the Christian encounters a whole series or group of phenomena which to him are inexplicable, if there is no God. Conscious of a change partly intellectual but mainly moral and spiritual, a change so complete as to amount to an inward revolution, what Scripture calls a new birth or a new creation, he cannot trace it to education or to environment, to philosophical reflection or to prudential considerations.
The only reasonable account he can furnish of it is that he has been laid hold of by an unseen but Superhuman Power, so that he feels constrained to say like Paul: "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Co 15:10). And not only so, but as the result of this inward change upon his nature, he realizes that he stands in a new relation to that Supreme Power which has quickened and renewed him, that he can and does enter into personal communion with Him through Jesus Christ, addressing to Him prayers and receiving from Him benefits and blessings in answer to those prayers.
These experiences of which the Christian is conscious may be characterized by the non-Christian as illusions, but to the Christian they are realities; and being realities they make it simply impossible for him to believe there is no God. Rather they inspire him with confidence that God is, and is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him, and that of Him and through Him and to Him are all things; to whom be glory for ever. Amen.