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Full text of "Discerning The Signs Of The Times Sermons For Today And Tomorrow"

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OTHER BOOKS BY 
REINHOLD NIEBUHR 



THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT AND THE CHILDREN OF DARKNESS 

THE NATURE AND DESTINY OF MAN (2 VOLS.J 
VOL. I. HUMAN NATURE 
VOL. II. HUMAN DESTINY 

CHRISTIANITY AND POWER POLITICS 

BEYOND TRAGEDY 

AN INTERPRETATION OF CHRISTIAN ETHICS 

REFLECTIONS ON THE END OF AN ERA 

MORAL MAN AND IMMORAL SOCIETY 

THE CONTRIBUTION OF RELIGION TO SOCIAL WORK 

LEAVES FROM THE NOTEBOOK OF A TAMED CYNIC 

DOES CIVILIZATION NEED RELIGION ? 



DISCERNING THE SIGNS 
OF THE TIMES 

SERMONS FOR TODAY AND TOMORROW 






.* 
_C j.1 T" ' ::>; . : V 

of me 1 imes 

SERMONS 
FOR TODAY AND TOMORROW 

by 

REINHOLD NIEBUHR 



NEW YORK 

CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 
1945 



COPYRIGHT, 1946, BY 
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 



Printed in the United States of America 

All rights reserved. No part of this book 
may be reproduced in any form without 
the permission of Charles Scribner'* Sons 




CONTENTS 

9 

Preface " ix 

I. Discerning the Signs of the Times I 

II. Anger and Forgiveness 21 

III. The Age Between the Ages 39 

IV. The Nemesis of Nations 57 

! 

V. The City Which Hath Foundations 73 

VI. Today, Tomorrow and the Eternal 94 

VI L Humour and Faith in 

VIII. The Power and Weakness of God 132 

IX. Mystery and Meaning 152 

X. The Peace of God '174 



PREFACE 

JL HE CHAPTERS of this volume are sermonic essays. 
They are based upon sermons actually preached in 
American colleges and universities j but they were not 
written until after delivery. In the process of putting 
them in written form they were made somewhat more 
theological than in their original form. Theoretical 
points were elaborated in some cases beyond the limits 
usually deemed advisable in the traditional sermon. 
The sermons are divided into two categories. One 
group deals with the perennial themes of the Chris- 
tian faith. The other seeks to interpret certain aspects 
of the Christian faith in terms of their special rele- 
vance to the thought and the life of our age. Being a 
tragic age which has suffered two great world con- 
flicts and which can not yet be certain that it has the 
moral resources or the political instruments to avoid 
further world chaos, the primary theme of this cate- 
gory of sermons is the relation of the historical to the 
trans-historical elements of the Christian faith. The 
Christian community prays: "Thy kingdom come, thy 
will be done on earth as it is in heaven" and thereby 
testifies that it believes in the realization of God's will 
in human history. But it also confesses with St. Paul: 
"If in this life only, we had hoped in Christ, we are 
of all men most miserable," thereby expressing its un- 



r the Christian hope tran- 
erids tlie ' limits of history as we know it. The 
sermons (a*rii r ineant to elaborate these two facets of 
the Christian hope, in the belief that an age con- 
fronted with so many possibilities of realizing God's 
will in new dimensions of historic existence, but also 
confronting so many historic frustrations, is in par- 
ticular need of the Christian gospel} and requires both 
the relative-historical, and the final-and-absolute 
facets of the Christian hope to maintain its sanity and 
its sense of the meaning of existence. 

REINHOLD NIEBUHR 
December, 1945 



DISCERNING THE SIGNS 
OF THE TIMES 

SERMONS FOR TODAY AND TOMORROW 



I 



DISCERNING THE SIGNS OF 
THE TIMES 

"The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, 
and tempting desired him that he would shew them 
& s *g n from heaven. He answered and said unto 
them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair 
weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, 
It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red 
and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the 
face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs 
of the times?" Mt. 16:1-3. 



HEATHER forecasting is one of the oldest forms 
of scientific knowledge. Since the most ancient days 
fishermen and men of the soil have been wont to look 
at the sky, to "cock a weather eye" at the rising or set- 
ting sun, at the cloud formations and other indices of 
prospective weather, and make their predictions of 
sunshine or rain. Every community has had its partic- 
ularly shrewd forecasters to whom intuitive knowl- 



2 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

edge was frequently ascribed. But the supposed intui- 
tions were merely unconsciously collated scientific 
data. They had studied various sequences in the 
weather, artfully weighed and balanced different vari- 
ables, and thus arrived at their conclusions. The 
advance of science has increased the range of weather 
forecasting; but it is still a good symbol of the reli- 
ability of man's objective knowledge when he. ana- 
lyzes the processes of nature. A mistake may be made; 
but personal interest is not likely to prompt the mis- 
take, or tempt the observer to falsify data, or to draw 
wrong conclusions from the evidence. 

There is thus a reliability in our knowledge of the 
"face of the sky" which is practically unattainable in 
our discernment of the "signs of the times." "Signs of 
the times" include all forms of historical, in contrast 
to, natural knowledge. To discern the signs of the 
times means to interpret historical events and values. 
The interpretation of history includes all judgments 
we make of the purpose of our own actions and those 
of others; it includes the assessment of the virtue of 
our own and other interests, both individual and col- 
lective; and finally it includes our interpretation of 
the meaning of history itself. 

The issue which brought the charge of "hypocrisy" 
from Jesus against those who asked for a "sign from 
heaven" concerned the ultimate issue about history. 
The meaning of Messianic expectations was at stake. 
Messianic expectations were expressions of the idea 



THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 3 

that history had a certain character and that it moved 
toward the fulfillment of its purpose. The age of the 
Messiah was the age in which the obscurities of his- 
tory would be clarified j its frustrations would be over- 
come and human life would flower in a community of 
perfect peace and harmony. There were to be some 
special "signs" of this approaching end. The Pharisees 
and Sadducees were asking Jesus to produce these 
signs in order to validate his Messianic claims. 

Jesus 3 answer implied that the "signs" were already 
manifest, but that those who desired them could not 
discern them because of their hypocrisy. The hypo- 
critical element which entered into all Messianic cal- 
culations was the egoistic hope that the end of history 
would give Israel as the chosen nation, or the 
righteous of Israel, victory over their enemies and 
final justification in the sight of God and man. This 
egoistic form of Messianism leads to mistakes and mis- 
calculations not only in regard to the ultimate "end" 
or meaning of history but in regard to any proximate 
end. Actually no nation or individual, even the most 
righteous, is good enough to fulfill God's purposes in 
history. Jesus' own conception of history was that all 
men and nations were involved in rebellion against 
God and that therefore the Messiah would have to 
be, not so much a strong and good ruler who would 
help the righteous to be victorious over the un- 
righteous, but a "suffering servant" who would sym- 
bolize and reveal the mercy of God 5 for only the 



4 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

divine forgiveness could finally overcome the con- 
tradictions of history and the enmity between man 
and God. But no self-righteous man or nation would 
be able to discern the "signs" (the impending cross, 
for instance) which would signify this kind of final 
clarification of history. The lack of discernment would 
be due., not to a defect of the mind in calculating the 
course of history, but to a corruption of the heart, 
which introduced the confusion of selfish pride into 
the estimate of historical events. This is the basis of 
our Lord's charge of hypocrisy against those who 
desired a "sign" of the coming Kingdom. They were 
morally and spiritually unable to discern the sign of 
the Kingdom of God, which would not vindicate any- 
one, not even the righteous man against his foe, but 
which would rather be a vindication of God against 
all elements in human history which stood in defiance 
of His power and goodness. 

II 

It is not our concern, in this study, to analyze the 
particular form of hypocrisy which led Jesus' con- 
temporaries to the particular error of misinterpreting 
the ancient hope of a Messianic reign, but rather to 
study the difference in the source of error between all 
forms of historical knowledge and those dealing with 
the knowledge of nature, i.e., between the "face of the 
sky" and the "signs of the times." This difference 



THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES ,5 

has been obscured in the whole of our modern culture, 
which fondly assumed that the kind of "objectivity" 
of which the natural sciences boast may be easily trans- 
ferred to all historical, political and social judgments. 
This assumption rests upon a disregard of the partly 
conscious and partly unconscious dishonesty involved 
in the error of social and historical judgments. All 
false judgments of friend or foe, of accepted or re- 
jected social movements, or of any aspect of man's 
social life and the course of his history, must be 
charged, at least partly, to hypocrisy. Therefore the 
elimination of error is never purely an intellectual 
enterprise but a moral and spiritual one. The highest 
degree of objectivity and impartiality in the assess- 
ment of historical values is achieved by a quality of 
religious humility, which gains awareness of the un- 
conscious dishonesty of judgment and seeks to cor- 
rect it. 

The difference between the knowledge of nature 
and the knowledge and estimate of our fellowmen is 
this: in the knowledge of nature the mind of man is 
at the center of the process of knowing ; and the self 
with all its fears, hopes and ambitions is on the cir- 
cumference. In the knowledge of historical events the 
self, with all its emotions and desires, is at the center 
of the enterprise -, and the mind is on the circum- 
ference, serving merely as an instrument of the anxious 
self. The reason for this difference is obvious. When 
we look at a flower or a star, at a geological formation 



6 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

or at a problem in chemistry, the prestige and the 
security of the knower is not involved. The things we 
see are what they are; and no emotion can change the 
facts or alter the conclusions. If we try to assess the 
meaning of some facts of nature for the human 
enterprise, we are already on a different level of 
knowledge where the whole weight of human pride 
and insecurity may be felt. One school of thought 
may seek to prove that natural history invalidates all 
human claims to a unique kind of creaturehood among 
the other creatures} while another school of thought 
may seek to deny obvious facts of natural history, as 
for instance the fact of evolution, because these prove 
man's relation to other creatures and are therefore 
"felt to be an affront to human pride. The whole evo- 
lutionary controversy was charged with non-scientific 
and non-objective factors on both sides. In the one 
case scientific philosophies were too prone to seek an 
escape from the unique responsibilities of human free- 
dom 5 and in the other case orthodox religionists were 
too anxious to prove too much and to assert the 
dignity of man by denying his creatureliness. 

The conflict over scientific philosophies suggests 
that any philosophy, even one which claims to rest 
purely on the science of nature, is on the borderline 
between the objective knowledge of nature and the 
subjective and "existential" knowledge of history. 
Wherever judgments are made about the relation of 
man to nature, they are a part of a total religious 



THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 7 

interpretation of life, in which detailed facts of nature 
and history are brought into a total scheme of mean- 
ing. These schemes of meaning are always something 
more and something less than mere constructs of 
thought. They are always systems of faith. Such sys- 
tems must finally deal with man's sense of the mean- 
ing of the whole and of his place in that meaning. In 
seeking to find his own place in the whole, man is 
always subject to two contradictory temptations. He is 
tempted on the one hand to claim a too unique and 
central place in the whole scheme of things j on the 
other hand he is tempted to flee from his responsi- 
bilities by denying the unique place which he has in 
the created world by virtue of his freedom. 

Most philosophies are on the borderline between 
the knowledge of nature and the knowledge of his- 
tory. On the borderline there is a mixture of the 
objective knowledge of nature and the subjectively 
colored knowledge of human events and purposes. 
This borderline does not alter the essential contrast 
between the two types of knowing. When we behold 
not a flower or a star, but a friend or foe; when we 
estimate not natural sequences, but the course of 
human history; when we weigh not the actions and 
reactions of the atoms of nature, but the ambitions 
and purposes of our competitors and comrades, we 
are never disinterested observers. We are always part 
of the drama of life which we seek to comprehend 5 
and participants in the conflicts and comradeships 



8 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

which we seek to arbitrate or enjoy. Our judgments 
of others are mixed with emotions prompted by our 
strength or our weakness in relation to them. Their 
virtues and advantages may excite our jealousy or 
prompt our emulation. Their vices may tempt us to 
hatred. Their weakness may elicit our pity or their 
strength arouse our fear. We are involved as total 
personalities in the affairs, of history. Our mind is 
never a pure and abstract intelligence when it func- 
tions amidst the complexities of human relations. 
There is no vantage point, individual or collective, in 
human history from which we could judge its move- 
ments with complete impartiality. There is not even 
a point in time from which we could judge past events 
with complete impartiality. It is true of course that 
some periods of history are, or appear to be, suffi- 
ciently dead to seem irrelevant to the contest of inter- 
ests and values which color our judgments in the 
present moment. But we can never be sure. Our 
judgment of Hamilton or Jefferson is still partly 
determined by contemporary party prejudice 5 and 
even an analysis of the causes of the decline of ancient 
Rome is certain to be mixed with social and political 
convictions, derived from contemporary situations. 
That is why the writing of history remains a political 
weapon. When the Russian communists change their 
party line, they also give a new and different estimate 
of the significance of Peter the Great, or even of Ivan 
the Terrible. 



THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 9 

Just as there are only vantage points of relative im- 
partiality in time from which we view the past, so 
there are only vantage points of relative impartiality 
from which we view the present scene. All human 
justice depends upon the organization of relatively 
impartial judicial instruments, through which the end- 
less conflicts of interest between men are arbitrated. 
But if the issues reach deep enough into the very 
foundations of the society upon which the court rests, 
its judgments become interested judgments. In the 
international society, no genuine instruments of im- 
partial justice have, as yet, been created. Even a war, 
which by the common consent of mankind is judged 
a just war against aggression, prompts some social 
and political judgments which future generations 
will regard as partisan prejudices or as expres- 
sions of the power, rather than the justice, of the 
victors. 

It is of course important for any society to have as 
many organs of relative impartiality as possible, both 
official and unofficial. There is, for instance, a profes- 
sional group in modern society which is not imme- 
diately involved in the contests of power which divide 
the industrial community. The relative impartiality 
of such a group may greatly contribute to the mitiga- 
tion of party animosity. Furthermore, a degree of 
impartiality may be achieved purely by intellectual 
process. For the higher and wider the intellectual 
perspective, the better are men able to see, not merely 



io THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

the interest of their own nation or group, but those of 
competing groups. 

But whatever the merits and achievements of these 
organs of relative impartiality, there is no place in 
human history where the affairs of our f ellowmen can 
be viewed in purely intellectual terms. We are always 
part of the drama of life which we behold 5 and the 
emotions of the drama therefore color our beholding. 

There is no novelty in this observation. The com- 
mon sense of mankind has always taken cognizance 
of these partialities and has shrewdly learned to dis- 
count the judgments of interested participants in any 
enterprise. But little has been done to estimate the 
moral, as distinguished from the intellectual, factors 
which are involved in our errors of historical judg- 
ment. Marxism, which first developed the theory of 
the "ideological taint" in our political judgments, 
regards dishonest rationalizations as primarily due to 
the finiteness of human perspectives. Engels spe- 
cifically denies that any element of conscious dis- 
honesty enters into these errors. This is due to the 
fact that the Marxist theory of human consciousness 
is too naturalistic to appreciate the indeterminate free- 
dom of man and the consequent transcendence of the 
self over its limited judgments. Yet Marxist polemics 
against the "bourgeois" foe always assume the dis- 
honesty which is explicitly disavowed in the Marxist 
theory of "ideology." 

Actually our historical judgments, when carefully 



THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES n 

analyzed, reveal a bewildering compound of uncon- 
scious ignorance and conscious rationalization of selfish 
interests. If we think that the second world war was 
fought for the sake of achieving an "American cen- 
tury," that judgment (which is incidentally remark- 
ably similar to the Messianic errors castigated by 
Christ) is partly derived from the limited perspective 
of Americans, who naturally look at the world from 
an American vantage point. But it is also partly de- 
rived from a conscious American pride and will-to- 
power which would bring the world under American 
domination. 

If a woman underestimates the beauty of a rival 
that is an error in judgment which can not be cor- 
rected by, let us say, a course in aesthetics. Per- 
sonal jealousies weigh more heavily in such judgments 
than purely intellectual estimates of beauty. In the 
treason trial of Marshal Petain, the Marshal claimed 
that he was honestly seeking to preserve France in a 
difficult situation, while his enemies maintained that 
he used the catastrophe which befell his nation to fur- 
ther personal ambitions, conceived long before. Some 
witnesses hesitated to charge the defendant with con- 
scious treason ; and insisted only that his actions, what- 
ever his motives, were detrimental to the interests of 
his nation. This restraint was commendable even 
though the weight of evidence was on the side of those 
who charged a conscious advancement of personal 
ambition. The restraint was justified because the mix- 



12 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

ture of motives in any person is so complex and 
bewildering that none of us can be certain about any 
judgments which pretend to search the secret of men's 
hearts. We can not even be certain about our judg- 
ments of our own motives, perhaps least of all about 
our own. Since we usually do not deceive others with- 
out also deceiving ourselves, our motives are fre- 
quently "honest" after we have dishonestly con- 
structed the imposing facade of ideal intentions. 

The awful evils which arise from race prejudice 
are regarded by some observers as a form of conscious 
perversity, and by others as the consequence of mere 
ignorance. When race prejudice is fully conceived it 
brings forth the most terrible cruelties. These cruel- 
ties would seem to justify the theory of a consciously 
perverse race pride. Yet the soil out of which they 
spring is no different in kind than that which nourishes 
the seemingly harmless false judgments about the 
virtues and vices of other groups which one meets at 
practically every dinner conversation. Race pride is 
actually derived from a mixture of ignorance and 
anxiety. We judge the other race falsely because we 
ignorantly make the partial and particular standards 
of our own group into the final criteria of beauty, 
virtue or truth. We also judge it falsely because we 
fear the competitive threat of the other group and 
seek to discount it. 

The combination of ignorance and dishonesty, 
which determines the composition of our social 
prejudices, is occasioned by the fact that all men are 



THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 13 

creatures of limited perspectives and yet are also free 
spirits who have some knowledge of the larger frame 
of reference in which their judgment and their inter- 
est are not the center of the scheme of things. Our 
anxieties as weak creatures in competition with other 
forms of life prompt us to advance our own interests. 
Our strength as rational and spiritual creatures en- 
ables us to advance these interests beyond their right- 
ful range. Our further capacity to recognize the in- 
validity of these claims means that we must, with 
some degree of conscious dishonesty, hide our special 
interests and claims, and merge them with the more 
universal and general interests. 

Thus it is that every party claim and every national 
judgment, every racial and religious prejudice, and 
every private estimate of the interests and virtues of 
other men, is something more and something less than 
a purely intellectual judgment. From the simplest 
judgment of our rival and competitor to the most 
ultimate judgment about the character of human his- 
tory and the manner of its final fulfillment, we are 
tempted to error by our anxieties and our pride; and 
we seek to hide the error by pretension. We can not 
discern the signs of the times because we are hypo- 
crites. 

Ill 

The achievement of a decent measure of honesty 
in our judgment of our fellowmen, and in our esti- 



i 4 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

mate of the meaning of the human drama in which we 
are involved, is therefore something else than a mere 
intellectual achievement. It is a religious achievement 
which requires that the human tendency to claim a 
final position of judgment, though we are interested 
participants of the drama, must be overcome. The 
lurking dishonesty of our judgments by which we 
hide our own interests in our pretended devotion to 
the general welfare must be searched out. The im- 
plicit indolatry, by which we usurp a more central 
position in the scheme of things, must be judged. The 
fact that the real solution of the problem is to tri- 
umph over the temptation to idolatry proves that the 
issue which confronts us has a religious dimension. It 
can not be solved by ordinary moral idealism 3 for that 
always degenerates into self-righteousness. It can be 
solved only by religious contrition. The prayer of the 
Psalmist: "Search me, O God, and know my heart: 
try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be 
any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way ever- 
lasting" measures the dimension in which our self- 
judgments must take place. We must recognize that 
only a divine judgment, more final than our own, 
can complete the whole structure of meaning in which 
we are involved; and can discern the hidden dishon- 
esties by which we claim a false finality for our various 
interested positions in the drama. To ask God to "see 
if there be any wicked way in me" is to admit the 
partly conscious and partly unconscious character of 



THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 15 

the dishonesty of our judgments. If we were not 
partly conscious of them we would not be prompted 
to the desire for a searching of the heart from beyond 
ourself . If we were fully conscious of them we would 
not require that God "see if there be any wicked way 
in me." We know and yet we do not know how dis- 
honest we are. In the moment of prayer in which we 
become more fully conscious of the dishonesty of our 
judgments, we also achieve a fuller measure of hon- 
esty. Out of the humility of prayer grows the charity 
for comrade and foe. The recognition that we all 
stand under a more ultimate bar of judgment miti- 
gates the fury of our self -righteousness and partly 
dissolves the wickedness of our dishonest preten- 
sions. 

We do not know the God who judges us except by 
faith. As Christians we have by faith accepted the 
revelation of His will and purpose in the love of 
Christ. We therefore know the criterion of His judg- 
ments to be that love. We know that all forms of self- 
seeking, even the most subtle, fall short of that 
standard. But we must not claim too much for our 
knowledge of God and of His judgments. When we 
do, we merely make God the ally of our interested 
position in the scheme of things. Christian faith must 
contritely admit that the Christian, as well as every 
other religion, has frequently accentuated the fury of 
party conflict and increased the measure of human 
pretensions. It has done this to such a degree that 



i6 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

secular idealists who strive for intellectual disinter- 
estedness and impartiality have sometimes shamed 
the community of the faithful and have introduced 
more charity into the human community than they. 
These idealists have been prompted to deny the reli- 
gious solution of this problem because they have so 
frequently observed religious emotion accentuating, 
rather than mitigating, the idolatry of man. 

The secularists and the faithful alike usually fail 
to see that religion as such is no cure for human pride 
and pretension. It is the final battleground between 
pride and humility. There is no form of the Christian 
faith, no matter how profound its insights about the 
finiteness and sinfulness of man and the majesty of 
God, which can prevent some devotees of that faith 
from using it to claim God too simply as the ally of 
this or that human enterprise and as the justification 
for this or that partial human judgment. But these 
terrible aberrations of faith also can not invalidate the 
truth of the final insight of Christian faith in which 
the God is recognized who stands above (and in some 
sense against) all human judgments 5 who judges us 
even while we judge our foe; who completes the 
drama of history which we always complete falsely 
because we make ourselves, our culture, and our 
nation, the premature center of its completion. 

St. Paul perfectly expresses this humility of faith 
in the words: "With me it is a very small thing that I 
should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, 



THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 17 

I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by 
myself } yet am I not hereby justified: but he that 
judgeth me is the Lord." * The sense of a divine judg- 
ment beyond all human judgments is rightly appre- 
hended by St. Paul as having a double edge. To find it 
"a very small thing" to be judged of men means that 
we recognize the provisional and interested character 
of judgments which are made against, or for, us by 
others. We will therefore not be swollen by pride 
because others think well of us. We will remember 
that they do not know the secret of our hearts. Per- 
haps they have been taken in too easily by our dis- 
honest pretensions. Neither will we take their dis- 
approval too seriously. The sense of a more ultimate 
judgment arms us with the courage to defy the false 
judgments of the community. The idea that our con- 
science is purely a social and sociological product is 
ridiculous in view of the fact that the power of con- 
science has always been most perfectly expressed when 
men have defied the mediocre or perverse standards 
of a given community in the name of a religiously 
apprehended higher standard. The most fruitful re- 
source for the defiance of tyranny has always been the 
faith which could declare, "We must obey God rather 
than man." 

But the other edge of the faith which discerns a 
divine judgment beyond our own is directed against 
the estimates which we make of ourselves, rather than 

1 l Cor. .4:3.4. 



i8 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

against those made of us by others. "I know nothing 
by myself," declares St. Paul, a y et am l not hereby 
justified." We do of course frequently know some- 
thing against ourselves. We judge the action of yester- 
day wrong in the contrite contemplation of today. 
But if that should give us an uneasy conscience we 
may regain our self-respect by the observation that 
what we are today must be virtuous; otherwise we 
could not have found the action of yesterday contrary 
to virtue. Thus we never know anything against our- 
selves ultimately. The self is always righteous in its 
self -analysis and secure in its self-esteem until it feels 
itself under a more ultimate judgment than its own. 
Most of us are constitutionally self-righteous as we 
' contend with and against our f ellowmen in the great 
contests of life. We never know anything against our- 
selves. The only moments in which the self -righteous- 
ness is broken are moments of genuine prayer. Yet 
something of that broken spirit and contrite heart can 
be carried into the contests of life. If this is done the 
dishonesties and pretensions which color all our social 
and historical judgments can be mitigated. We can 
moderate the hypocrisy which prevents us from dis- 
cerning the "signs of the times." A measure of charity 
is insinuated into our judgments of other groups and 
nations. The condemnation of even a wicked foe is 
made in "fear and trembling" because we know that 
even that judgment stands under a more ultimate one. 
And by that fear and trembling our righteous wrath 



THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 19 

is saved from degenerating into self-righteous vin- 
dictiveness. 

This religious humility is also the final source of a 
truer comprehension of the whole human enterprise. 
It saves us from expecting a Messiah who will com- 
plete history by preferring us to our enemies, or by 
helping us to achieve an American or Anglo-Saxon 
century, or possibly a Russian one. The errors and 
hypocrisies which creep into our various historical 
judgments always finally culminate in an erroneous 
conception of the meaning of history and of history's 
fulfillment. Both the historical conceptions of bour- 
geois liberalism and of Marxist utopianism are in- 
volved in errors, similar to those which Christ casti- 
gated in his day. They assumed that history would 
culminate in either the triumph of the bourgeois 
classes over their aristocratic foes 5 or in the triumph 
of the proletarian classes over their middle-class foes. 
Actually both the middle classes and the workers have 
been significant bearers of justice in history. They 
would have been, and would be, more perfect instru- 
ments of justice if they had not been tempted to re- 
gard themselves as the final judges and the final 
redeemers of history. Because of that lack of humility 
and that new form of pretension, they introduced new 
forms of injustice into history in the very attempt of 
abolishing old ones. Other Messianic classes and na- 
tions will make the same mistake. That is why the 
mystery of history can not be resolved except in the 



20 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

divine mercy. And that mercy can only be compre- 
hended and apprehended by those who acknowledge 
that all classes and groups, all cultures and nations, 
are tainted with hypocrisy in their judgment of the 
contestants in and of the whole drama of history. 

The wisdom by which we deal with our f ellowmen, 
either as comrades or competitors, is not so much an 
intellectual achievement as the fruit of a humility 
which is gained by prayer. The faith through which 
we understand the meaning of our existence and the 
fulfillment of that meaning in the divine mercy is, 
ultimately, a gift of grace and not the consequence 
of a sophisticated analysis of the signs of the times. 
We are not merely minds but total personalities. We 
can deal with immediate issues as minds. But we deal 
with all ultimate issues as personalities. And we deal 
with them truly only if not the ignorance of the mind 
but the pride of the heart has been vanquished. 



II 

ANGER AND FORGIVENESS 

"Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go 
down uj>on your wrath: Neither give place to the 
devil" Eph. 4:26-27. 



A, 



LNGER is the root of both righteousness and sin. 
We are aroused to anger when men take advantage o 
us or of those for whom we are concerned 5 when they 
violate the dignity of man ; or when they commit some 
other flagrant wrong. We are angry in the presence of 
injustice because we are emotional as well as rational 
creatures; and we react in the wholeness of our char- 
acter to evil. Only a perversely detached person can 
view the commitment of a wrong without anger, and 
only a morally callous and indifferent person contem- 
plates evil-doing without emotion. 

Yet anger is also the root of much evil. Our emo- 
tions are more personal and less detached than our 
reason. We are inclined to be very unfair when we 
are angry. If we repay hurt for hurt in anger, we 

21 



22 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

usually repay with very heavy interest. One of the 
first problems of primitive society was to place some 
restraints upon vengeance. These restraints gradually 
grew into the juridical procedure of modern society^ 
in which the community as such assumes responsibility 
both for restraining the victim and punishing the 
criminal. It has long been recognized that justice is 
not served when men are "judges in their own case." 
The total community has a more detached perspective 
upon the disputes between citizens and upon the 
wrong which one may do the other than have the 
parties to the dispute. Thus we have found a social 
method of eliminating some of the evil which flows 
from anger. Yet we continue to face the residual prob- 
lem of being angry without sinning. 

One source of sin in anger lies in the selfish narrow- 
ness of our emotions. We are more angry about the 
hurt done us than that done to others; and we are 
tempted to repay the hurt twofold, because we over- 
estimate its seriousness. Thus anger brings forth ven- 
geance, which is the egoistic corruption of the sense 
of justice. All communal schemes of justice have 
developed through the effort to eliminate the vin- 
dictive and egoistic corruption of anger, so that it 
might bring forth a purer justice. 

The second corrupt fruit of anger is hatred. Hatred 
is the consequence of the persistence of anger. In 
hatred rational perspectives are falsely mixed with 
emotion. Emotions are passing; and their fleeting 
character may sometimes occasion a lack of moral 



ANGER AND FORGIVENESS 23 

resolution. But on the other hand it is salutary when 
the emotion of anger is ephemeral. If we begin to 
brood about the wrong which has been done us, the 
emotion of anger hardens into hatred of the wrong- 
doer. That is why St. Paul, in the words of our text, 
immediately adds to the admonition "Be ye angry, 
and sin not" the words "Let not the sun go down 
upon your wrath." 

One of the blessings of childhood is the shortness 
of the child's memory. When their elders do not inter- 
fere in the quarrels of their children, the latter usually 
follow the Scriptural injunction "Let not the sun go 
down upon your wrath." But the memory of older peo- 
ple, and particularly the collective memory of nations, 
harbors anger over past wrongs to the point where it 
poisons all human relations. Consider, for instance, 
the Irish memory of the wrongs which England once 
committed as a source of hatred, even after England 
has done much to atone for past wrongs ; or the mem- 
ories in our own south of Sherman's march to the sea; 
or the bitter memories of all vanquished people. One 
of the tragic aspects of human history is the fact that 
the vanquished have longer memories than the victors. 
The victors could profitably have longer memories 
and the vanquished shorter ones. 

II 

The biblical viewpoint which inspires the admoni- 
tion, "Be ye angry, and sin not" must be distinguished 



24 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

from all forms of highly rationalized morality which 
regard the emotions aroused in the struggles of 
life as in themselves evil. Their approach could 
be epitomized in the admonition: "Be not angry 
so that you may not sin." They seek for a position of 
detachment from the controversies and passions of life. 
The Stoic attitude toward all passions and emotions is 
the classic example of this kind of morality. The diffi- 
culty with this rationalism is that we are constitu- 
tionally creatures of passion and will, as well as of 
intellect; and we are inevitably and responsibly in- 
volved in the disputes and controversies of life as 
participants. The depreciation of emotion destroys 
our generous, as well as our hateful, passions. A posi- 
tion of detachment destroys our responsibilities in life's 
controversies for the sake of avoiding sinful corrup- 
tions of those responsibilities. We ought to be angry 
when wrong is done; but we must learn the difficult 
art of being angry without sinning. 

"When a person does ill by you," declared the 
Stoic saint, Epictetus, "or speaks ill of you, remember 
that he acts or speaks from a supposition of doing his 
duty. . . . Setting out from these principles, you 
will meekly bear a person who reviles you 5 for you 
will say upon every occasion, c lt seemed so to him.' " x 
One need only suggest such advice to, let us say, a 
Pole in a German concentration camp to realize that 
there is something wrong with it. It is very good 

1 The Enchiridion, XLII. 



ANGER AND FORGIVENESS 25 

advice in dealing with all sorts of disputes and con- 
flicts in which both disputants are equally honest and 
well-intentioned. In such cases it is valuable to try to 
place oneself in the position of the other in order to 
mitigate the tendency of regarding any position, in 
conflict with one's own, as wrong. But when real evil 
is done such detachment is immoral. The proper atti- 
tude toward evil is anger. 

The cure of the sin in anger is not an emotional 
detachment from the issues of life. It is rather an 
attitude of humility which recognizes the constant 
temptation to sinful and egoistic corruption in our 
anger. We can not disavow our responsibilities in the 
struggles of life 5 and every effort to find a vantage 
point of pure objectivity and. impartiality in such 
struggles tends to a disavowal of responsibilities. But 
we must school ourselves to realize that we are par- 
ticipants, and not detached observers, so that we will 
not regard our judgment of the foe as a purely dis- 
interested judgment. The root of forgiveness toward 
the foe lies not in the supposition that he did right in 
his own sight, as Epictetus suggests; but rather in the 
recognition of the mutuality of guilt which finally 
produced the explicit evil against which our anger is 
aroused. 

In the early days of the war with Germany and 
Japan there were high-minded people who mistook 
the detachment of Epictetus for the Christian idea of 
forgiveness. Either they tried to deny that the evil 



26 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

which the Nazis committed was as evil as it seemed, 
or they insisted that our own position was so tainted 
with evil that we had no right to resist the evil of 
tyranny. Such passionless forms of idealism obscure 
the fact that all decencies in human history have been 
won by comparatively just men, though themselves 
tainted with some form of the corruption which 
aroused their anger, proceeding against flagrant in- 
justice. In times when we seek to evade our respon- 
sibilities in the name of a high-minded idealism, it is 
important to emphasize the righteousness of the anger 
which injustice arouses, and the rightfulness of har- 
nessing that anger in proceeding against the foe. 

But when the foe has been vanquished and the im- 
mediate peril of the evil he incarnated has been over- 
come, it is necessary to emphasize the other aspect of 
the problem. How little victors seem conscious of the 
taint of evil in their good, of their share in the evil 
against which they have fought; of the temptation to 
pride in their victory and the corruption of vindic- 
tiveness in their anger! How quickly they forget the 
scruples which tempted them to evade their duty in 
the hour of danger! See how simply the victorious na- 
tions speak of the difference between "peace-loving" 
nations and those who break the peace! Notice how 
they tend to obscure the fact that the peace of the 
future depends upon the moderation of the pride of 
each victor so that they may attain a decent accord 
with each other. Instead they would make it appear 



ANGER AND FORGIVENESS 27 

that if only the vanquished foe may remain perma- 
nently humbled and maimed, no threat to the world's 
peace can arise. The tendency to identify our relative 
justice with ultimate justice, and to regard the foe as 
congenitally evil, is one of the terrible fruits of the 
anger which warfare arouses* There is an awful blind- 
ness in such anger. 

We can trace the baleful consequences of this blind- 
ness in personal feuds between individuals. But both 
the blindness and the consequences are even more 
marked in the collective life of mankind. There is, 
for one thing, no relatively impartial court to arbi- 
trate the disputes of nations ; and there may not be 
for a long time to come. Nations are always judges in 
their own case. The pretension of victors that they 
are impartial judges is one of the most fruitful sources 
of vindictiveness. For thus the egoistic corruptions of 
justice are obscured, except of course to the van- 
quished. If the vanquished react with cynicism to 
these pretensions, their natural response is immedi- 
ately regarded as a further proof of their congenital 
wickedness. 

Any fairly i astute observer may discern how the 
power impulse of this particular victorious nation, and 
the pride and anxiety of that one, and the special 
vanity or "point of honor 3 ' of another, is the real 
cause of this particular boundary line or that special 
measure, ostensibly designed merely to exact just 
punishment of the vanquished nation and prevent its 



28 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

future aggression. The victors and judges are so ob- 
viously interested parties in a great historical dispute j 
and yet they pretend so transparently to be merely 
the executors of a divine judgment. The less they be- 
lieve in a divine judgment which "maketh the judges 
of the earth as vanity," the more inclined they are to 
usurp the position of divinity. 

Another cause of special temptation to sin in the 
judgment of nations is the difficulty of dealing with 
the complexity of guilt and innocency in the nation 
which has transgressed against the laws of justice. 
No one can deny that when a nation is corrupted, as 
for instance Nazi Germany was, the corruption is 
partly due to the lack of civic virtue of many citizens 
who are otherwise untainted by the explicit form of 
the evil which the nation incarnates 5 and that the con- 
sequences of the evil affects even the most healthy 
parts of the body politic. Yet, on the other hand, there 
are always elements in even the most evil nation 
which have withstood that evil more heroically, be- 
cause they withstood it at closer quarters than the 
righteous and self-righteous members of the victori- 
ous nations. But these complexities, including in ad- 
dition the endless gradations of guilt and innocency 
which lie between the overt evil-doers and those who 
overtly resisted them, are obscured by the blindness 
of vindictiveness. Even at best, collective guilt can not 
be punished without involving many innocent. The 
self-appointed judges of nations ought to have a de- 



ANGER AND FORGIVENESS 29 

cent sense of pity for those innocently involved in 
collective punishment. Instead there is a general dis- 
position to deny the gradations of guilt and to insist 
upon the total corruption of the enemy, both quali- 
tatively and quantitatively. Such is the blindness of 
anger when it brings forth the sin of vindictiveness. 
There are those who think it is possible to trace a 
neat dividing line between justice and vengeance 5 
and to avoid the sin of vengeance by these nice dis- 
tinctions. But rational distinctions alone do not have 
the power to hold the selfish impulses in check which 
corrupt justice and transmute it into vengeance. Un- 
less we exact retribution upon the vanquished foe with 
"fear and trembling/ 3 that is, with a consciousness of 
the precarious and dangerous position of our role as 
judges, and unless we have some sense of a more ulti- 
mate and divine judgment, under which both the 
righteous and the unrighteous are found guilty, our 
best attempts at justice will still be tainted by vindic- 
tiveness. The avoidance of sin in anger is not achieved 
by a position of detachment but by a recognition of 
the partisan and partial character of our actions and 
of the majesty of the divine judgment above all 
our judgments. Since it is difficult to know whether 
nations as such ever have any sense of a judgment 
beyond their own, it is a question whether victorious 
nations can achieve that degree of humility which 
would prevent anger from turning into vengeance. 
It is apparent, at any rate, that some of the endless 



30 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

chain of evil in the history of warfare to the very 
present moment is due to the fact that collective man 
does not seem to rise above himself to the point where 
he senses a judgment beyond himself. Nations are, in 
other words, constitutionally self-righteous. Yet there 
is always a possibility that a minority within the nation 
is able to mediate the divine judgment upon the 
nation. This was the function of the "saving remnant" 
in the thought of the prophets. Ideally it is the func- 
tion of the Church to be the saving remnant of the 
nation today. But the Church must recognize that 
there are sensitive secular elements within modern 
nations, who, though they deny the reality of a divine 
judgment, are nevertheless frequently more aware of 
the perils of national pride than many members of the 
Church. Whatever the source of the moral and reli- 
gious insight which sets a final bound to the immense 
self-assurance of nations, particularly of victorious 
nations, it is important that this insight act as a leaven 
within national communities. Otherwise the pride and 
vengeance of nations know no bounds ; and vindic- 
tive passion dictates terms to the vanquished which 
approach the morality of the foe and make his re- 
pentance impossible. 

Ill 

Anger mixed with egotism produces vengeance. 
Anger mixed with memory and foresight produces 



ANGER AND FORGIVENESS 31 

hatred. The injunction, "Let not the sun go down 
upon your wrath," arises from very profound con- 
siderations, however impractical and impossible it may 
be to follow the injunction literally. Confronted with 
a positive evil we properly react in anger 5 and there 
is no possibility of distinguishing fully between the 
evil and the evil-doer. The advice to hate evil and 
love the evil-doer is not altogether sound morally; 
and is also psychologically difficult. It is based upon 
the supposition that the evil-doer has been prompted 
merely by ignorance and not by malice. Yet a very 
great deal of evil is done in malice; and the proper 
reaction of anger must include the doer as well as 
the deed. 

But the fact that the doer is positively implicated 
in the evil which he does gives rise to the temptation 
to identify him too absolutely with the evil. Every 
war prompts theories of total depravity in the foe. In 
the past war such theories reached a higher degree of 
plausibility than ever before, because the malice of 
the Nazi foe exceeded all previous bounds. Yet these 
theories are never just. The admonition not to let the 
sun go down upon our wrath means that the evil deed 
which has aroused our anger must not be regarded as 
the complete revelation of the moral resources of the 
foe. Permanent anger hardens into hatred of the foe; 
and such hatred assumes that the foe is as evil as his 
deed. 

There are indeed criminals so far past redemption, 



32 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

at least from the perspective of human society, that 
we Incarcerate them for life or kill them. Some indi- 
viduals, implicated in collective guilt, as for instance 
the Nazi leaders in the past war, must be treated as 
society has always treated its most hopeless criminals. 
But the guilt of a national society is no more absolute 
than the guilt of any ordinary transgressor against the 
laws of society. There is a labyrinth of motives in 
every heart; and every action, both good and evil, is 
the consequence of a complicated debate and tension 
between various tendencies within the soul. Sometimes 
the most evil deed issues from a character less evil 
than those who have perpetrated a less overt crime. 
It is a well-known fact that the murderers' row in a 
prison frequently contains the best class of the prison's 
inmates. Their crime was frequently prompted by a 
momentary passion or fit of desperation, and pro- 
ceeded from less malice than other ostensibly less 
serious crimes. 

The secret debate of motives in the heart of an 
individual becomes, in the case of the actions of a 
nation, a public debate in the moral life of a com- 
munity. A community must, of course, be corrupt in 
many ways to desire a tyrannical government such as 
many of the German people desired; and it must be 
weak in various ways not to be able to resist the tyrant 
successfully. Yet the whole tragic decay of a culture 
and civilization which finally issued in the overt evil 
of Nazism is not the proof of the total depravity of a 



ANGER AND FORGIVENESS 33 

people. The hatred which the world has conceived 
against Germany is natural and inevitable enough. 
Yet it is not -just j and it will sow the seeds of many 
future evils in our common life. It is important to 
resist evil in the immediate instance j but it is also wise 
not to allow the memory of the evil to poison all 
future relationships. The admonition, "Let not the 
sun go down upon your wrath," may be too rigorous 
to be obeyed literally. But the general intention be- 
hind the advice is sound. The more the heats and 
passions of conflict abate, the more terrible becomes 
the calculated hatred which preserves the viewpoints 
of the day of battle into the days of peace. 

We must finally be reconciled with our foe, lest 
we both perish in the vicious circle of hatred. To this 
reconciliation belongs a f orgetfulness of the past which 
gives the foe a chance to prove the better resources of 
his life. 

It will, of course, be argued that such f orgetfulness 
of past crimes is irresponsible. It fails to consider the 
duty of every society to punish crime and to protect 
the community from future violations of its laws and 
securities. It is true that the admonition, taken liter- 
ally, disavows the foresight and care which the com- 
munity must exercise. Crimes must be punished both 
for the sake of convincing the criminal that the im- 
mediate advantages of his crime are outweighed by its 
ultimate consequences ; and for the sake of deterring 
similar acts in the future. 



34 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

Yet the efficacy of punishment is constantly over- 
estimated. No criminal is ever brought to repentance 
by punishment alone. In penology, dealing with indi- 
viduals, society has learned by painful experience that 
severity of punishment guarantees neither repentance 
of the criminal nor the deterrence of others who might 
be tempted to a similar crime. Therefore, thoughtful 
forms of penology, designed to reconstruct the crim- 
inal by discovering the residual moral health in his 
character, have gradually replaced the more ruth- 
less forms of punishment. All of these are in a sense 
applications of the injunction, "Let not the sun go 
down upon your wrath," for the realization of the 
limited efficacy of punishment implies a recognition 
of the short-range power of anger. Anger against evil 
is the necessary immediate reaction; but long-range 
considerations require that anger be abated in order 
that we may, in soberness of spirit, seek the best means 
of restoring the evil-doer to moral health. 

The injunction, "Let not the sun go down upon 
your wrath," achieves a special relevance in a war 
in which the immediate consequences of our wrath 
against immediate wrong have contrived a more ter- 
rible punishment than we could have consciously de- 
vised. The cities of Japan and Germany lie in ruins. 
Highly industrialized communities have been reduced 
to the simplicities and privations of primitive society. 
Mighty cities are mere heaps of rubble. If the wicked- 
ness of modern aggressor nations has been more ter- 



ANGER AND FORGIVENESS 35 

rible than previous violations of justice, so also is the 
punishment more terrible which total defeat in a total 
war entails. 

This punishment may not incline the heart of the 
foe to repentance 5 but if it does not, no calculated 
increase of the punishment will. The conferences of 
the victorious great powers, solemnly deciding to hold 
the victors completely in the chains of an indefinite 
occupation, and seeking by mere punishrftent both to 
turn the heart of the foe to repentance and to maim 
his power sufficiently to make him incapable of future 
wrong-doing, present us with the most pathetic sym- 
bols of the vainglory of man. How easily we assume 
the position of the Almighty, in both our sense of 
power and our sense of justice. How little we realize 
that the two objects of punishment to maim the 
power of the foe and to turn his heart to repentance 
are incompatible. If we accomplish the one, we can not 
achieve the other. How completely we fail to recog- 
nize that the sword of the victor is a very confusing 
symbol of the divine justice under which alone re- 
pentance is possible! Our cause was just enough in the 
immediate instance. But our effort to draw upon the 
prestige of that justice for untold years transmutes 
justice into injustice. If only we could understand the 
wisdom of not letting the sun go down upon our 
wrath. 

Efforts to prolong judgment and punishment 
indefinitely spring from a failure to recognize our 



36 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

limitations as creatures and as interested participants 
in the struggles o life. They are informed, by man's 
most fruitful source of sin: his pretensions to a power 
and a goodness which men do not possess. Thus the 
effort to maim a foe, so that he will not hurt us again, 
may incite him to a fury of resentment upon which we 
did not calculate; and in his fury he may be prompted 
to the ingenuity of inventing other weapons for those 
we have taken from him. And the effort to become the 
permanent judges of the vanquished becomes increas- 
ingly subject to the challenge of cynicism. If the com- 
munity of nations had genuine instruments of juridi- 
cal impartiality, these evils could be mitigated. But 
the international instruments we have do not approach 
the impartiality of the courts of our long-established 
national communities. They are, and will remain for 
a long time, the instruments of the power of victors. 
They do not have the resources to mitigate the pride 
of victors in the name and the power of a higher 
justice, 

One of the profoundest insights of the Hebraic 
prophets was their conception of the various nations 
of the world acting as the executors of divine judg- 
ment. Yet each of the nations was itself finally brought 
under the same divine judgment of which it had been 
the executor. The reason for this change was always 
the same. The nations assumed that their special mis- 
sion under divine providence gave them some special 
security, or proved that they possessed some special 



ANGER AND FORGIVENESS 37 

virtue. They were, in short, tempted to pretension by 
the very success o their mission 5 and thus came in 
turn under divine judgment. 

They failed to recognize the limited character of 
all human missions and the short run of all "manifest 
destinies." This prophetic interpretation of historical 
events springs from the same wisdom which prompts 
the injunction, "Let not the sun go down upon your 
wrath." The wrath of the righteous man against in- 
justice is an engine of virtue in a given moment. But 
if it is unduly prolonged and proudly seeks to clothe 
itself in the garments of divine justice, its very pre- 
tensions become the source of a new injustice. Man 
is a creature of the day and hour. Since he also has the 
capacity to transcend days and hours and look into the 
past for lessons and into the future for promises and 
perils, it is neither possible nor right to limit him to 
the day and hour. Yet the biblical injunction, "Let 
not the sun go down upon your wrath," just as the 
warning, "Take therefore no thought for the mor- 
row," are essentially right, though not literally ob- 
servable. They are warnings to men not to forget the 
limited character of their insight into the future, and 
the partial character of their justice, and the short- 
range virtue of their anger. 

We are called upon again and again to be executors 
of divine judgment. But in the ultimate sense another 
word of St. Paul, springing from the same wisdom of 
faith which prompted the words of our text, is true: 



38 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

"Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather 
give place unto wrath: for it is written. Vengeance is 
mine 5 I will repay, saith the Lord." 1 

These words are not only ultimately true but espe- 
cially relevant at the end of a great conflict in which 
the vengeance of God upon evil-doers has been more 
terrible than any which human calculation could have 
devised. 

1 Rom. 12:19. 



Ill 

THE AGE BETWEEN THE AGES 

"Thus saith Hezekiah> This day Is a day of 
trouble^ and of rebuke y and blasphemy: for the 
children are come to the birth y and there is not 
strength to bring forth" II Kings 19:3. 



JLHESE pessimistic words were spoken by Hezekiah, 
King of Judah, when he faced a crisis in Judah's rela- 
tion with Assyria and was threatened with defeat and 
enslavement by the great power. The words -are as 
applicable to our own day as to his. We are living in 
an age between the ages in which children are coming 
to birth, but there is not strength to bring forth. We 
can see clearly what ought to be done to bring order 
and peace into the lives of the nations j but we do not 
have the strength to do what we ought. A few hardy 
optimists imagine that the end of the second world 
war represents the end of our troubles $ and that the 
world is now firmly set upon the path of peace. Yet it 
does not require a very profound survey of the avail- 
able historical resources to realize that our day of 
trouble is not overj that in fact this generation of 

39 



40 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

mankind is destined to live in a tragic era between two 
ages. It is an era when "one age is dead and the other 
is powerless to be born." The age of absolute national 
sovereignty is over j but the age of international order 
under political instruments, powerful enough to regu- 
late the relations of nations and to compose their com- 
peting desires, is not yet born. The age of "free 
enterprise/' when the new vitalities of a technical 
civilization were expected to. regulate themselves, is 
also oven But the age in which justice is to be 
achieved, and yet freedom maintained, by a wise regu- 
lation of the complex economic interdependence of 
modern man, is powerless to be born. 

I 

The lack of "strength to bring forth" a newly con- 
ceived life, ordained to birth, is a significant weakness 
of human life not shared by the animals. In animal 
existence there are always instinctive and vital re- 
sources sufficient for every necessary process, includ- 
ing the generative one. Animals bring forth easily, 
giving birth with little pain, as they die without fear. 
Human beings are born in pain 3 and frequently the 
strength to bring forth must be augmented by all 
kinds of obstetrical aid. The special difficulties of 
human birth were matters of observation at a very 
early date in human history and in the story of the 
Fall in the book of Genesis the pains of childbirth are 



AGE BETWEEN THE AGES 41 

interpreted as God's curse upon the sinful Eve: "In 
sorrow shalt thou bring forth children." There is a 
profound truth in this myth even though we would 
not now regard the pains of birth as an explicit punish- 
ment of sin. The truth in the myth is that human life 
distinguishes itself from animal existence by its greater 
freedom and the consequent possibility of the misuse 
of freedom. Though the biological processes in man 
are prompted by instinct, as in animal life, only a few 
of them are purely instinctive. Generally an area of 
freedom is left open, where the human will is fused 
with the instincts of nature. Thus man's sexual life is 
not limited to the procreative process, but can, by 
imagination and will, become the source of a wider 
spiritual and artistic creativity, and also of a destruc- 
tive perversity. 

In the same way the process of birth is not com- 
pleted by purely instinctive power. It is more painful 
than animal birth, partly because of physiological 
reasons, which are, however, related to man's unique- 
ness in the animal world the size of the human in- 
fant's head, for instance. Being more painful, it can 
be evaded and avoided, for human freedom has now 
contrived methods of arresting the natural process of 
procreation. If it is not avoided, the human will, as 
well as obstetrical devices, must aid and abet the 
instinctive forces of nature to create the strength to 
bring forth. A noted gynecologist once observed that 
the power to bring forth in the human mother con- 



42 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

tained a bewildering mixture of spiritual and natural 
elements. Among the spiritual elements, the fear of 
death in the mother was marvellously compounded 
with the desire to bring forth life. 

Yet physical birth in human beings is sufficiently 
close to nature to proceed, on the whole, by nature's 
laws and forces. It is when men deal with the organ- 
isms of their social existence, with their political and 
economic and cultural institutions, that the pains of 
birth and the lack of strength to bring forth becomes 
more fully apparent. All social institutions are partly 
subject to nature. In the early stages of human exist- 
ence, at least, they are born, they grow, and die with 
only slight interventions of the human will. But as 
these institutions become more and more the creations 
of the mind and will, their birth and death are in- 
creasingly subject to the defects of the will. Modern 
social institutions are the artifact of the warrior's 
prowess, the statesman's skill and the community's 
imagination. With this development the hiatus be- 
tween the social task, made urgent by historic develop- 
ment, and the moral power required to do what ought 
to be done, continually widens. 

The fact that world-wide economic and technical 
interdependence between the nations makes a world- 
wide system of justice necessary is so obvious that 
even the most casual observers have become convinced 
of it. At the beginning of this century, before two 
world wars had chastened the mood of our culture, it 



AGE BETWEEN THE AGES 43 

was assumed that the comprehension of an historic 
task would guarantee its achievement. Since then we 
have learned that a potential world community may 
announce itself in history through world conflicts 5 
and that some of the very instruments which were to 
guarantee the achievement of world-wide community 
could be used to sharpen conflict and give it global 
dimensions. 

But even now we are not ready to measure the full 
depth of the problem of man's lack of strength to 
bring forth the historical new-birth required in a new 
age. The lack of strength to bring forth is usually 
interpreted as the consequence of a natural or cultural 
"lag." The common theory is that the mind is more 
daring and free in its comprehension of historical tasks 
than are the emotional and volitional forces which 
furnish the strength to do. Natural passions and cul- 
tural institutions supposedly offer a force of inertia 
against the more inclusive tasks which the mind en- 
visages. 

This idea of a cultural lag is plausible enough, and 
partly true. But it does not represent the whole truth 
about the defect of our will. It obscures the positive 
and spiritual element in our resistance to necessary 
change. The lower and narrower loyalties which stand 
against the newer and wider loyalties are armed not 
merely with the force of natural inertia, but with the 
guile of spirit and the stubbornness of all forms of 
idolatry in human history. 



44 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

II 

Consider, for instance, the position of the great 
powers in the present world arrangements. Three 
great powers have achieved a dominant position in the 
world j and the charter of the new world organization 
gives them an explicit hegemony in world affairs. The 
new world charter speaks loftily of this arrangement 
as one in which the nations of the world "confer upon 
the Security Council [which is the organ of the great 
nations] primary responsibility for the maintenance of 
international peace and security." Everyone knows 
that the smaller nations have not willingly conferred 
such broad powers upon the great nations. The great 
nations have assumed their rights and powers. They 
alone wrote the first draft of the present world char- 
ter, which the smaller nations tried vainly to amend 
in principle though they succeeded in circumscribing 
the authority of the great powers in some details. 

It is also obvious that the great nations are not 
absolutely single-minded in their desire to maintain 
the peace of the world. They undoubtedly desire to 
do so 5 but each also desires to preserve or enhance its 
own power and influence. This is the law in their 
members which wars against the law that is in their 
minds. The great nations are "of two minds." This is 
a collective and vivid expression of a general human 
situation. The "law in our members" is never merely 



AGE BETWEEN THE AGES 45 

the inertia of "nature" against the more inclusive 
duties which the mind envisages. It is a spiritual force, 
compounded of strength and weakness. It is the pride 
of the. powerful, not wishing to share their power. It 
is also the anxiety of weakness; for even powerful 
nations are not as secure as they pretend to be. In their 
anxiety they seek to make themselves independently 
secure even against their partners in a common world 
undertaking} and their very effort to do so partly 
destroys the common security which they pretend to 
(and in a measure actually do) seek. 

All birth in the realm of man's historic institutions 
is rebirth. The old self must die in order that the 
new self may be born. The new self is a truer self, 
precisely because it is more intimately and organically 
bound to, and involved in, the life of its partners in 
the human enterprise. But the new self, whether in 
men or in nations, can not be born if the old self 
evades the death of repentance, seeking rather to re- 
establish itself in its old security and old isolation. The 
tragic events of recent history have proved that old 
security to be insecure $ and the old isolation to be 
death. There is, therefore, a genuine desire for a new 
birth and a wider and more mutual security. But it is 
not powerful enough to destroy the other and older 
desires. Thus we see the old human drama on a col- 
lective and a world scale. If "the strength to bring 
forth" is lacking in a new period of history, the lack 
is therefore something else than a natural or a oil- 



46 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

tural "lag." There is a positive spiritual force in the 
power which weakens the will to bring forth. 

Whatever our hopes for world peace, we must 
realize that our prospective security against inter- 
national anarchy is not as good as that of the Pax 
Romana. This is not because we are worse than the 
Romans were, but simply because there are three 
sources of power, rather than one, in the scheme of 
order. There are too many possibilities of friction 
between the three, and too many justified mutual ap- 
prehensions, to permit the hope that their combined 
power will give the world an island of order from 
which to operate against the sea of international 
anarchy. 

Even if the great powers, which have primary 
responsibility for world order, were more perfectly 
agreed than they are, we would still face the prob- 
lem of transmuting the order, which their authority 
achieves, into genuine justice. The first task of gov- 
ernment is to create order by preponderant power. 
The second task is to create justice. Justice requires 
that there be some inner and moral checks upon the 
wielders of power 5 and that the community also place 
some social checks upon them. Neither the inner 
moral checks, nor the outer social and political checks, 
are sufficient by themselves. Men are never good 
enough to wield power over their fellowmen, what- 
ever inner checks of conscience may operate in them, 
without also being subject to outer and social checks. 

The great powers in the present world situation 



AGE BETWEEN THE AGES 47 

have seen to it that these social and political checks 
are minimal. Neither the smaller powers nor the sub- 
ject peoples have been given constitutional instru- 
ments adequate for the achievement of genuine jus- 
tice. The great powers pretend that these checks are 
not necessary because they, the great powers, are 
"peace-loving" and just. This is somewhat analogous 
to the pretensions of absolute monarchs of another age 
who claimed that they were responsible only to God, 
and not to their fellowmen. Then, as now, it was 
argued that a wider sharing of responsibility would 
encourage anarchy. In both cases there was an element 
of truth in the contention. There is indeed a period 
in the growth of both national and international com- 
munities in which the constitutional instruments, and 
the organic sources of social harmony, are not ade- 
quate for the achievement of harmony, except upon 
an absolutistic basis. But in both cases the wielders of 
power tend to obscure the egoistic corruptions of their 
sense of responsibility. Ages of international consti- 
tutional struggles must intervene before the centers 
of power in the international community are brought 
under the same adequate checks which now exist in 
democratic communities. This struggle will be a long 
and tortuous one, partly because the self-righteous- 
ness of the great powers will resist the efforts at 
greater justice. This self-righteousness is no natural 
force of inertia. It is a spiritual force. Self-righteous- 
ness is one of the oldest and most persistent forms of 
human sin. In it the human spirit seeks to obscure the 



48 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

partly conscious sense of being involved in universal 
human sin; just as the lust for power seeks to over- 
come the partly acknowledged social and historic in- 
security. 

Our recent experience with a very explicit and 
demonic form of national egotism and imperialism, 
in the Nazi state, tends to aggravate these various 
forms of national self-righteousness. For the nations 
which now bear responsibility for world peace and 
justice are obviously more just than were the Nazis. 
They are tempted to regard that moral superiority as 
adequate for the achievement of justice. Yet there 
have been many wielders of power, in both the na- 
tional and international community, who have been 
better than the Nazi tyrants and yet have not been 
just enough to grant real justice to the weak/ The 
destruction of the most tyrannical centers of power in 
the community, national or international, does not 
guarantee justice. It merely creates the minimal con- 
ditions under which the struggle for justice may take 
place with some hope of success. 

The will-to-power of the great nations, which in- 
volves them in vicious circles of mutual fears, is a 
manifestation of an age-old force in human history. 
It accentuates the insecurity which it is intended to 
destroy. It is never completely overcome in man's 
history 3 but every new communal advance requires 
that it be overcome upon a new level of man's com- 
mon enterprise. Mutual fears lead so inevitably into 
overt conflict that one would suppose that the nations 



AGE BETWEEN THE AGES 49 

would recognize this danger more clearly, and would 
take more explicit steps for a complete international 
partnership. The fact that they do not can not be 
attributed merely to ignorance or the cultural lag. 
There is an element of perversity in this failure to see 
the obvious 5 and in the unwillingness to act upon the 
facts and implications which are seen. The stupidity 
of sin is in this darkness. "They became vain in their 
imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened," 
is the way St. Paul describes this fact in human life. 
That description fits the international situation exactly. 

The self-righteousness of the great powers, in their 
pretension that they are safe custodians and protectors 
of the rights of small nations and dependent peoples, 
is also a "vain imagination. 35 Just as the will-to-power 
is intended to overcome the natural insecurity of men 
and nations, but actually increases what it would over- 
come 5 so also the moral pride of peoples seeks to 
obscure their common involvement in the sins of 
nations, but actually accentuates what it intends to 
hide. Both of these forms of vain imagination con- 
tribute to the spiritual impotence which prevents the 
necessary next step in the development of the human 
community. 

There are, of course, special and peculiar forms of 
these sins, and special and unique reasons for them, 
in the case of particular nations, which exhibit the 
general tendency in variable terms. Thus Russia may 
have a special form of insecurity, derived from the 
dogma in its religion of an inexorable conflict between 



50 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

capitalist and communist nations. And its special form 
of pride may be rooted in the idea that it is the only 
nation which stands on the other side of a revolution, 
which, according to its faith, proves that it is purged 
of the common sins of other peoples. The simplicity 
with which Russia brands any opponents of its policies 
as fascists reveals this special form of spiritual pride. 
Britain may possess a special form of insecurity be- 
cause she is not quite as strong as the two other part- 
ners in the hegemony of nations 3 and she may possess 
a special form of pride derived from the superior 
political astuteness achieved through longer experi- 
ence in world relations. The phenomenal economic 
power of the American nation is the source of a special 
temptation to pride ; and the political immaturity of 
the nation tempts it to a peculiar form of insecurity 
as it moves into the uncharted waters of world poli- 
tics. Each one of these special sources of either inse- 
curity or compensating pride is a special hazard to the 
creation of a world community. Yet they all are 
merely unique manifestations of the general character 
of the defect of the human will. 

The great powers offer vivid examples of the 
spiritual impotence of our day. But equally valid 
illustrations could be drawn from the life of the less 
potent nations. The smaller as well as the larger 
nations cling desperately to a form of national sover- 
eignty which is incompatible with the requirements of 
a new age. Each of them, moreover, has its own 
characteristic weaknesses. The hurt pride of France 



AGE BETWEEN THE AGES 51 

and her difficulty in acknowledging to herself that her 
internal decay contributed to the ignominy of her 
defeat makes her particularly truculent in her rela- 
tions with other peoples. Resentment and fear deter- 
mine her relations to a vanquished, but still poten- 
tially more powerful, foe; and the dream of re- 
establishing her military might seems more important 
to her than becoming the creative center of a conti- 
nental reconstruction. 

China, whose manifest destiny is to become the 
center of order in Asia, shows little capacity for ful- 
filling her appointed task. Lacking sufficient resources 
for her own unity, she may well be divided by the 
greater powers into their own spheres of influence. 
Her impotence will tempt the great powers to venture 
further into Asia than they ought. The peace of the 
world is not served by the dominance of western 
powers in the affairs of Asia. Wherever we turn we 
find not only general, but specific, forms of spiritual 
and political impotence. The nations are not prepared 
to create the kind of moral and political order which 
a technical civilization requires. 

Ill 

The failure of this age to achieve adequate instru- 
ments of international order is matched by, and re- 
lated to, the concomitant failure to solve the problem 
of economic justice within each nation. Modern tech- 
nics have centralized economic power and aggravated 



52 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

the problem of achieving justice between the various 
groups of a national community. While a liberal cul- 
ture sought for an easy solution of the problem of 
justice, the growing disproportions of economic power 
transmuted the static injustices of a feudal-agrarian 
order into the dynamic injustices of technical civiliza- 
tion. 

Russia has presumably solved the problem of jus- 
tice and security in the realm of economic life; but 
she has paid a high price for the solution in the loss 
of political liberties. The totalitarian aspects of the 
Russian regime obscure the genuine achievements 
of Russian equalitarianism; and give the privileged 
classes of the western community the occasion to 
identify falsely political liberty in general with the 
anachronistic liberty of the economic oligarchy in 
capitalistic society. If economic power is not brought 
under more effective social and political restraint, it 
may well destroy the securities of the common people 
to the point of undermining the very fabric of western 
civilization. Of the great powers, Britain is most likely 
to solve this problem without the loss of democratic 
liberties $ and America is most likely to make abortive 
efforts to return to a "free enterprise 37 system, which 
is incompatible with the requirements of justice in a 
highly interdependent world. 

The rise of modern fascism was partly occasioned 
by the inability of western civilization to solve the 
problem of economic justice. Fascism grew in the soil 
of social chaos and insecurity - y and its coerced unity 



AGE BETWEEN THE AGES 53 

was an effort of modern nations, rent by class conflict, 
to avoid the disintegration of their national life. The 
cure proved worse than the disease. The terrible price 
which nations paid for neglecting to solve their prob- 
lem of domestic justice might well have been a warn- 
ing to the privileged classes of the western world. 
They have chosen rather to identify any effort at a 
real cure with this false cure 5 and to lay the charge 
of fascism against all efforts of the community to 
bring economic power under control. 

There is something more than mere ignorance in 
this stupidity. It is also a form of the "vain imagina- 
tion" which distinguishes sin from ignorance. The 
pride and power of position insinuates itself into the 
political judgments of the privileged. It insinuates 
itself into all judgments; but those who have great 
treasure are obviously more tempted than those who 
have less: "Where your treasure is, there will your 
heart be also." The strength to bring forth a more 
just social order depends partly upon the ability of 
the poor to transmute their resentments into genuine 
instruments of justice; and partly upon the ability of 
the rich to moderate the stupidity of sinful pride and 
arrogant defiance of the inevitable. 

IV 

Since the moral and spiritual resources to achieve a 
just and stable society in global terms are not yet 
available, we must be prepared to live for decades, 



54 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

and possibly for centuries, in heart-breaking frustra- 
tions, somewhat eased by small advances toward the 
desired goal. 

It will not be easy to live in this age between the 
ages without being tempted to despair. Richer re- 
sources of faith will be required than those which the 
liberal culture of the past two centuries has lived by. 
Its faith grew out of an age of easy achievements and 
few frustrations; and has little conception of the 
tragic character of history. 

These resources can not be enlarged upon here, 
but two facets of an adequate faith for our age be- 
tween the ages must be mentioned. The one is a form 
of hope which gives meaning to life not only by what 
is accomplished in history. We can not live by historic 
achievement alone, though we can not live meaning- 
fully without historic achievement. The Christian 
faith has been at a discount in recent centuries because 
its confidence that "neither life nor death can separate 
us from the love of God" seemed a desperate kind of 
hope which was irrelevant to the needs of men who 
found all their hopes easily fulfilled in history. There 
are periods of historic achievement in the life of man- 
kind, just as there are periods of fulfillment in the 
lives of individuals, when the problem of frustration 
does not arise as a serious issue. But there are also 
periods when our hopes so far exceed our grasp that 
we can not count on historic fulfillments to give com- 
pletion to our life. 



AGE BETWEEN THE AGES 55 

There must be a new appreciation of the meaning 
of the words of St. Paul that "if in this life only we 
have hope in Christ, we are of all men most misera- 
ble." Without the understanding of this depth of 
human existence it will be difficult to traverse the age 
between the ages. 

The other resource required for our day is a sense 
of humility which recognizes the lack of strength to 
bring forth as a common form of human weakness in 
which all share. We must avoid the peril of attribut- 
ing our historic frustration to this or that nation to 
Russian intransigeance, or "British imperialism," or 
American pride, or any one of the specific forms which 
the spiritual inadequacies of our day will take. The 
temptation to do this will be great because there will 
be many explicit and unique forms of spiritual failure 
in our day in this class and that nation. It will be 
necessary to define and isolate these special forms of 
social and political failure and to deal with their spe- 
cific causes. But it is equally important to recognize 
the common root of the failure of all the nations, lest 
a combination of our pride and our frustration lead 
to intolerable resentments toward each other. 

Human beings in general are more tragic in their 
stupidities than we have generally believed; and their 
stupidities are derived from vain imaginations which 
only great suffering can eradicate. All our new births 
are brought about in pain 5 and the pain and sorrow 
of re-birth are greater than the pain of natural birth. 



56 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

The periods of gestation for the births of history are, 
moreover, very long; so long that they try our pa- 
tience and tempt us to believe that history is sterile,, 
This is not the case. Mankind will finally find politi- 
cal instruments and moral resources adequate for a 
wholesome communal life on a world-wide scale. But 
generations and centuries may be required to complete 
the task. 



IV 



THE NEMESIS OF NATIONS 

"And it came to 'pass In the eleventh year, in 
the third month, in the first day of the month , 
that the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 
Son of man, say unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, and 
to his multitude; Whom art thou like in thy 
greatness? Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in 
Lebanon with fair branches, and with a shadow- 
ing shroud, and of high stature; and his tof was 
among the thick boughs. The waters made him 
greaty the dee'p set him wj> on high with her rivers 
running round about his plants; and sent out her 
little rivers unto all the trees of the field. There" 
fore his height was exalted above all the trees of 
the field) and his boughs were multiplied, and his 
branches became long because of the multitude of 
waters, when he shot forth. All the fowls of 
heaven made their nests in his boughs, and under 
his branches did all the beasts of the field bring 
forth their young; and under his shadow dwelt 
all great nations. Thus was he fair in his great- 
ness , in the length of his branches: for his root 
was by great waters. The cedars in the garden of 
God could not hide him: the fir trees were not 

57 



58 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

like his boughs, and the chestnut trees were like 
his branches; nor any tree in the garden of God 
was like unto him in his beauty* 1 have made him 
fair by the multitude of his branches: so that all 
the trees of Eden, that were in the garden of 
God, envied him. 

"Therefore thus said the Lord God; Because 
thou hast lifted up thyself in height, and he hath 
shot up his top among the thick boughs , and his 
heart is lifted up in his height: I have therefore 
delivered him into the hand of the mighty one of 
the heathen ; he shall surely deal with him; I have 
driven him out for his wickedness. And strangers^ 
the terrible of the nations, have cut him off y and 
have left him: upon the mountains and in all the 
valleys his branches are broken, and his boughs 
are broken by all the rivers of the land; and all 
the people of the earth are gone down from his 
shadow, and have left him. Upon his ruin shall 
all the fowls of the heaven remain, and all the 
beasts of the field shall be upon his branches: To 
the end that none of all the trees by the waters 
exalt themselves for their height, neither shoot up 
their top among the thick boughs, neither their 
trees stand up in their height, all that drink water: 
for they are all delivered unto death, to the 
nether parts of the earth, in the midst of the chil- 
dren of men, with them that go down to the pit" 
EzeL 31:1-14. 



THE NEMESIS OF NATIONS 59 

LHIS parable of the trees is one of a series of judg- 
ments upon the nations which the prophet Ezekiel 
proclaimed in the name of God. It was one of the 
distinctive aspects of Hebraic prophecy that it did not 
think of the judgment of God as resting primarily 
upon the enemies and competitors of Israel. For the 
prophets the divine judgment fell first of all upon 
Israel, the chosen nation. "You only have I known 
of all the families of the earth," declares the prophet 
Amos in the name of the Lord, "therefore I will 
punish you for all your iniquities." But the prophetic 
idea of judgment became more and more universal 
and the whole of history was regarded as moving 
under God's providence. Under this providence each 
of the nations could, upon occasion, become the instru- 
ment of God's designs in history, even if, as in the 
case of Persia under Cyrus, it was not consciously 
seeking to perform God's will. 

However, each of the nations would also, in turn, 
fall under the divine condemnation. The cause of this 
condemnation was always the same. They exalted 
themselves above measure, and engaged in preten- 
sions which exceeded the bounds of human mortality. 
Thus Ezekiel proclaims the judgment of God upon 
Tyre, "Because thine heart is lifted up, and thou hast 
said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst 
of the seas 5 yet thou art a man, and not God 5 thine 
heart is lifted up because of thy riches, behold, 



So THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

therefore, I will bring straijgers upon thee, the terrible 
of the nations: and they shall draw their swords 
against the beauty of thy wisdom, and they shall de- 
file thy brightness. They shall bring thee down to the 
pit. . . . Wilt thou yet say before him that slayeth 
thee, I am God? but thou shalt be a man, and no God, 
in the hand of him that slayeth thee." * 

The prophetic judgments against the nations are 
always prompted by their pride, which seeks to hide 
the common human frailty of all achievements and 
constructions of men, or which denies the divine source 
of their power and pretends that their position among 
the nations is due altogether to their own achieve- 
ments. Thus in the parable of our text, Assyria is 
compared to a tree which grows by the waters and 
"the waters made him great, the deep set him up on 
high" j but the nation forgot that it was the provi- 
dence of God which made him "fair in his greatness, 
in the length of his branches." The nation will there- 
fore be delivered to judgment "To the end that none 
of all the trees by the waters exalt themselves for 
their height" nor that the mighty ones "stand up in 
their height for they are all delivered unto death." 

In the case of Egypt, a civilization which rested 
upon the fecundity produced by the Nile's periodic 
overflow, the pride takes the form of assuming that 
what has been given it as a special gift of grace is 
really its own achievement, and therefore belongs 

2 Ezek. 28:2, 5, 7, 8, 9. 



THE NEMESIS OF NATIONS 61 

completely to itself. The divine judgment runs: "Be- 
hold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the 
great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, 
which hath said. My river is mine own, and I have 
made it for myself. But I will put hooks in thy jaws 
. . . And I will leave thee thrown into the wilder- 
ness." 2 

The theme which underlies the prophetic judgment 
upon the nations is thus the idea that "nemesis" over- 
takes the nations because mortal men contend against 
God. They seek to make themselves stronger than 
mortal men have a right to be; and they pretend to 
be wiser than mortal men are. They come thus in 
conflict with the divine prerogatives. It may take a 
long while, but in the end the Divine Avenger hum- 
bles these human pretensions and brings all false 
majesties of history "into the pit" "to the end that 
none of -all the trees by the waters exalt themselves 
for their height." 

This theme is not confined to the prophets. It is 
one of the basic themes of the Bible. In the Genesis 
myth of the Fall it is suggested that false pride lies 
at the foundation of human sin. Man sought to pene- 
trate to the final mystery of the "tree of the knowl- 
edge of good and evil," which, alone among the trees 
of the garden, was forbidden to him. That was the 
cause of his Fall. In the profound parable of the 
Tower of Babel, we are told that men sought to build 

2 Ezek. 29 :s-5. 



62 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

a structure "whose top may reach unto heaven," and 
"make us a name." God is pictured as jealous of this 
human effort, declaring "now nothing will be re- 
strained from them, which they have imagined to do." 
Therefore he confounded their language and "scat- 
tered them abroad from thence upon the face of all 
the earth." 3 

Nor does the New Testament lack the same inter- 
pretation of the ultimate issue between man and God. 
St. Paul defines sin as man's effort to change "the 
glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made 
like to corruptible man" 4 and in his second letter to 
the Corinthians he defines the warfare of Christians as 
"casting down imaginations, and every high thing 
that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and 
bringing into captivity every thought to the obedi- 
ence of Christ." 5 There is thus in biblical thought in 
general a perpetual theme of warning to men and na- 
tions "not to think of themselves more highly than 
they ought to think." These warnings express the un- 
easiness of the human soul, when informed by a pro- 
found faith, over the tendency of man to hide his 
weakness with a false show of strength; or to forget 
his limitations in the knowledge of his real, yet always 
limited, strength. This uneasiness is accomplished by 
a sense of judgment and doom. It is felt that ulti- 
mately any man or nation who seeks to usurp the place 
of God will be brought low. The ultimate majesty 

3 Gen. 11:4, 6, 8. 4 Rom. 1:23. 5 II Cor. 10:5. 



THE NEMESIS OF NATIONS 63 

which rules the world will be able to subdue all false 
majesties. God, who is the Creator and Judge of the 
whole of life, has the power to put down any rebellion 
of the various parts of life which make themselves 
into the whole. In the judgments of the prophet 
Ezekiel, of which our text is one, the justification for 
the various judgments upon the various proud nations 
is always that in "that day" of judgment "they may 
know that I am the Lord." 

II 

This theme of the contest between a jealous God 
and the pride and pretension of men is not limited to 
biblical thought. It is a recurring motif in Greek 
tragedy. The very word NEMESIS, which is generally 
used to describe the fate of arrogance, is derived from 
Greek thought. Nemesis is the consequence of pride 
(HYBRIS). The theme is most explicitly presented in 
the Promethean myth, though not confined to it. 
Prometheus was, it will be remembered, the demi-god 
who aroused the jealousy of Zeus by teaching men 
the use of fire. In Greek tragedy the heroes are 
warned again and again (frequently by words spoken 
by the chorus) not to arouse the anger of Zeus by 
attempting feats which are beyond the limit of mortal 
men, or by making pretensions which are in conflict 
with the pride of Zeus. 

There is one significant difference between the 



64 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

manner in which this theme is handled in Greek trag- 
edy and its development in biblical thought. In Greek 
drama we are never quite certain whether Zeus's 
jealousy is an unwarranted divine egotism, seeking to 
prevent men from developing their full capacities for 
the sake of preserving the unchallenged character of 
the divine power, or whether it is the justified anger 
of the guardian of the whole against the anarchic pre- 
tensions of the various parts of life. Sophocles seems 
to come nearest to the perception of the biblical idea 
that the jealousy of Zeus is not some unwarranted 
divine caprice, but the expression of the power of 
ultimate order against those vitalities of life which 
seek to make themselves the false center of that order. 
This ambivalence of Greek tragedy would seem at 
first blush to take the complexity of the human situa- 
tion into account more adequately than the biblical 
account. It would seem particularly to do justice to 
the fact that all human powers and all extensions of 
these powers are creative, as well as destructive. The 
taming of fire was a necessary step in human civiliza- 
tion j and Zeus's anger against Prometheus would 
therefore seem to be unjustified. The "knowledge of 
good and evil" is a necessary expression of the final 
"freedom of the human spirit" and the building of 
towers "whose top may reach into heaven" is a neces- 
sary expression of the human skill which has raised 
man from complete dependence upon nature to a rela- 
tive mastery of nature. 



THE NEMESIS OF NATIONS 65 

The extension of human powers is the basis of the 
progressive character of human history. Every new 
conquest of nature and every new elaboration of 
human skills means that human actions and responsi- 
bilities are set in the context of a wider field. This is 
the creative side of human history. Yet every new 
mastery of nature and every enlargement of human 
powers is also the new occasion for pride and a fresh 
temptation to human arrogance. If biblical thought 
seems to neglect the creative aspect of the extension 
of human powers in its prophecies of doom upon 
proud nations, this 'is due only to the fact that it is 
more certain than is Greek thought that, whatever 
the creative nature of human achievements, there is 
always a destructive element in human power. The 
Bible is so certain of this because it is more certain of 
the majesty of God and more sure of the justice of 
His jealousy. It is certain that there is one God, and 
that "it is he that hath made us and not we ourselves," 
and that His majesty transcends all human majesties. 
It is also certain that all human majesties and powers 
claim a more central position in the scheme of things 
than is their rightful due. It understands, in other 
words, the tragedy of sin without denying the creative 
character of human achievements. It knows that 
jealousy of God is not the caprice of one life in com- 
petition with other life. It is rather the justice of the 
Lord of life against the pretentious attempts of little 
forms of life "To the end that none of all the trees 



66 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

by the waters exalt themselves for their height," 
nor that the mighty ones "stand up in their height 
for they are all delivered unto death." 

Ill 

Living in an age of atomic energy and of total wars, 
it seems almost fantastic to think that men of any 
other age should have considered the perils of human 
pride and the temptations of human power. There 
were, to be sure, great empires in those days , and their 
rulers claimed divine majesty. But these ancient civ- 
ilizations, resting upon a simple agrarian economy, 
were infantile in their strength compared to the power 
which modern men and nations have achieved through 
the technics of modern civilization. If the human situ- 
ation warranted the warnings of the prophets in those 
days, how much more are those warnings justified in 
our day! There is in fact no greater proof of the per- 
ennial relevance of the biblical analysis of the mean- 
ing of life than that the course of history seems to 
make it ever more true. While our modern culture 
rested upon the assumption that the elaboration of 
human powers would be almost exclusively creative 
and would guarantee the achievement of ever wider 
and more inclusive human communities, our modern 
civilization produced an atomic bomb the first effect 
of which can only be to sharpen the conflict of nations 
and to tempt nations to new forms of pride and arro- 



THE NEMESIS OF NATIONS 67 

gance. The atomic bomb is the most telling proof of 
the perpetual relevance of the biblical warnings 5 and 
even of their ever-increasing relevance as human 
powers increase, while the essential finiteness of the 
agents who wield these powers does not change. 

The most immediate relevance of the prophetic 
promise of doom upon the trees that "exalt themselves 
for their height" is, of course, the ignominious end of 
proud dictators and "master" races, who sought only 
yesterday to enthrall the world and who are today 
completely humiliated and defeated. In one fateful 
week of the year 1945, one dictator died an obscene 
death in expiation for an obscenely ambitious life$ 
and another died in the violence which his life had 
breathed. Whatever the sins of other nations, those 
nations were still good enough to be executors of 
divine judgment upon the impossible pretensions of 
power of these dictators and of the nations who had 
followed their beguilements. We are not wrong if we 
sense, beyond and above the purely political dimen- 
sions of the drama of these years, a deeper and more 
divine dimension. One can almost hear God speaking 
through Ezekiel to these nations: "Wilt thou yet say 
before him that slayeth thee, I am God? but thou 
shalt be a man, and no God, in the hand of him that 
slayeth thee." 

The most obvious relevance of the biblical concep- 
tion of the contest between God and man is thus the 
explicit doom which has descended upon nations which 



68 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

have most explicitly defied the proper limits of all 
human agencies which "are all delivered unto death," 
and which have tried most idolatrously to usurp the 
place of the divine. Yet it would be very superficial to 
apply this prophecy of judgment only to our enemies. 
We do well to remember how great the power of the 
victorious nations is, and what temptations lurk in the 
possession of this power. 

We did not contrive, as the Nazis did, to bring 
other nations completely in our power j but we do 
well to consider that the defeated nations are, in fact, 
in our power j and that the possession of absolute 
power is a peril to justice. 

No man or nation is wise or good enough to hold 
the power which the great nations in the victorious 
alliance hold without being tempted to both pride 
and injustice. Pride is the religious dimension of the 
sin which flows from absolute power j and injustice is 
its social dimension. The great nations speak so glibly 
of their passion for justice and peace; and so obviously 
betray interests which contradict justice and peace. 
This is precisely the kind of spiritual pride which the 
prophets had in mind when they pronounced divine 
judgment upon the nations which said, "I am god, I 
sit in the seat of God." Consider how blandly the 
victorious nations draw plans for destroying the eco- 
nomic and political life of defeated nations in the hope 
of rebuilding them as democracies "from the ground 
up." This lack of consideration for the organic aspects 



THE NEMESIS OF NATIONS 69 

of the social existence of other nations, this confidence 
in our ability to create something better by our fiat, is 
a perfect illustration of the pride of power. It is not 
made any more sufferable by the idea that we are 
doing all this for the sake of "purging" the defeated 
nations of their evil and bestowing our "democracy" 
upon them. The very absurdity of bestowing democ- 
racy by the will of the conqueror contains the preten- 
sion against which the prophets inveighed. 

IV 

But neither the doom which has already fallen 
upon the pride of dictators, nor the impending doom 
which must fall upon the pride of the victors, is the 
most obvious point of relevance between the biblical 
theme of the contest between God and man and the 
experience of our own day. The most obvious point 
of relevance lies in the fact that several centuries of 
technical achievement have been crowned with the 
discovery of methods for releasing atomic energy. 
This new discovery crowns the creative achievements 
of a technical society which has increased man's mas- 
tery of nature immeasurably and which has enhanced 
the power of all human vitalities. But the new dis- 
covery also crowns the pretensions of modern civiliza- 
tion ; it gives man a power which obscures his weak- 
ness. And it is a dangerous new power precisely be- 
cause it is given to some men and some nations who 



70 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

are actually in competition with other nations; but 
who will seek by this power to place themselves above 
this competition. 

The contradiction between the greatness of the 
power in the hands of modern men and nations, and 
the weakness and mortality of the agencies which 
wield the power, is commonly interpreted as a con- 
tradiction between the perfection of the natural sci- 
ences and the imperfection of the social sciences 5 or as 
a contrast between the scientific and the moral achieve- 
ments of men. But these contrasts are due to some- 
thing more than a cultural lag. They reach down to 
the very paradox of human existence: the greatness 
and the weakness of man. This paradox becomes pro- 
gressively more dangerous because man's powers are 
continually increasing and yet man's essential weak- 
ness remains the same. 

A nation which has the power to annihilate other 
nations does not achieve, as a concomitant of that 
power, the transcendent wisdom which would make it 
the safe custodian of such power. The possession of 
this power by a group of nations has the immediate 
prospects of peace because it will make other nations 
reluctant to challenge the possessors. Yet there are no 
ultimate promises of peace in the possession of such 
power by a nation or a group of nations; because other 
nations will resent this exclusive possession; will 
rightly or wrongly question the justice of the policies 
which are dictated by it; and will seek to come into 



THE NEMESIS OF NATIONS 71 

the possession of the same power or of some other 
secret equally potent and dangerous. 

Ultimately, of course*, the increase in the power of 
human destructiveness must make for the organization 
of the world community. The destructive power has 
become so great that it threatens the nations with 
mutual annihilation. It may be, therefore, that the 
fear of such annihilation will persuade them to 
moderate their pride and their inclination to cling to 
the momentary advantages of the possession of dis- 
proportionate power. Whether this will be accom- 
plished before men taste, even more than they have 
done, the terror of modern warfare 5 whether they 
must be brought to the very brink of disaster before 
they will seek to bring great power under the agency 
of the most impartial instruments of government 
which human ingenuity can devise, depends upon the 
degree to which they sense and anticipate the NEMESIS 
which threatens all human pretensions. 

The point of the prophetic anticipations of doom 
was always partly to avoid the doom by inducing a 
humble and contrite anticipation of it. There are al- 
ways possibilities of "fleeing the wrath which is to 
come." Our generation has been given such a possi- 
bility even as it is confronted with a kind of wrath 
more terrible than that faced by previous genera- 
tions. 

The kind of humility which is required of the na- 
tions to meet the possession of the new powers in their 



72 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

possession may be partly achieved by a shrewd politi- 
cal intelligence, which is able to measure the probable 
effect of certain policies upon attitudes of other na- 
tions. It is possible, for instance, for a shrewd political 
observer to know in advance that the display of power 
by a single nation or group of nations can not perma- 
nently secure the acquiescence of other nations. But 
ultimately this humility is a religious achievement. 
Rather it is not so much an achievement as it is a gift 
of grace, a by-product of the faith which discerns life 
in its total dimension and senses the divine judgment 
which stands above and against all human judgments ; 
and of the divine majesty which is justifiably jealous 
of human pretensions. The more men and nations fear 
the wrath of God, the more can they be brought under 
the sway of the divine mercy. The more they antici- 
pate doom, the more can they avoid it. 



V 



THE CITT WHICH HATH 
FOUNDATIONS 

By faith Abraham^ when he was called to go 
out into a 'place which he should after receive for 
an inheritance y obeyed; and he went out y not 
knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned 
f in the land of 'promise, as in a strange country y 
dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob y the 
heirs with him of the same 'promise: For he looked 
for a city which hath foundations^ whose builder 
and 'maker is God" Heb. 11:8-10. 



J? ROM the perspective of modern culture the Chris- 
tian faith is "other-worldly/' entertaining hopes of 
human fulfillment beyond all historic possibilities. 
The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries assumed that 
if only these other-worldly hopes, which seemed to 
beguile man from his mundane tasks, could be dis- 
avowed it would be possible to center human attention 
so completely upon the achievement of the "land of 
promise" in this world that all of man's frustrations 

73 



74 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

could be overcome. Actually the faith of the Bible, 
as compared with the other-worldliness of either the 
classical western age or the Orient, is stubbornly "this- 
worldly" from the day of the Messianic expectations 
of the prophets to the prayer of Christ: "thy King- 
dom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in 
heaven." 

Yet the faith of the Bible is never purely this- 
worldly. The Messianic hope of the prophets was an 
interesting mixture of historic and trans-historic ex- 
pectations. In one sense the Messianic kingdom would 
be the completion and fulfillment of history 5 and in 
another sense it would be the end of history. The ful- 
fillments which the prophets expected could not be 
contained within the limits of the historic enterprise, 
as it is rooted in time-nature and as it is circumscribed 
by the conditions of finite existence. This combination 
of this-worldly and other-worldly hopes is the only 
adequate religious expression of the human situation. 
For man's freedom over nature and his capacity to 
make history mean that there are indeterminate possi- 
bilities of historic fulfillment of human hopes 5 but 
this freedom also means that man finally transcends 
the whole historic process in the ultimate reaches of 
his spirit. There are no historic possibilities which meet 
the final definitions of realized goodness which are 
implicit in the life of spirit. Biblical faith is thus both 
this-worldly and other-worldly 5 but in Christian his- 
tory the two emphases tend always to become sepa- 



CITY WHICH HATH FOUNDATIONS 75 

rated, so that various ages are tempted to center 
their attention too much upon either the one or the 
other. 

There is no nicer expression of the delicate biblical 
balance between the two facets of hope than in the 
words of our text in the eleventh chapter of the 
Epistle to the Hebrews. The whole chapter deals 
with the power of religious hope and faith, the two 
being equated in the introductory words: "Now faith 
is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of 
things not seen." The various achievements of the 
prophets and martyrs of the ages are recounted, who 
lived and moved in the power of faith, and by that 
power "subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, 
obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 
quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the 
sword, . . . waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight 
the armies of aliens. 55 On the whole the attention 
seems to be directed toward the possibility of "obtain- 
ing promises" in this world by the courage which faith 
induces. Yet there is a subtle interweaving of the other 
hope which is directed toward a redemption beyond 
history. The relation of the two hopes is beautifully 
expressed in the symbolism of our text. 

The story of Abraham's special call from God and 
his finding the "promised land" was the very founda- 
tion of the historical self -consciousness of the Hebrew 
people. It was by that call to Abraham that they 
became an elect people j and the attainment of the 



;6 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

land of promise was the legendary expression of their 
sense of national origin, just as the hope of the recla- 
mation of the same promised land remained, and still 
is, the expression of their sense of final national salva- 
tion. It is^ therefore a perfect symbol of the kind of 
historical hope which all nations have in varying de- 
grees, though not always in as overt religious terms 
as the Israelites. 

But the author of the epistle introduces another 
note in the account of Abraham's venture which 
makes explicit what lies implicit in the whole 
prophetic interpretation of the "land of promise." 
Abraham, he declares, when he had attained the land 
of promise, lived there with his heirs in "tents" or 
"tabernacles," thereby signifying that he was a "stran- 
ger" in it, that he had no abiding place there, and 
that he looked for something more secure than any 
earthly land of promise, for a "city which hath foun- 
dations, whose builder and maker is God." 

This poetic reinterpretation of what was to begin 
with a legendary account is done with a poetic touch. 
Abraham symbolized the pastoral period of history ; 
and the movement toward Canaan signifies the devel- 
opment from pastoral to agrarian life. If Abraham 
did indeed continue to live in tents, that would mean 
that pastoral modes of life had not yet yielded to the 
more stable forms of abode characteristic of an 
agrarian society. Pastoral peoples were always 
"strangers" and wanderers, moving from pasture to 



CITY WHICH HATH FOUNDATIONS 77 

pasture. This insecurity of a pre-agrarian period is 
thus re-interpreted by the writer as signifying a more 
ultimate insecurity. Abraham lived in tents, he de- 
clared, because he regarded himself a "stranger" in 
the very land which was promised him. He was 
strange in it because he looked beyond the earthly 
land of promise to a more ultimate security in a city 
"which hath foundations whose builder and maker is 
God." 

This is a poetic expression of the human situation. 
The faith of all men and nations drives them toward 
the "land of promise" toward the hope of an historic 
fulfillment in which the "slavery" of Egypt is over- 
come, independence is established and preserved 
against the threats of the more powerful adjacent na- 
tions. Men seek both freedom and brotherhood in 
human history. The earthly hope of Israel included 
both the establishment and preservation of national 
independence and the achievement of a real brother- 
hood of nations, with "Zion" as the center of this 
Messianic reign of peace and goodwill. 

There are elements of hope and faith analogous to 
this expectation in the life of modern nations. The 
recently occupied and enslaved nations of Europe all 
hope for a renaissance of their national existence; and 
most of them are dimly aware of the necessity of a 
higher form of brotherhood between them if their 
independence is to have any stability and their life 
any fulfillment. Not the nations only which have 



78 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

suffered something analogous to the Egyptian slavery 
look forward to a new fulfillment of their life in the 
future. Even the strong and great nations have their 
special expectations. Some idea of national aggrandize- 
ment is mixed with these hopes. No nation is so strong 
and great that it does not think of some way of round- 
ing out its power and security. But on the whole the 
hopes of the nations of the world, in the present his- 
toric situation, emphasize the ideal of peace and 
brotherhood. Whatever may be the special hope of 
each nation for the achievement of this security or that 
prestige, for emancipation from this usurpation or for 
surmounting of that weakness, all have been prompted 
by the ravages of two world wars to look forward to 
the possibility of a more stable security and the crea- 
tion of a peaceful world order. 

Just as nationalistic and universalistic elements 
were present in the Messianic expectations of even 
the greatest of the prophets, so also now each nation 
mixes a certain degree of egotistic corruption with its 
more generous hopes. Thus Americans hope not only 
for a reign of peace but also for an "American cen- 
tury," while Russians hope for the realization of a 
communist world society and also for a world-political 
situation in which Russian power and pride will be 
established , and Britain combines its desire for world 
brotherhood with the hope that its imperial system 
may not be too much at a disadvantage in comparison 
with the power of its partners. These nationalistic 



CITY WHICH HATH FOUNDATIONS 79 

overtones and undertones are never absent 5 yet they 
do not obscure the more generous hope for the estab- 
lishment of a world community in which all nations 
may share. This is the "promised land" of the na- 
tions, whatever the private and peculiar "promised 
land" of each may be. 

II 

This international expectation is obviously one di- 
mension of the meaning of our life in this era. It 
defines our moral and social responsibilities in the 
most inclusive terms. It points to the obvious line 
which historic development must take. It rightly as- 
sumes that there are possibilities in history of making 
actual, what is potential $ for the world community 
has been made potential by the development of a 
technical civilization in which all the nations have 
been brought into intimate contact with each other. 
It must be made actual by the development of politi- 
cal institutions in which the partnership of nations 
and their peaceful accord with each other will become 
real. 

The proponents of eighteenth- and nineteenth-cen- 
tury this-worldliness may plausibly argue that our 
present situation, with all its urgencies and possibili- 
ties, is ample proof of the necessity and possibility of 
disavowing all expectations of a more eternal city, 
and of centering our hopes in the earthly city, or 



8o THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

more particularly in the generous universal transfig- 
uration of the hope of the earthly city into a city 
"which lies four-square,". into which the peoples of 
the world may enter from east and west, from north 
and south. 

Yet it is precisely in our present historic situation, 
when more profoundly considered, that the justifica- 
tion for, and the validity of, the more supernal hope 
is found. While the meaning of bur existence lies 
partly in the hope of fulfilling the promises of a 
universal community which are implicit in the whole 
human adventure, we must also be prepared for the 
frustration of these hopes to a very considerable de- 
gree. The difficulty of religions which limit their 
hopes to historic possibilities is that they tempt men 
to despair when the possibilities are not fulfilled. 

The coming decades, and indeed the coming cen- 
turies, will be characterized by frustrations as well as 
by fulfillments. The resources for the establishment 
of a universal community are not adequate. Every 
previous larger community of mankind has been held 
together partly by forces of nature and destiny, by 
consanguinity and a common language, by geographic 
boundaries, common traditions, and the memories of 
common experiences. The universal community has 
only two minimal forces making for its unity. The one 
is the force of fear that failure to achieve unity will 
involve us in universal chaos. The other is the reli- 
gious and moral sense of an obligation more universal 



CITY WHICH HATH FOUNDATIONS 81 

than the partial loyalties which bind our national and 
imperial communities together. Between the force of 
fear and the sense of universal brotherhood, the uni- 
versal community lacks the intermediate forces of 
togetherness which national communities possess in 
their common language, culture and tradition. 

These inadequacies are so important that we can 
not be altogether certain whether a universal com- 
munity of real stability can be established. It may be 
that the invention^ of the atomic bomb will so increase 
the fear of future wars that what now seems impos- 
sible will become possible. Yet the fear of war is never 
as strong a unifying force in history as the fear of a 
common foe, which has played a part in the unifica- 
tion of all larger communities. The fear of war as 
such may well prompt all nations to desire a system 
of universal justice 5 but it will hardly prevent the 
greater powers from each seeking for themselves spe- 
cial advantages in such a system incompatible with 
the security of the whole. 

If one considers the power impulses of the great 
nations and empires and remembers that the pride of 
these nations has been enhanced, rather than miti- 
gated, by recent history, one may well wonder how a 
moral and political force at the center of a world 
community can be constructed, powerful enough to 
coerce, and with sufficient moral and political prestige 
to gain, the willing obedience of the great nations. 
Undoubtedly many of these difficulties will be over- 



82 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

come in the course of time. But it is not likely that 
they will be overcome so completely that a perfectly 
stable and harmonious universal state will be created. 
We have probably reached a level of historic develop- 
ment where even indeterminate historical possibilities 
can not hide certain ultimatrfrustrations. Mr. Morti- 
mer Adler 1 predicts that a universal state will pos- 
sibly be achieved after five hundred years of trial and 
error when it will finally become apparent that the 
kind of alliances into which the nations are now enter- 
ing after this war are not adequate for the preserva- 
tion of permanent peace. But he takes upon himself 
to guarantee that the ultimate creation of such a state 
will furnish the final certainty of perpetual peace. 
Since no lesser human community, national or im- 
perial, has an absolutely stable harmony, and since 
all historic achievements of coordination and coopera- 
tion must partially suppress, rather than resolve, com- 
peting interests, this is a rather bold guarantee, and 
one which history will probably not justify. 

Our era of historic development is therefore des- 
tined to experience both important realizations of 
hopes and equally significant frustrations. Some of the 
frustrations will be overcome in due time, though we 
are not the generation which will experience the sig- 
nificant fulfillment. We are therefore a generation 
which must have the spiritual resources to deal with 
the problem of frustration. 

1 How to Think About War and Peace. 



CITY WHICH HATH FOUNDATIONS 83 

III 

We must consider, however, that an epoch which is 
confronted with the ultimate task of the human com- 
munity may also, if it views its situation profoundly, 
recognize not merely the immediate frustrations to 
which it is subject but also the final disappointments 
to which all ages must adjust themselves. If we re- 
gard the difficulties of achieving a universal com- 
munity as merely momentary, it will be possible of 
course to live by a hope which is prepared patiently 
to wait for deferred fulfillments. Moses was not the 
first or the last leader, seeking a land of promise, 
who perished outside its borders. There are indeed so 
many possibilities of achieving tomorrow what lies 
beyond the range of possibility today that a secular 
religion, such as prevails in our culture, can and 
will keep its strength for some time to come by 
imagining that every tomorrow will finally solve, not 
only the unsolved problems of today, but also the 
insoluble problems of history. 

But no profound analysis of the human situation 
can justify such an interpretation of man's historic 
tasks and possibilities. A deeper probing of our prob- 
lem must inevitably lead to the conclusion that frus- 
tration is as permanent an aspect of human existence 
as realization. Man's search for a "city which hath 
foundations, whose builder and maker is God" is 



84 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

occasioned by the fact that the freedom of the human 
spirit finally transcends all limits of nature. The good 
which man must claim as his final goal rises above all 
historic possibilities. Historic achievements are not 
merely limited by the conditions which nature-history 
sets, but are also corrupted by the pride which man 
in his freedom may introduce into the achievements 
of history. 

The particular task of creating a universal com- 
munity which faces our age is the most vivid por- 
trayal of the limits, as well as the possibilities, of 
history. We face the task of creating a world-wide 
community precisely because man is too free to recog- 
nize any boundaries of nature as the final limits of his 
obligation to his fellowmen. Moreover his technical 
skills constantly enlarge or defy those boundaries. 
That freedom is the basis of the whole historical de- 
velopment which finally culminates in the task of 
creating community in world-wide terms. On the 
other hand this same man is bound to this or that 
place, speaks a particular language, and has organic 
ties with a portion of his fellowmen but not with all 
of them. In the words of Kipling: 

"God gave all men all earth to love, 
But, since our hearts are small, 
Ordained for each one spot should prove 
Beloved over all." 

The tension between what is particular and what is 
universal in man is not confined to any one age, though 



CITY WHICH HATH FOUNDATIONS 85 

it may be more clearly revealed in some epochs than 
in others. It is a permanent tension in human history. 
The a city of God" is consistently conceived by all 
great prophets as a universal community in which no 
distinctions of race or geography are known. Yet every 
city of man, no matter how great its achievements, 
makes such distinctions. 

These distinctions are the marks of natural finite- 
ness. They are transmuted into more stubborn and 
positive handicaps to the achievement of the uni- 
versal by the false visions of the universal which arise 
in them. This false element is the factor of "sin" in 
the human situation. Our racial tensions, for instance, 
are not merely the frictions of ignorance. They are 
made particularly tragic because each race and group, 
with partly conscious and partly unconscious perver- 
sity, pretends to embody the final form of human 
virtue or beauty or manliness; and condemns the 
other groups for their failure to conform to this abso- 
lute standard. Mixed with every effort toward unity, 
including the unity of religious denominations, is the 
belief that the enlarged common life must conform to 
our particular pattern of life on the supposition that 
our pattern conforms most nearly to the absolute one. 
The reunion of Christian denominations is, in some 
respects, more difficult than the unification of secular 
and political communities, precisely because the ex- 
plicit religious element, at the center of the religious 
community, also lends itself to the most explicit forms 
of the pretensions of finality. That is why the Chris- 



86 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

tian Church must be more humble and not suggest 
so complacently that it has achieved, in its own life, 
a form of universal love which it would bestow upon 
the nations. 

One need only analyze the two facets of the hope 
of the promised land as it exists in every nation, and 
has from the days of Abraham, to know that the most 
perfect form of that hope is subject to historical frus- 
tration. The most perfect form is the hope of a uni- 
versal community. But mixed with this hope is the 
idea that our nation may have some place, particularly 
close to the center of it, or gain some special prestige, 
or be in a special way the seat of authority in it. Even 
the greatest prophets were certain that the law of the 
universal community would come from "Zion." The 
inevitable friction between the three great centers of 
international power in the modern world, British, 
Russian and American, will be caused not simply by 
the naked will-to-power of each of them, but by the 
partly honest conviction of each that it has a better 
method of world organization than the others, or 
that its skills, experience, ideals or political virtues 
are superior. No promised land can be conceived by 
man, or at least not in the collective consciousness of 
a nation, without being partially corrupted by egoistic 
reservations. There is thus a spiritual source of cor- 
ruption in the very historic projections of the ultimate 
goal of history which prevents history from fulfilling 
itself. 



CITY WHICH HATH FOUNDATIONS 87 

IV 

There are modern dissenters from the Christian 
faith who are perfectly willing to admit that a hiatus 
always remains between any achieved promised land 
of human history and the ultimate vision of the King- 
dom of God a vision which is incidentally so im- 
plicit in the human situation that even the most secu- 
larized religions have some version of it. The great 
majority of dissenters do not of course acknowledge 
the permanency of this contradiction. They believe 
that the future will resolve it. But even those who do 
recognize this aspect of human history are not thereby 
persuaded that there is a "city which hath founda- 
tions, whose builder and maker is God." They accept 
the tragic aspects of ultimate frustration in history 
but they find no relief from it. They regard the 
pinnacles of Christian hope as either harmless, or 
possibly as harmful, illusions which the weak and the 
credulous may require but which are not necessary 
for the sanity of robust spirits. 

Actually this vision of the Kingdom of God, offer- 
ing a security and fulfillment beyond all securities 
and insecurities, beyond all fulfillments and frustra- 
tions in history, is not some primitive illusion or 
harmless vagary of the human spirit. It is the crown 
of faith which completes the meaning of human exist- 
ence. Man, who lives both in time and beyond time, 



88 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

both within and beyond the limits of nature, can not 
complete his life within time or nature, except as he 
completes it falsely by projecting the peculiar and 
conditioned circumstances of his life into the ultimate. 
Man lives beyond time in the sense that time is in 
him, as well as he in time. His consciousness and 
memory hold the moments of time which he traverses 
in a meaningful whole j yet the meaning is constantly 
broken by the fact that he is immersed in the process 
which he thus holds within his consciousness. This 
paradox of human existence can not be resolved by 
speculation. It can be resolved only by faith. The 
faith which resolves it is not some simple credulity. It 
is the expression of the final power of the human 
spirit in the recognition of its final weakness. "Not 
that we are sufficient of ourselves, 75 declares St. Paul, 
"to think any thing as of ourselves 5 but our sufficiency 
is of God." x This is an acknowledgement of the limits 
of human powers and at the same time an expression 
of the belief that the limits of human powers are not 
the limits of the meaning of existence. We are too 
limited either to comprehend the whole world of 
meaning or to complete and fulfill the meaning which 
we comprehend. This human situation either tempts 
us to despair, if it should persuade us that our inability 
to complete the world of meaning destroys such par- 
tial meaning as we do discern; or it prompts us to 
faith, if we should find the power and wisdom beyond 

1 II Cor. 3:5. 



CITY WHICH HATH FOUNDATIONS 89 

our own, in the very realization of our limited power 
and wisdom. 

The religious community, including the Christian 
Church, has frequently given a certain validity to the 
scepticism of the dissenters from religion by filling the 
sense of an ultimate fulfillment of life with too specific 
content and by claiming to know too much about the 
dimensions, the geography, and the whole structure 
of the city of God. All visions in time of the comple- 
tion of the time process, all previsions of the fulfill- 
ment of life, must remain decently humble and mod- 
est. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." Every 
too specific definition becomes a bearer of some human 
pretension. On the whole the primary error in Chris- 
tian other-worldliness has been its too consistent in- 
dividualism. There is usually no suggestion of a "city 
of God" in them. The vision of life's fulfillment has 
been primarily a vision of individual completion be- 
yond the frustrations of human communities. It has 
not been a vision of the fulfillment of the communal 
process. Thus the sceptics have frequently been the 
primary bearers of the social meaning of existence. 
Actually there are aspects of both individual and col- 
lective existence and meaning which transcend the 
possibilities of history. If there is a fulfillment, it must 
be both social and individual. This twofold aspect of 
human existence is well understood in Hebraic 
prophecy. The vision of the Messianic kingdom al- 
ways implies both individual and social fulfillment. 



9 o THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

But orthodox Christianity, both Catholic and Protes- 
tant, has frequently destroyed the idea of social and 
communal fulfillment 5 and Protestant Christianity, 
at least, has frequently derived this error in its final 
hope from a too consistent individualism in interpret- 
ing the meaning of man's present existence. 

A faith which claims to know too much is not 
merely the bearer of the pretensions of wisdom, but 
also the instrument of human will-to-power. Invari- 
ably it suggests that the ultimate fulfillment of life 
also involves a specially advantageous completion of 
the projector of the vision. For this reason the scepti- 
cism of the secular world is actually a wholesome 
source of faith's purification. Yet such a scepticism, 
developed consistently, must finally arrive at the con- 
clusion that the partial meanings of human history 
are too incomplete and corrupted to be meanings at 
all. Faith in the ultimate fulfillment of the meaning 
implicit in human existence is therefore primarily an 
assertion of the reality of that meaning. 

The structure of man, for instance, is such that 
he can not complete himself within himself. Love 
and brotherhood are the law of his existence. Further- 
more there are no natural limits of brotherhood. The 
law of love is universal. There are indeterminate pos- 
sibilities of realizing a wider brotherhood in history. 
But the natural limits are never completely tran- 
scended. Man is never quite universal man in history; 
but black man and white man, European and Asiatic, 



CITY WHICH HATH FOUNDATIONS 91 

American and Russian. Furthermore each kind of man 
introduces the corruption of sin into this finiteness by 
claiming for his partial and peculiar manhood more 
ultimate significance than it possesses. If the transcen- 
dent reality of brotherhood is not emphasized the 
partial and corrupted definitions of man, as we have 
them in history, can become perversely normative as 
they did in Nazism. The liberal democratic world 
saved itself from this perversity by the hope of a com- 
plete historical realization of universal man. Future 
ages are bound to invalidate this hope. It is at that 
point that the issue between the Christian faith in the 
"city which hath foundations" and moral cynicism will 
become fully joined. 

V 

We must consider in conclusion the not unjustified 
feeling of modern proponents of "this-worldliness" 
that the vision of the "city which hath foundations'* 
beguiles men from seeking the promised lands of 
human history. No one can deny that Christian other- 
worldliness has frequently beguiled men from achiev- 
ing higher possibilities in history. There is a form of 
Christian moral cynicism which believes, for instance, 
that Christian universalism is not to be fulfilled in his- 
tory because it will be ultimately fulfilled; that the 
dictum of St. Paul that in "Christ there is neither 
Jew nor Greek" applies to "the resurrection" and 



> 9 2 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

therefore not to this earth. There was a form of Nazi- 
fied German Christianity which sought this way of 
escape from the moral obligations of Christian uni- 
versalism. There are also types of Christian pessimism 
which will not take the task of building a peaceful 
world community seriously, on the ground that the 
Scripture prophesies a war and rumours of wars" to 
the end of history. 

These corruptions of the Christian faith must be 
humbly acknowledged by the Christian community. 
It must be recognized that this impulse toward the 
achievement of justice and brotherhood in the past 
two centuries has frequently been borne primarily by 
secularists who emphasized the petition which Chris- 
tians had neglected: "Thy Kingdom come, thy will 
be done on earth as it is in heaven." 

On the other hand the secular world has not recog- 
nized to what degree its obligations to realize the 
historically possible have been confused by alternating 
illusions and disillusionments, by too facile hopes and 
consequent moods of despair. 

Ideally there is a tremendous resource for the ac- 
complishment of immediate possibilities in an ulti- 
mate hope. Such a hope frees us from preoccupation 
with the prospects of immediate success or fears of 
immanent failure. It helps us to do our duty without 
allowing it to be defined by either our hopes or our 
fears. This is a resource which will be particularly 
required in the coming decades and centuries. We do 



CITY WHICH HATH FOUNDATIONS 93 

not know how soon and to what degree mankind will 
succeed in establishing a tolerable world order. Very 
possibly we will hover for some centuries between 
success and failure, in such a way that optimists and 
pessimists will be able to assess our achievements, or 
lack of them, with an equal degree of plausibility. In 
such a situation it is important to be more concerned 
with our duties than with the prospect of success in 
fulfilling them. It is not recorded that Abraham was 
less assiduous in seeking the promised land because of 
his feeling that he would be a stranger in it, once he 
reached it. 

A sense of ultimate security and ultimate fulfill- 
ment may beguile a few from their immediate tasks. 
But the heroic soul will be the freer to seek for pos- 
sible securities in history if he possesses a resource 
against immediate insecurities. The city of God is no 
enemy of the land of promise. The hope of it makes 
the inevitable disappointments in every land of prom- 
ise tolerable. 



VI 



TOD AT, TOMORROW AND THE 
ETERNAL 

"Take therefore no thought for the morrow: 
for the morrow shall take thought for the things 
of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil there- 
of." Mt. 6:34. 

"Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened 
unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went 
forth to meet the bridegroom* And five of them 
were wise and five were foolish. They that were 
foolish took their lamfs, and took no oil with 
them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with 
their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they 
all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there 
was a cry made, Behold the bridegroom cometh; 
go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins 
arose, and trimmed their lamfs. And the foolish 
said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our 
lamj>s are gone out. But the wise answered, say~ 
ing, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and 
you; but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy 
for yourselves. And while they 'went to buy, the 
bridegroom came; and they that were ready went 
in with him to the marriage: and the door was 

94 



TODAY, TOMORROW 95 

shut. Afterward came also the other virgins; say" 
ing, Lor^ Lord o^en to us. But he answered and 
said. Verily I say unto you, I know you not* 
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day 
nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh?* 
Mt. 25:1-13. 

.HE foolish virgins were chided because they were 
not prepared for the promise and opportunity of to- 
morrow. Yet the same Christ who uttered this parable 
included the admonition, "Be not anxious for tomor- 
row/ 5 in the Sermon on the Mount. 

The parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is one 
of the Messianic or "eschatological" parables, which 
deals with the promised coming of the Messianic 
reign. Jesus consistently maintained that we must 
always be ready for this final fulfillment of the whole 
promise and meaning of life, "for ye know neither 
the day not the hour wherein the Son of man 
cometh." It is to be noted that the foolish virgins were 
completely shut out from the marriage feast (this 
feast being a traditional symbol of the final culmina- 
tion of history in the reign of the Messiah). Their 
lack of preparedness for the critical hour seemed to 
have doomed them completely. There is thus a strong 
emphasis in the parable upon constant preparedness 
for the critical hour of opportunity. 

This hour of opportunity has a very ultimate sig- 
nificance in the text; for it is identical with the 



96 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

culmination of all history in the reign of the Messiah. 
As most biblical symbols dealing with the eternal 
fulfillment of the course of history, the "end of his- 
tory" in the Messianic reign must not be taken liter- 
ally. It must nevertheless be taken seriously because 
it indicates the eternal dimension in which history 
moves. There are moments in history which are more 
than mere historic moments ; for in them a whole 
course of history is fulfilled. In them the seeming 
chaos of the past achieves its meaning; and the partial 
and particular aspects of life are illumined to become 
parts of a complete whole. 

These moments of illumination and fulfillment 
have, however, no meaning at all to those who are 
not prepared for them. Christ does not come to those 
who do not expect him. The great crises of both our 
individual and our collective lives do not round out 
and complete the fragmentary character of our pre- 
vious history, if that previous history is not under- 
stood as containing within itself partial meanings 
which are moving toward the completer revelation of 
their essential character. The foolish virgins are shut 
out of the marriage feast, and the "unlit lamp and the 
ungirt loin" always result in unfulfilled promises. 

Yet on the other hand we have the explicit prohibi- 
tion of anxiety for the morrow; and the reason given 
is that "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." 
There seems thus to be a contradiction between the 
advice to regard each day as complete in itself and the 



TODAY, TOMORROW 97 

warning to be prepared for the unexpected fulfillment 
and completion of the tasks and events of today in an 
unknown tomorrow. 

This seeming contradiction is occasioned by meas- 
uring two different dimensions of the acts, responsi- 
bilities, and events, which constitute the stuff of our 
experience. Every such act and event has an intrinsic 
quality which makes it complete in itself, or rather 
which makes it complete if it is related to the final 
meaning of life as we have it in our relation to God. 
If we used spatial symbols we could describe this 
dimension as a vertical one, being constituted by the 
direct relation of every moment of time to the eternal, 
or the transection of every moment by the eternal. 1 
If we speak of this quality without the presupposition 
of faith, we define it as the "intrinsic" quality. But 
there can be nothing purely intrinsic in life, since all 
things are related to each other. What seems intrinsic 
is that aspect of existence which does not wait upon 
some future development for its meaning, but has 
that meaning, not within itself, but within itself in 
relation to what is felt to be the ultimate source of 
the meaning of our life. 

On the other hand all life is in a moving process, 
and every event and act is related to future events 
and possibilities in which they are rounded out and 
fulfilled. In the Epistle to the Hebrews the author, 
after recounting the heroic deeds of martyrs and 

1 Cf. T. S. Eliot, The Rock. 



9 8 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

prophets, observes that all of them "having obtained 
a good report, received not the promise, God having 
provided some better thing for us, that they without 
us should not be made perfect." This is to say that 
every generation requires its successors to complete 
its work. Even the most heroic and perfect action does 
not "receive the promise," since the fulfillment of 
"their" task requires "our" contribution. One thinks 
immediately how the dead of this war are dependent 
upon future generations to determine whether their 
sacrifice was futile or historically fruitful. 



II 

There is no possibility of equating these two dimen- 
sions of our existence or reducing the one to the other. 
Throughout our life, there is a sense in which each 
act and responsibility must be weighed without regard 
to its consequences j while from another aspect it waits 
for fulfillment on some tomorrow. 

Consider for instance the responsibility of parents 
in the upbringing of children. All of these responsi- 
bilities have a vista toward the future. Each child is 
not what it is but what it will be 5 and the fond parents 
consider the future in the child's discipline. It is for 
tomorrow that this training and that preparation are 
undertaken. It is in the maturity of tomorrow that 
the care of the child finds its justification. Albert 
Schweitzer confesses that a strict aunt who kept him 



TODAY, TOMORROW 99 

at his music lessons, when play beckoned outside, was 
responsible for the muscular coordination which was 
the basis of his skill as an organist and which could 
only have been acquired at an early age because the 
foresight of an elder counteracted childish disinclina- 
tion. There is a certain pathos and yet beauty in the 
anxious solicitude with which parents look toward 
tomorrow. In a spirit of hope, mixed with apprehen- 
sion, they wonder how their children will "turn out?' 
Too much anxiety is undoubtedly harmful to the 
child, at least too much acknowledged anxiety. Yet it 
is the care of early discipline which provides the oil 
for the lamps for the wedding feasts of tomorrow. 

But this is only one facet of the situation. Children 
are what they will become j but they also are what they 
are. A parent who did not see the perfection of child- 
hood in each age and period which it traverses in its 
immaturity, and who did not recognize the meaning 
of his responsibility without regard to the future, 
would destroy one dimension of parental responsi- 
bility. There are children who do not survive to 
maturity. In such a situation some parents feel them- 
selves completely defrauded. No one can deny the 
tragic character of a life cut off before its fruition 5 yet 
there are parents who are able to thank God in the 
hour of sorrow for the joy they have had in their 
child while they had him. Such a peace within sorrow 
is the fruit of faith which understands the com- 
pleteness of life within each moment. 



ioo THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

If we consider the educational preparation for life 
from the standpoint of the child himself, we discern 
the same two dimensions. The whole educational en- 
terprise is preparation for tomorrow. Yet no young 
man or woman who is driven merely by ambition or 
the hope of being able to "make use of" the educa- 
tion of today can possibly enjoy study and discipline. 
There is an aspect of the learning adventure which 
makes it enjoyable and meaningful without' regard to 
tomorrow. There is joy in trying out the wings of 
intellect and imagination. It is enjoyable to test grow- 
ing skills of mind and to penetrate into the mysteries 
of life. From childhood to old age one part of the 
learning process is not preparation for tomorrow but 
an expression of the momentary spiritual capacities 
without regard for any tomorrow. 

The cultivation of the soil is even more an obvious 
illustration of the two facets of experience. Every 
husbandman sows his seed in expectation of the fruits 
which it will bring forth. The justification of the 
sowing is in the harvest. But there are so many haz- 
ards between the sowing and the reaping that the 
sower might easily be tempted by his anxieties over 
them to shirk his task of sowing. It is well not to be 
too anxious about tomorrow's possible storms. "Suffi- 
cient unto the day is the evil thereof." Furthermore 
there are satisfactions in tilling the soil which are not 
drawn from the expectation of the harvest. There is 
satisfaction in performing one's appointed function 



TODAY, TOMORROW 101 

without reference to the outcome of the task. There is 
joy, moreover, in the husbandman's communion with 
nature, in turning the fragrant earth and sensing the 
quiet yielding of nature's forces to the mastery of 
man. No one would sow, of course, if there were no 
reaping j if no fruits of tomorrow justify the tasks of 
today, these finally become meaningless. Yet the 
meaning of the task is not merely in tomorrow's frui- 
tion. A part of the impetus for the performing of it 
is derived from more immediate and yet more ulti- 
mate considerations. One does one's duty and per- 
forms one's characteristic function without too much 
regard for the consequences. If work were not in 
some sense its own reward, men would become so 
preoccupied with the anticipation of rewards, and 
with apprehensions about their possible failure, that 
the strength for the task would be dissipated. 

Ill 

The great experiences of the world crisis, through 
which we have been and are still passing, reveal the 
two facets of human experience. The nations of the 
world were faced with the threat of tyranny. Their 
immediate responsibility was to overcome that peril. 
None of the nations were too willing to accept the 
responsibilities which were implicit in the peril. One 
method of escape from the responsibility was to en- 
large upon the perilous consequences of involvement 



102 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

in war. We were told, for instance, that we would all 
become fascists in our effort to destroy fascism. There 
was a degree of plausibility in this argument; for 
military discipline tends toward authoritarianism, and 
the high cost of war may weaken economic systems to 
such an extent that they may be threatened with the 
social chaos out of which tyrannies arise. Actually the 
democratic world survived, with its liberties fairly 
well preserved. If our anxieties for tomorrow had 
been our sole counsellors we should have capitulated 
to tyranny. 

Another counsel of anxiety was the suggestion that 
action even against a great evil is not justified, if it 
has little prospect of successful conclusion. In the 
Catholic definition of a "just" war one of the criteria 
of justice enumerated is a good prospect of success. 
This criterion has a provisional legitimacy. Both Aris- 
totle and Aquinas were right in suggesting that the 
wise man will consider whether an abortive effort to 
overcome an evil may not aggravate the evil. But the 
idea must not be pressed too consistently. One may 
be grateful, for instance, that Mr. Churchill did not 
give it any consideration in the grave hours of 1940. 
He would in that case have followed the course of 
Marshal Petain. Mr. Churchill's greatest claim to 
fame, and to the respect of both his contemporaries 
and posterity, arises precisely from the fact that he 
articulated the inarticulate and yet powerful sense of 
a great number of his countrymen and of the civilized 



TODAY, TOMORROW 103 

world, who felt that there are perils so great and 
responsibilities so urgent that they reduce the calcula- 
tion of consequences to an irrelevance. This is an exact 
application of the words: "Sufficient unto the day is 
the evil thereof." 

We have thus far dealt with the "vertical" dimen- 
sion of our experience as both an obligation and an 
achieved task. Yet it is necessary to discriminate be- 
tween the two, for the one is more absolute than the 
other. We may have a momentary obligation which 
is absolute. We perform it "in God's sight," which is 
to say that the responsibility is unqualified no matter 
how uncertain the consequences may be. In such ex- 
periences we truly measure the eternal dimension of 
life within its flux. On the other hand what we achieve 
is very imperfect, partly because the act itself is not 
perfect and partly because the actions of other genera- 
tions are required to complete it. For this reason the 
sense of consummation within the relativities of life 
is always the part of faith. This is precisely what is 
meant by the biblical doctrine of "justification by 
faith." If we live and act in faith, the imperfections 
of our momentary achievements are transmuted and 
become a part of God's perfection. There must be 
forgiveness in the attitude of God toward us, for our 
acts are not merely imperfect, in the sense that they 
only approximate their ideal possibility; but there is 
always a positive element of evil in them. One thinks, 
for instance, of the degree to which national egotism 



104 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

and self-interest were the driving motives of the 
nations, prompting them to do their duty. Thus we 
have absolute responsibilities which represent the 
challenge of the eternal to our finite situation 5 but 
our achievements are only absolute by faith. 

IV 

But even the most superficial estimate of this "ver- 
tical" dimension of experience suggests that the more 
"horizontal" or historical dimension is implicit in 
every moment of experience. Every action is bound 
both to its origins and to its consequences. History is 
a moving stream. The completion of an act and a 
responsibility always lies in an historical tomorrow 
and not merely in the eternal. 

In the present world situation it is apparent that 
no matter how justified we were in meeting a present 
peril without regard to all the historical consequences, 
a view of those consequences obtruded as soon as the 
immediate peril was less pressing. We fought to 
throttle tyranny in the immediate moment. But in the 
next moment we recognized that the tyranny grew in 
a soil of an international anarchy for which all na- 
tions were responsible. Thus we face the question 
whether we can overcome that anarchy. Can we miti- 
gate the power of national egotism sufficiently to 
establish an international order? 

Looked at from one aspect, the sacrifices of this 



TODAY, TOMORROW 105 

war are self- justifying, or at least they are justified 
by the preservation of our liberties. From another 
aspect they wait upon other generations for their 
perfecting, "God having provided some better thing 
for us, that they without us should not be made per- 
fect." If this war does not issue in a more stable world 
order, the sacrifices which it required will have only 
a negative, and therefore a tragic, justification. 

Whether we are able to complete the meaning of 
today in the achievements of tomorrow depends 
partly upon the degree to which we measure the 
meaning to today's task in depth. That is represented 
by the oil carried in the lamps of the wise virgins. If, 
for instance, an immediate peril is recognized only in 
its immediate dimensions, and if the deeper issues out 
of which it arose are not understood, we do not pre- 
pare ourselves for the more ultimate task and the 
more ultimate realization of our obligations. There 
are military minds, for instance, who insist upon view- 
ing the present world situation in purely military and 
technical terms. We defeated a terrible foe, they 
argue, by establishing a technical supremacy over his 
might on land, on the sea and in the air. Our job is to 
maintain that supremacy under all circumstances. 
They regard this as an adequate preparation for the 
perils of the morrow. In reality this attitude repre- 
sents the foolishness of the virgins, who did not 
realize how unexpectedly the "bridegroom" may ap- 
pear tomorrow* For the Kingdom of God appears in 



106 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

history in every great judgment and in every new 
level of community. The Kingdom is always both 
judgment and fulfillment. In judgment the contra- 
diction between our history and the law of God is 
more fully apprehended. Without this apprehension 
we are tempted to regard our present achievements 
as adequate. In the fulfillment some creative step is 
taken to bring our human communities into con- 
formity with the law of brotherhood. 



Different ages and periods of history emphasize the 
one or the other dimension of experience, according 
to their distinctive faith. Since the eighteenth century, 
modern culture, having lost its faith in the God who 
is known in Scripture, was forced to place an undue 
emphasis upon the fulfillments of the future as the 
only source of the meaning of the present As Garl 
Becker has shown in his Heavenly City of the 
Eighteenth Century Philosophers, the wise men of 
the Enlightenment made "posterity" into the image 
of God. It was posterity which would judge them 
and find them righteous or unrighteous. It was pos- 
terity which would justify their acts by fulfilling 
them. The inadequacy of this faith may be discerned 
by the simple observation that we are the posterity 
to which the eighteenth century appealed and which 
it worshipped. Our broken and fragmentary life is 



TODAY, TOMORROW 107 

hardly an adequate fulfillment of the dreams of that 
century 5 and we are much too preoccupied with our 
own sorrows and responsibilities to heed the out- 
stretched hands of the eighteenth-century worshippers. 
We are not God. We are not even good idols. It 
might be observed furthermore that the eighteenth 
century was a very inadequate fulfillment of the faith 
of the seventeenth century. The conception of the 
meaning of life expressed in the religious controversies 
of the seventeenth century was profounder than was 
the sense of meaning in the eighteenth century. For 
the Enlightenment reduced everything to shallow- 
ness. We should be poor indeed if we were dependent 
only upon posterity to fulfill our lives. Yet there is a 
dimension of our existence which is fulfilled only in 
the future. 

If the secularism of the eighteenth century gave 
undue emphasis to the horizontal dimension of his- 
tory, orthodox Protestantism very frequently saw no 
significance in historical fulfillment. It believed with 
the great historian, Ranke, that all moments of time 
are equi-distant from eternity- Karl Earth, for in- 
stance, standing in the radical Reformation tradition, 
counselled the British Christians, in his well-known 
letter to them, 1 not to avail themselves of the "per- 
mission" their government had given them to discuss 
post-war prospects. He placed no confidence in these 

1 Karl Earth, "A Letter to Great Britain from Switzerland, April 
i94i, 5) in This Christian Cause. 



io8 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

plans for the future. He placed sole emphasis upon 
the dimension of experience which is measured in the 
words, "Be not anxious for the morrow." This advice 
might well be contrasted with the observation of 
Harold Laski that if this war did not lead to a world- 
wide fellowship of socialist republics it would have 
been fought in vain. Both estimates of the present 
crisis are wrong because both are one-sided. Each 
measures only one dimension of our experience. 

The two dimensions of our experience must lead 
to an attitude in which serenity and alertness are 
combined. We may be serene in the present moment, 
both because its obligations may have a finality which 
transcends the relativity of the moment, and its 
achievements, though imperfect, may by faith give 
us a sense of consummation. We must not be anxious 
about tomorrow, partly because we do not know 
tomorrow and partly because tomorrow, when known, 
will be less than a perfect fulfillment of our hopes. 
All pure instrumentalism, which judges every act and 
event in terms of its consequences, contains an ele- 
ment of pretension. It assumes that we have a more 
certain knowledge of future consequences than is 
possible for finite man, standing within the flux of 
time. He knows a great deal about the past, though 
not as much as he thinks he knows. But if his knowl- 
edge of the past is a symbol of his greatness, let him 
be reminded that his ignorance of the future is a sign 
of his weakness. If, by faith, we understand and lay 



TODAY, TOMORROW 109 

hold of the divine power which completes our in- 
completeness, we can accept the finiteness of our life 
without fretfulness and anticipate every unknown to- 
morrow without anxiety. 

And yet we shall be anxious as we look into the 
future. We shall survey the future with hope and 
apprehension. We shall survey it with apprehension 
because we know that there are evils in the present 
which must bear fruit in some terrible judgment of 
tomorrow. Our present apprehension must be the 
seed of our future repentance. We shall not know the 
judgment of the Kingdom of God, if apprehension 
does not prepare us for it. Also our present hope is the 
seed of our future sense of obligation. We recognize a 
more universal obligation emerging out of the frag- 
mentary loyalties of today. Living in racial and na- 
tional strife, and yet sensing the universal character of 
our obligation, we prepare ourselves to meet those 
obligations more full tomorrow. For the Kingdom 
comes in fulfillment as well as in judgment. This 
hope of fulfillment and this apprehension of judg- 
ment is the oil in our lamp, which helps us to enter 
the wedding feasts. 

Only a combination of repose and anxiety, of se- 
renity and preparedness, can do justice to the whole 
of our life and the whole of our world. For our life 
is a brief existence, moving within a great stream of 
finiteness. Yet the stream moves within its bed; and 
the flux of existence is held together by the eternal 



no THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

purposes of God. We ourselves stand beyond the flux 
in memory and hope. But we do not stand beyond it 
so completely that we can touch the eternal in the 
present moment by our own strength. We touch it by 
faith. That faith is the source of our serenity, even as 
alertness for the promises and perils of tomorrow is 
a reminder of our continued finiteness and sin. Both 
posterity and God are required to complete our life. 
But posterity without God would give us a very sorry 
completion. Wherefore even the future would become 
a source of intolerable anxiety if we could not believe 
that both tomorrow and today are in the hands of a 
God whose power is great enough to complete our 
incompleteness and whose mercy and forgiveness are 
adequate for the evils which we introduce into both 
the present and the future* 



VII 



HUMOUR AND FAITH 

fC He that sitteth In the heavens shall laugh: the 
Lord, shall have them in derision" Ps. 2 14. 



JLHIS word of the Second Psalm is the only instance 
in the Bible in which laughter is attributed to God. 
God is not frequently thought o as possessing a sense 
o humour, though that quality would have to be 
attributed to perfect personality. There are critics of 
religion who regard it as deficient in the sense of 
humour, and they can point to the fact that there is 
little laughter in the Bible. Why is it that Scrip- 
tural literature, though filled with rejoicings and 
songs of praise, is not particularly distinguished for 
the expression of laughter? There are many sayings, 
of Jesus which betray a touch of ironic humour; but 
on the whole one must agree with the critics who do 
not find much humour or laughter in the Bible. 

This supposed defect will, however, appear less 
remarkable if the relation of humour to faith is under- 
stood. Humour is, in fact, a prelude to faith; and 
laughter is the beginning of prayer/Laughter must 

in 



THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

be heard in the outer courts of religion} and the 
echoes of it should resound in the sanctuary } but 
there is no laughter in the holy of holies. There 
laughter is swallowed up in prayer and humour is 
fulfilled by faith. 

The intimate relation between humour and faith is 
derived from the fact that both deal with the incon- 
gruities of our existence. Humour is concerned with 
the immediate incongruities of life and faith with the 
ultimate ones. Both humour and faith are expressions 
of the freedom of the human spirit, of its capacity to 
stand outside of life, and itself, and view the whole 
scene. But any view of the whole immediately creates 
the problem of how the incongruities of life are to be 
dealt with; for the effort to understand the life, and 
our place in it, confronts us with inconsistencies and 
incongruities which do not fit into any neat picture of 
the whole. Laughter is our reaction to immediate 
incongruities and those which do not affect us essen- 
tially. Faith is the only possible response to the ulti- 
mate incongruities of existence which threaten the 
very meaning of our life. 

We laugh at what? At the sight of a fool upon the 
throne of the king; or the proud man suffering from 
some indignity} or the child introducing its irrele- 
vancies into the conversation of the mature. We laugh 
at the juxtaposition of things which do not fit to- 
gether. A boy slipping on the ice is not funny. Slip- 
ping on the ice is funny only if it happens to one 



HUMOUR AND FAITH 113 

whose dignity is upset. A favorite device of dramatists, 
who have no other resources of humour, is to intro- 
duce some irrelevant interest into the central theme 
of the drama by way of the conversation of maid or 
butler. If this irrelevance is to be really funny, how- 
ever, it must have some more profound relation to the 
theme than the conversor intended. This is to say that 
humour manages to resolve incongruities by the dis- 
covery of another level of congruity. We laugh at the 
proud man slipping on the ice, not merely because the 
contrast between his dignity and his undignified plight 
strikes us as funny j but because we feel that his dis- 
comfiture is a poetically just rebuke of his dignity. 
Thus we deal with immediate incongruities, in which 
we are not too seriously involved and which open no 
gap in the coherence of life in such a way as to 
threaten us essentially. But there are profound in- 
congruities which contain such a threat. Man's very 
position in the universe is incongruous. That is the 
problem of faith, and not of humour. Man is so great 
and yet so small, so significant and yet so insignificant. 
"On the one hand," says Edward Bellamy, 1 "is the 
personal life of man, an atom, a grain of sand on a 
boundless shore, a bubble of a foam flecked ocean, a 
life bearing a proportion to the mass of past, present 
and future, so infinitesimal as to defy the imagination. 
On the other hand is a certain other life, as it were a 
spark of the universal life, insatiable in aspiration, 

1 In The Religion of Solidarity. 



ii 4 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

greedy of infinity, asserting solidarity with all things 
and all existence, even while subject to the limitations 
of space and time." That is the contrast. 

When man surveys the world he seems to be the 
very center of it 5 and his mind appears to be the 
unifying power which makes sense out of the whole. 
But this same man, reduced to the limits of his animal 
existence, is a little animalcule, preserving a precari- 
ous moment of existence within the vastness of space 
and time. There is a profound incongruity between 
the "inner" and the "outer" world, or between the 
world as viewed from man's perspective, and the 
man in the world as viewed from a more ultimate per- 
spective. The incongruity becomes even more pro- 
found when it is considered that it is the same man 
who assumes the ultimate perspective from which he 
finds himself so insignificant. 

Philosophers seek to overcome this basic incon- 
gruity by reducing one world to the dimension of the 
other j or raising one perspective to the height of the 
other. But neither a purely naturalistic nor a consist- 
ently idealistic system of philosophy is ever com- 
pletely plausible. There are ultimate incongruities o 
life which can be resolved by faith but not by reason. 
Reason can look at them only from one standpoint or 
another, thereby denying the incongruities which it 
seeks to solve. They are also too profound to be re- 
solved or dealt with by laughter. If laughter seeks 
to deal with the ultimate issues of life it turns into a 



HUMOUR AND FAITH 115 

bitter humour. This means that it has been over- 
whelmed by the incongruity. Laughter is thus not 
merely a vestibule to faith but also a "no-man's land" 
between faith and despair. We laugh cheerfully at the 
incongruities on the surface of life; but if we have no 
other resource but humour to deal with those which 
reach below the surface, our laughter becomes an ex- 
pression of our sense of the meaninglessness of life. 

II 

Laughter is a sane and healthful response to the 
innocent foibles of men; and even to some which are 
not innocent. All men betray moods and affectations, 
conceits and idiosyncrasies, which could become the 
source of great annoyance to us if we took them too 
seriously. It is better to laugh at them. A sense of 
humour is indispensable to men of affairs who have 
the duty of organizing their fellowmen in common 
endeavors. It reduces the frictions of life and makes 
the foibles of men tolerable. There is, in the laughter 
with which we observe and greet the foibles of others, 
a nice mixture of mercy and judgment, of censure and 
forbearance. We would not laugh if we regarded 
these foibles as altogether fitting and proper. There is 
judgment, therefore, in our laughter. But we also 
prove by the laughter that we do not take the annoy- 
ance too seriously. However, if our fellows commit a 
serious offense against the common good, laughter no 



ii 6 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

longer avails. If we continue to indulge in it, the ele- 
ment of forebearance is completely eliminated from 
it. Laughter against real evil is bitter. Such bitter 
laughter of derision has its uses as an instrument of 
condemnation. But there is no power in it to deter the 
evil against which it is directed. 

There were those who thought that we could laugh 
Mussolini and Hitler out of court. Laughter has 
sometimes contributed to the loss of prestige of dying 
oligarchies and social systems. Thus Cervantes 5 Don 
Quixote contributed to the decline of feudalism, and 
Boccaccio's Decameron helped to signal the decay of 
medieval asceticism. But laughter alone never de- 
stroys a great seat of power and authority in history. 
Its efficacy is limited to preserving the self-respect of 
the slave against the master. It does not extend to the 
destruction of slavery. Thus all the victims of tyranny 
availed themselves of the weapon of wit to preserve 
their sense of personal self-respect. Laughter pro- 
vided them with a little private world in which they 
could transvalue the values of the tyrant, and reduce 
his pompous power to the level of the ridiculous. Yet 
there is evidence that the most insufferable forms of 
tyranny (as in the concentration camps, for instance) 
could not be ameliorated by laughter. 

Laughter may turn to bitterness when it faces seri- 
ous evil, partly because it senses its impotence. But, 
in any case, serious evil must be seriously dealt with. 
The bitterness of derision is serious enough 5 but 



HUMOUR AND FAITH 117 

where is the resource of forgiveness to come from? It 
was present in the original forbearance of laughter 3 
but it can not be brought back into the bitterness of 
derision. The contradiction between judgment and 
mercy can not be resolved by humour but only by 
vicarious pain. 

Thus we laugh at our children when they betray 
the jealous conceits of childhood. These are the first 
buds of sin which grow in the soil of the original sin 
of our common humanity. But when sin has conceived 
and brought forth its full fruit, our laughter is too 
ambiguous to deal with the child's offense; or if it is 
not ambiguous it becomes too bitter. If we retain the 
original forbearance of laughter in our judgment it 
turns into harmful indulgence. Parental judgment is 
always confronted with the necessity of relating rigor- 
ous judgment creatively to the goodness of mercy. 
That relation can be achieved only as the parent him- 
self suffers under the judgments which are exacted. 
Not humour but the cross is the meeting point of jus- 
tice and mercy, once both judgment and mercy have 
become explicit. Laughter can express both together, 
when neither is fully defined. But, when it becomes 
necessary to define each explicitly, laughter can no 
longer contain them both. Mercy is expelled and only 
bitterness remains. 

What is true of our judgments of each other is true 
of the judgment of God. In the word of our text God 
is pictured laughing at man and having him in derision 



u8 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

because of the vanity of man's imagination and pre- 
tensions* There is no suggestion of a provisional 
geniality in this divine laughter. Derisiveness is pure 
judgment. It is not possible to resolve the contradic- 
tion between mercy and judgment, on the level of 
the divine, through humour 5 because the divine judg- 
ment is ultimate judgment. That contradiction, which 
remains an unsolved mystery in the Old Testament, 
is resolved only as God is revealed in Christ. There is 
no humour but suffering in that revelation. There is, 
as we have observed, a good deal of ironic humour in 
the sayings of Christ. But there is no humour in the 
scene of Christ upon the Cross. The only humour on 
Calvary is the derisive laughter of those who cried, 
"He saved others j himself he can not save. ... If 
he be the son of God let him come down from the 
cross" 5 and the ironic inscription on the cross, ordered 
by Pilate: "The King of the Jews." These ironic and 
derisive observations were the natural reactions of 
common sense to dimensions of revelation which 
transcend common sense. Since they could not be com- 
prehended by faith, they prompted ironic laughter. 
There is no humour in the cross because the justice 
and the mercy of God are fully revealed in it. In that 
revelation God's justice is made the more terrible 
because the sin of man is disclosed in its full dimen- 
sion. It is a rebellion against God from which God 
himself suffers. God can not remit the consequences 
of sin; yet He does show mercy by taking the conse- 



HUMOUR AND FAITH 119 

quences upon and into Himself. This is the main 
burden of the disclosure of God in Christ. This is the 
final clue to the mystery of the divine character. 
Mercy and justice are provisionally contained in 
laughter; and the contradiction between them is ten- 
tatively resolved in the sense of humour. But the final 
resolution of justice, fully developed, and of mercy, 
fully matured, is possible only when the sharp edge of 
justice is turned upon the executor of judgment with- 
out being blunted. This painful experience of vicari- 
ous suffering is far removed from laughter. Only an 
echp of the sense of humour remains in it. The echo 
is the recognition in the sense of humour that judg- 
ment and mercy belong together, even though they 
seem to be contradictory. But there is no knowledge 
in the sense of humour of how the two are related to 
each other and how the contradiction between them 
is to be resolved. 

Ill 

The sense of humour is even more important pro- 
visionally in dealing with our own sins than in deal- 
ing with the sins of others. Humour is a proof of the 
capacity of the self to gain a vantage point from which 
it is able to look at itself. The sense of humour is thus 
a by-product of self-transcendence. People with a 
sense of humour do not take themselves too seriously. 
They are able to "stand off" from themselves, see 



120 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

themselves in perspective, and recognize the ludicrous 
and absurd aspects of their pretensions. All of us 
ought to be ready to laugh at ourselves because all of 
us are a little funny in our foibles, conceits and pre- 
tensions. What is funny about us is precisely that we 
take ourselves too seriously. We are rather insignifi- 
cant little bundles of energy and vitality in a vast 
organization of life. But we pretend that we are the 
very center of this organization. This pretension is 
ludicrous ; and its absurdity increases with our lack of 
awareness of it. The less we are able to laugh at our- 
selves the more it becomes necessary and inevitable 
that others laugh at us. 

It is significant that little children are really very 
sober though they freely indulge in a laughter which 
expresses a pure animal joy of existence. But they do 
not develop the capacity of real humour until the fifth 
or sixth year, at which time they may be able to laugh 
at themselves and at others. At about this age their 
intense preoccupation with self and with an immediate 
task at hand is partly mitigated. The sense of humour 
grows, in other words, with the capacity of self-tran- 
scendence. If we can gain some perspective upon our 
own self we are bound to find the self's pretensions a 
little funny. 

This means that the ability to laugh at oneself is 
the prelude to the sense of contrition. Laughter is a 
vestibule to the temple of confession. But laughter is 
not able to deal with the problem of the sins of the 



HUMOUR AND FAITH 121 

self in any ultimate way. If we become fully conscious 
of the tragedy of sin we recognize that our preoccu- 
pation with self, our exorbitant demands upon life, 
our insistence that we receive more attention than our 
needs deserve, effect our neighbors harmfully and 
defraud them of their rightful due. If we recognize 
the real evil of sin, laughter can not deal with the 
problem. If we continue to laugh after having recog- 
nized the depth of evil, our laughter becomes the 
instrument of irresponsibility. Laughter is thus not 
only the vestibule of the temple of confession but 
the no-man's land between cynicism and contrition. 
Laughter may express a mood which takes neither the 
self nor life seriously. If we take life seriously but 
ourselves not too seriously, we cease to laugh. The 
contradiction in man between "the good that he would 
and does not do, and the evil that he would not do, 
and does" is no laughing matter. 

There is furthermore another dimension in genuine 
contrition which laughter does not contain. It is the 
awareness of being judged from beyond ourselves. 
There is something more than self -judgment in genu- 
ine contrition. "For me it is a small thing to be judged 
of men," declares St. Paul, "neither judge I myself; 
for I know nothing against myself 5 he who judges me 
is the Lord." In an ultimate sense the self never 
knows anything against itself. The self of today may 
judge the selPs action of yesterday as evil. But that 
means that the self of today is the good self. We are 



122 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

to judge our actions through self-judgment. But we 
do not become aware of the deep root of evil actions 
in such judgments. We may judge our sins but we 
do not judge ourselves as sinners. The knowledge 
that we are sinners, and that inordinate desires spring 
from a heart inordinately devoted to itself, is a reli- 
gious knowledge which, in a sense, is never achieved 
except in prayer. Then we experience with St. Paul 
that "he who judges us is the Lord." There is no 
laughter in that experience. There is only pain. The 
genuine joy of reconciliation with God, which is pos- 
sible only as the fruit of genuine repentance, is a joy 
which stands beyond laughter though it need not 
completely exclude laughter. 

To suggest that the sense of humour is the begin- 
ning, but not the end, of a proper humility does not 
mean that the final fruit of true contrition destroys all 
vestiges of the seed from which it sprang. The saint- 
liest men frequently have a humourous glint in their 
eyes. They retain the capacity to laugh at both them- 
selves and at others. They do not laugh in their 
prayers because it is a solemn experience to be judged 
of God and to stand under the scrutiny of Him from 
whom no secrets are hid. But the absence of laughter 
in the most ultimate experience of life does not pre- 
clude the presence of laughter as a suffused element 
in all experience. There is indeed proper laughter on 
the other side of the experience of repentance. It is 
the laughter of those who have been released both 



HUMOUR AND FAITH 123 

from the tyranny of the law and from the slavery of 
pretending to be better than they are. To know one- 
self a sinner, to have no illusions about the self, and 
no inclination to appear better than we* are, either in 
the sight of man or of God, and to know oneself for- 
given and released from sin, is the occasion for a new 
joy. This joy expresses itself in an exuberance of 
which laughter is not the only, but is certainly one, 
expression. 

IV 

We have dealt thus far with humour as a reaction 
to the incongruities in the character of self and its 
neighbors. We have discovered it to be a healthy, but 
an ultimately unavailing, method of dealing with the 
evils of human nature. But men face other incongrui- 
ties than those which human foibles and weaknesses 
present. Human existence itself is filled with incon- 
gruities. Life does not make sense as easily as those 
philosophers, who think they have charted and com- 
prehended everything in a nice system of rationality, 
would have us believe. Man's life is really based upon 
a vast incongruity. 

Man is a creature who shares all the weaknesses of 
the other creatures of the world. Yet he is a sublime 
creature who holds the ages within his memory and 
touches the fringes of the eternal in his imagination. 
When he looks into the world within, he finds depths 



124 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

within depths of mystery which are never completely 
fathomed. Man is a spirit 5 and among the qualities 
of his spirit are the capacity to regard himself and the 
world; and to speculate on the meaning of the whole. 
This man is, when he is the observer, the very center 
of the universe. Yet the same man "brings his years 
to an end like a tale that is told." This man groweth 
up like grass in the morning which in the evening is 
cut down and withereth. The brevity of human exist- 
ence is the most vivid expression and climax of human 
weakness. 

The incongruity of man's greatness and weakness, 
of his mortality and immortality, is the source of his 
temptation to evil. Some men seek to escape from 
their greatness to their weakness; they try to deny the 
freedom of their spirit in order to achieve the serenity 
of nature. Some men seek to escape from their weak- 
ness to their greatness. But these simple methods oB 
escape are unavailing. The effort to escape into the 
weakness of nature leads not to the desired serenity 
but to sensuality. The effort to escape from weakness 
to greatness leads not to the security but to the evils 
of greed and lust for power, or to the opposite evils 
of a spirituality which denies the creaturely limita- 
tions of human existence. 

The philosophies of the ages have sought to bridge 
the chasm between the inner and the outer world, 
between the world of thought in which man is so 
great and the world of physical extension in which 



HUMOUR AND FAITH 125 

man is so small and impotent. But philosophy can not 
bridge the chasm. It can only pretend to do so by 
reducing one world to the dimensions of the other. 
Thus naturalists, materialists, mechanists, and all phi- 
losophers, who view the world as primarily a system of 
physical relationships, construct a universe of mean- 
ing from which man in the full dimension of spirit 
can find no home. The idealistic philosophers, on the 
other hand, construct a world of rational coherence in 
which mind is the very stuff of order, the very foun- 
dation of existence. But their systems do not do justice 
to the large areas of chaos in the world; and they fail 
to give an adequate account of man himself, who is 
something less, as well as something more, than mind. 
The sense of humour is, in many respects, a more 
adequate resource for the incongruities of life than 
the spirit of philosophy. If we are able to laugh at 
the curious quirks of fortune in which the system of 
order and meaning which each life constructs within 
and around itself is invaded, we at least do not make 
the mistake of prematurely reducing the irrational to 
a nice system. Things "happen" to us. We make our 
plans for a career, and sickness frustrates us. We plan 
our life, and war reduces all plans to chaos. The 
storms and furies of the world of nature, which can 
so easily reduce our private schemes to confusion, do 
of course have their own laws. They "happen" accord- 
ing to a discernible system of causality. There is no 
question about the fact that there are systems of order 



126 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

in the world. But it is not so easy to discern a total 
system of order and meaning which will comprehend 
the various levels of existence in an orderly whole. 

To meet the disappointments and frustrations of 
life, the irrationalities and contingencies with laugh- 
ter, is a high form of wisdom, Such laughter does not 
obscure or defy the dark irrationality. It merely yields 
to it without too much emotion and friction. A hu- 
morous acceptance of fate is really the expression of 
a high form of self-detachment. If men do not take 
themselves too seriously, if they have some sense of 
the precarious nature of the human enterprise, they 
prove that they are looking at the whole drama of life 
not merely from the circumscribed point of their own 
interests but from some further and higher vantage 
point. One thinks for instance of the profound wis- 
dom which underlies the capacity of laughter in the 
Negro people. Confronted with the cruelties of slav- 
ery, and socially too impotent to throw off the yoke, 
they learned to make their unpalatable situation more 
sufferable by laughter. There was of course a deep 
pathos mixed with the humour, a proof of the fact 
that laughter had reached its very limit. 

There is indeed a limit to laughter in dealing with 
life's frustrations. We can laugh at all of life's sur- 
face irrationalities. We preserve our sanity the more 
surely if we do not try to reduce the whole crazy- 
quilt of events in which we move to a premature 
and illusory order. But the ultimate incongruities o 



HUMOUR AND FAITH 127 

human existence can not be "laughed off." We can 
not laugh at death. We do try of course. 

A war era is particularly fruitful of Galgenhumor 
(gallows humour). Soldiers are known on occasion 
to engage in hysterical laughter when nerves are tense 
before the battle. They speak facetiously of the pos- 
sible dire fate which might befall this or that man of 
the company. "Sergeant/' a soldier is reported to have 
said before a recent battle, "don't let this little fellow 
go into battle before me. He isn't big enough to stop 
the bullet meant for me." The joke was received with 
uproarious good humour by the assembled comrades. 
But when the "little fellow" died in battle the next 
day, everyone felt a little ashamed of the joke. At any 
rate it was quite inadequate to deal with the depth 
and breadth of the problem of death. 

If we persist in laughter when dealing with the 
final problem of human existence, when we turn life 
into a comedy we also reduce it to meaninglessness. 
That is why laughter, when pressed to solve the ulti- 
mate issue, turns into a vehicle of bitterness rather 
than joy. To laugh at life in the ultimate sense means 
to scorn it. There is a note of derision in that laughter 
and an element of despair in that derision. 

Just as laughter is the "no-man's land" between 
cynicism and contrition when we deal with the incon- 
gruous element of evil in our own soul, so is it also 
the area between despair and faith when dealing with 
evil and incongruity in the world about us. Our pro- 



ia8 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

visional amusement with the irrational and unpre- 
dictable fortunes which invade the order and purpose 
of our life must move either toward bitterness or 
faith, when we consider not this or that frustration 
and this or that contingent event, but when we are 
forced to face the issue of the basic incongruity of 
death. 

Either we have a faith from the standpoint of 
which we are able to say, "I am persuaded, that 
neither death, nor life . . . shall be able to separate 
us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus 
our Lord," * or we are overwhelmed by the incon- 
gruity of death and are forced to say with Ecclesiastes: 
"I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the 
sons of men . . . that they might see that they them- 
selves are beasts. For that which befalleth the sons of 
men befalleth beasts 5 ... as the one dieth, so dieth 
the other 5 yea they all have one breath; so that a 
man hath no preeminence above a beast; for all is 
vanity." 2 

The final problem of human existence is derived 
from the fact that in one context and from one per- 
spective man has no preeminence above the beast; and 
yet from another perspective his preeminence is very 
great. No beast comes to the melancholy conclusion 
that "all is vanity"; for the purposes of its life do not 
outrun its power, and death does not therefore invade 
its life as an irrelevance. Furthermore it has no pre- 

8:38-39. 2 Ecdes. 3:18-19. 



HUMOUR AND FAITH 129 

vision of its own end and is therefore not tempted to 
melancholy. Man's melancholy over the prospect of 
death is the proof of his partial transcendence over 
the natural process which ends in death. But this is 
only a partial transcendence and man's power is not 
great enough to secure his own immortality. 

This problem of man, so perfectly and finally sym- 
bolized in the fact of death, can be solved neither by 
proving that he has no preeminence above the beast, 
vtior yet proving that his preeminence is a guarantee 
that death has no final dominion over him. Man is 
both great and small, both strong and weak, both in- 
volved in and free of the limits of nature ; and he is a 
unity of strength and weakness of spirit and creature- 
liness. There is therefore no possibility of man extri- 
cating himself by his own power from the predicament 
of his amphibious state. 

The Christian faith declares that the ultimate order 
and meaning of the world lies in the power and wis- 
dom of God who is both Lord of the whole world of 
creation and the Father of human spirits. It believes 
that the incongruities of human existence are finally 
overcome by the power and the love of God, and that 
the love which Christ revealed is finally sufficient to 
overcome the contradiction of death. 

This faith is not some vestigial remnant of a credu- 
lous and pre-scientific age with which "scientific" gen- 
erations may dispense. There is no power in any sci- 
ence or philosophy, whether in a pre- or post-scientific 



130 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

age, to leap the chasm of incongruity by pure thought. 
Thought which begins on one side of the chasm can 
do no more than deny the reality on the other side. 
It seeks either to prove that death is no reality because 
spirit is eternal, or that spirit is not eternal because 
death is a reality. But the real situation is that man, 
as a part of the natural world, brings his years to an 
end like a tale that is told} and that man as a f free 
spirit finds the brevity of his years incongruous and 
death an irrationality; and that man as a unity of 
body and spirit can neither by taking thought reduce 
the dimension of his life to the limit of nature, nor 
yet raise it to the dimension of pure spirit. Either his 
incomplete and frustrated life is completed by a power 
greater than his own, or it is not completed. 

Faith is therefore the final triumph over incon- 
gruity, the final assertion of the meaningfulness of 
existence. There is no other triumph and will be none, 
no matter how much human knowledge is enlarged. 
Faith is the final assertion of the freedom of the 
human spirit, but also the final acceptance of the 
weakness of man and the final solution for the prob- 
lem of life through the disavowal of any final solu- 
tions in the power of man. 

Insofar as the sense of humour is a recognition of 
incongruity, it is more profound than any philosophy 
which seeks to devour incongruity in reason. But the 
sense of humour remains healthy only when it deals 
with immediate issues and faces the obvious and sur~ 



HUMOUR AND FAITH 131 

face irrationalities. It must move toward faith or sink 
into despair when the ultimate issues are raised. 

That is why there is laughter in the vestibule of 
the temple, the echo of laughter in the temple itself, 
but only faith and prayer, and no laughter, in the 
holy of holies. 



VIII 



THE POWER AND WEAKNESS. 
OF GOD 

"And when they had flatted a crown of thorns % 
they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right 
hand: and they bowed the knee before him y and 
mocked him > say ing y Hail, King of the Jews! 
And they spit upon him > and took the reed y and 
smote him on the head. And after that they had 
mocked him, they took the robe of him y and put 
his own raiment on him y and led him away to 
crucify him. . . . And they that passed by reviled 
him y wagging their heads, And say ing y Thou that 
destroy est the temple > and buildest it in three 
days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, 
come down from the cross. Likewise also the 
chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and 
elder s y said, He saved others^ himself he cannot 
save. If he be King of Israel, let him come down 
from the cross. . . . The thieves also, which were 
crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth" 
Mt. 27:29-31,39-42,44. 

AHEY mocked and derided him. The chief priest and 
scribes, the soldiers and passersby, and even the 



POWER AND WEAKNESS OF GOD 133 

thieves, were all agreed in regarding the royal and 
divine pretensions of this Messiah as ridiculous. He 
was dying upon the cross. Could anything disprove 
and invalidate the Messianic claim more irrefutably 
than this ignominious death? He was weak and 
powerless. He had saved others but could not save 
himself. If he were any kind of king he ought to 
have the power to get down from the cross. 

All this mockery and derision is the natural and 
inevitable response to the absurdity of weakness and 
suffering in a royal and divine figure. Common sense 
assumes that the most significant and necessary attri- 
bute of both royalty and divinity is power. The judg- 
ments of priests and soldiers, of passersby, and thieves 
may vary on other matters. But they are naturally 
unanimous in their derision of the royal and divine 
claims of a Messiah upon the cross. 

The Christian faith has made this absurdity of a 
suffering Messiah into the very keystone of its arch 
of faith. It therefore allows the records to report the 
derision of the onlookers at Calvary. It feels that the 
mockery helps to measure the profundity of the reve- 
lation upon the cross. If common sense could com- 
prehend this absurdity, that would be proof that there 
was no depth of revelation in it. A faith which under- 
stands the scandal of the cross also has some appre- 
ciation of the negative support which mockery gives 
to the sublimity of the truth apprehended by faith. 
In the words of a modern literary critic: "The image 



i 3 4 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

of Christ crucified is, of all Christian images, the oae 
that in itself contains the full paradox of human 
doubt and human faith, the focal point of the tem- 
poral and the eternal, at which the eternal is at once 
most essentially challenged and most essentially 
triumphant." * 

What is involved in the apprehension of Christian 
faith that a crucified Christ is the "focal point be- 
tween the temporal and the eternal," the most lumi- 
nous symbol of the divine in the historical, the best 
"handle" by which to grasp the meaning of the divine 
mystery, is its understanding of the paradox of the 
power and the weakness of God. The crux of the 
cross is its revelation of the fact that the final power 
of God over man is derived from the self-imposed 
weakness of his love. This self-imposed weakness does 
not derogate from the Majesty of God. His mercy is 
the final dimension of His majesty. This is the Chris- 
tian answer to the final problem of human existence. 
The worship of God is reverence toward the mys- 
terious source and end of all of life's vitalities; and 
toward the mysterious source and end of all goodness. 
A truly "holy" God must be both powerful and good. 
Impotent or limited goodness is not divine. It can not 
be worshipped. Its weakness arouses pity rather than 
worship $ and faith is distracted by thought of the 
power against which this goodness must contend. 

1 Kathleen Raine, "John Donne and Baroque Doubt," Horizon, 
June 1945. 



POWER AND WEAKNESS OF GOD 135 

But power without goodness can not be worshipped 
either. It may be feared, or possibly defied - y but rever- 
ence must be withheld. Bertrand Russell suggested 
in his Free Marfs Worship that the highest reli- 
gion is for man to "sustain for a moment the world 
which his own ideals have builded against the tram- 
pling march of unconscious power." But such defiance 
is only one step from despair. If the ultimate source 
of all of life's vitalities is the evil of "unconscious 
power," the sense of futility must finally overcome 
the attitude of noble defiance. 

Faith has never been willing to be embarrassed on 
this issue by the consistencies of the philosophers. 
Even before the revelation of the cross, the "Holi- 
ness" of God has always been conceived as implying 
both majesty and goodness, both power and love. Yet 
the two attributes of God stand, at least partly, in 
contradiction to each other. If God is all-powerful 
He must be the Creator of evil as well as of good. All 
the suffering of the world would seem to be finally 
attributed to Him. If the suffering is due to dishar- 
monies in the order of the world, which God has not 
mastered, and to recalcitrant forces which He has not 
subdued, the goodness of God becomes more sharply 
defined 5 but His power is called into question/This 
rational contradiction lies at the heart of faith's ap- 
prehension of the Holiness of God. It is never com- 
pletely resolved. The significance of the revelation in 
Christ is that the intellectual embarrassment is over- 



136 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

come. The mockery of the absurdity o the weakness 
of God is cheerfully accepted as a tribute to the truth 
of the revelation. And all the ages of faith have found 
in the crucified Lord a luminous point which "makes 
sense" of the eternal mystery by defying the conclu- 
sions of common sense. 

II 

One reason why the Christian faith is able to re- 
solve the seeming conflict between the idea of the 
divine power and the divine goodness is that it does 
not allow that conflict to be absolute. It does not 
accept the idea that power is of itself evil 5 and that 
the source of all power must therefore be lacking in 
holiness. One of the attributes of holiness is undoubt- 
edly majesty. The Apostles' Creed begins with the 
credo: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker 
of heaven and earth." The closing ascription in our 
Lord's prayer is: "For thine is the power and the 
glory forever." In a majestic passage in Deutero- 
Isaiah, God is made to utter the most sweeping claims 
of power: "I form the light, and create darkness 5 I 
make peace, and create evil. I the Lord do all these 
things." * 

The power of God is conceived in biblical faith, 
primarily in twofold terms: It is the power of the 
Creator of the world and the power of judgment 

*Isa. 45:7. 



POWER AND WEAKNESS OF GOD 137 

which sets a final bound to the evil in the world. The 
divine power brings forth all the myriad forms of life 
on the one hand and maintains order and harmony 
among them on the other. Human history by reason 
of human freedom had the capacity to defy the order 
which God has set for His creation 5 but there are 
limits to this defiance. He "bringeth the princes to 
nothing} he maketh the judges of the earth as 
vanity." 2 

The acceptance of the goodness of power in the 
Christian faith is intimately related to its whole "non- 
spiritual" interpretation of life. It never abstracts the 
spiritual and ideal form from the dynamic stuff of 
life, to call the one good and the other evil. The 
created world as such is good} and all forms of crea- 
tion represent various strategies of power. Life is 
power} but all created power points beyond itself to 
an ultimate source. The fact that life is power is not 
the cause of the evil in it} and the power of the Crea- 
tor is not a contradiction, but an aspect of His Holi- 
ness. 

Furthermore, the power of God as judge is holy. 
God is the ultimate source of that indestructible order 
in the world against which man's pride and self-will 
beats in vain. Here the Christian faith, drawing its 
conceptions of divine justice from the teachings of the 
Old Testament prophets, reveals similarities with the 
interpretations of the Greek tragedies, in which the 

2 Isa. 40:23. 



138 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

power of Zeus is conceived of as the final order and 
power which ultimately defeats all lesser majesties 
and forces which are arrayed against it. All lesser 
sources of power, which seek proudly to usurp the po- 
sition of Zeus, are finally brought low. Greek tragedy 
is not quite sure whether the a jealousy' 5 of Zeus is 
really a source of justice 5 because it is not certain 
whether the vitalities and ambitions of the heroes of 
history, who defy Zeus, may not be noble and heroic 
and whether the jealousy of Zeus is not an unjustified 
egotism* There is, in other words, no consistency in 
dealing with the world as a unity and harmony. Some- 
times Zeus is the divine protector of the ultimate 
harmony and order of the world. And sometimes those 
who defy him are the necessary heroic protagonists of 
the various powers and values of the world. 

In the Bible, particularly in Hebraic prophetism, 
there is no question about this point. The nations, 
judges, and princes of the world are all in partial 
defiance of the divine creator and judge of the. world j 
and the terrible character of His wrath is a justified 
judgment upon the various idolatries of history. For 
all lesser gods are false gods. Only the real God, 
who is the final source and end of all existence, de- 
serves the unqualified worship which the lesser gods 
claim for themselves. 

We have had ample proof in our own day of the 
efficacy of power in setting the outer limits of order 
in the world. We have lived through a great war in 



POWER AND WEAKNESS OF GOD 139 

which the idolatrous pretensions of a "master race" 
have been defeated by power. These pretensions 
clothed themselves in the majesties of power and had 
to be defeated by power. The human instruments by 
which the defeat of tyranny was encompassed were 
of course themselves tainted with some of the evil 
against which they fought. There are no perfect hu- 
man instruments of either the divine power or the 
divine mercy. But we can not escape the responsi- 
bilities of power by preoccupation with these corrup- 
tions. Life is power. Power is not evil of itself j but 
evil incarnates itself in power and can not finally be 
defeated without the use of power. There are always 
highly "spiritualized" forms of faith which assume 
that the only hope of virtue among us is to disavow 
power j and that a virtue which is as impotent as it is 
good will, by that impotence, achieve the spiritual 
power to defeat evil. There is an ultimate truth in 
this contention at which we must look presently. Im- 
mediately it is not true. In any immediate situation 
neither man nor God can defeat a powerful defiance 
of the order of the world without using power to set 
the limits of that defiance.. There is no purely spiritual 
method of preserving minimal justice and order in a 
world; for the world is not purely spiritual. Power is 
the basis of justice in history as it is of order in the 
entire natural world. To declare the omnipotence of 
God is to insist that the ultimate power which main- 
tains the order of the world is superior to all sub- 



140 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

ordinate powers and majesties which tend to create 
anarchy by making themselves the premature and 
inadequate centers of order in the world. 



Ill 



Yet, despite the certainty of biblical faith that God 
is all-powerful, it looks upon the crucified Messiah as 
the final revelation of the divine character and the 
divine purpose. This divine representative was so 
powerless that he could not save himself, and he died 
an ignominious death. One reason why his claims to 
Messianic authority were rejected by the leaders of 
the Jews was because they expected a Messiah who 
would combine perfect power and perfect goodness. 
That was the meaning of the hope of a "shepherd 
king" which informed the Messianic expectations not 
only of Hebraic prophets but of Egyptian and Baby- 
lonian prophets before them. Always in human his- 
tory the same power which maintained order in the 
world also introduced injustice into the order by 
reason of the selfish use which the king made of his 
power. How could history finally culminate in a reign 
of perfect righteousness except by a divine king who 
would combine justice with absolute power? This was 
the expectation. The expectation was doomed to disap- 
pointment. Perfect power and goodness can be united 
only in God, where the contest of life with life is 



POWER AND WEAKNESS OF GOD 141 

transcended and where the possession of power does 
not lead to its misuse in the struggle for existence. 
In human history disinterested power is never as dis- 
interested as it claims to be. It always insinuates some- 
thing of the special interests of a participant in the 
struggle of life into the pretended position of dis- 
interested preservation of justice. Thus the so-called 
democratic nations were good enough to preserve a 
measure of justice against tyranny in recent conflicts. 
But the idea, which they have written into the Char- 
ter of the United Nations, that there are "peace- 
loving" nations who can be absolutely distinguished 
from the peace-breaking ones, obviously does not bear 
close inspection. The peace of the coming centuries 
will be less than a perfect or stable peace because 
Russia, Britain, and America will compound their 
concern for justice with a concern for their own pres- 
tige and power. Every "shepherd king" of history is 
more king and less shepherd than he pretends. That 
is as true, in an ultimate sense, of democratic centers 
of power as of tyrannical ones, though the former are 
prevented by wisely constructed social checks upon 
their power from following the logic of selfish power 
to its final conclusion. 

For this reason the revelation of the divine good- 
ness in history must be powerless. The Christ is led 
as a lamb to the slaughter. He can not save himself 
from the cross. No human cause or interest gains a 
triumph through him 5 all human interests and causes 



142 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

are revealed as practically in contradiction to the 
divine goodness because "all seek their own." The 
best law of his day (Roman law) and the best religion 
of his day (Hebraic monotheism) are implicated in 
the crucifixion, though the latter expected to be the 
righteous victor who would gain a triumph over its 
unrighteous foes in the coming of the Messiah. Christ 
is thus doubly an offense to the common sense of 
mankind. He possesses no royal trappings of power 
and no divine symbols of omnipotence. He is an 
offense also because he convicts the righteous as well 
as the unrighteous by his impotent goodness. There- 
fore the Christian faith regards this scene at the cross 
as an ultimate point of illumination on the character 
of man and of God. It was inevitable that this ultimate 
illumination should be mistaken again and again in 
human history for proximate forms of moral illumina- 
tion and thus lead to pacifist illusions. According to 
such interpretations, the goodness of Christ is a form 
of powerless goodness which can be emulated by the 
mere disavowal of power. In such interpretations the 
tragic culmination of the cross is obscured. It is as- 
sumed that powerless goodness achieves the spiritual 
influence to overcome all forms of evil clothed with 
other than spiritual forms of power. It is made an 
instrument of one historical cause in conflict with 
other historical causes. It becomes the tool of an inter- 
ested position in society; and a bogus promise of his- 
torical success is given to it. Powerless goodness ends 



POWER AND WEAKNESS OF GOD 143 

upon the cross. It gives no certainty o victory to 
comparatively righteous causes in conflict with com- 
paratively unrighteous ones. It can only throw a divine 
illumination upon the whole meaning of history and 
convict both the righteous and the unrighteous in their 
struggles. Men may indeed emulate the powerless 
goodness of Christ; and some of his followers ought 
indeed to do so. But they ought to know what they 
are doing. They are not able by this strategy to guar- 
antee a victory for any historical cause, however com- 
paratively virtuous. They can only set up a sign and 
symbol of the Kingdom of God, of a Kingdom of 
perfect righteousness and peace which transcends all 
the struggles of history. 

This aspect of the revelatory mission of Christ is 
expressed in the Christian creeds by the distinction 
between God the Father and God the Son, between 
the "Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth," 
and His "only begotten Son" who "was crucified dead 
and buried." The distinction is between the divine 
power which underlies all creation and the divine as 
it appears powerless in history. Most of the efforts to 
reduce this distinction to nice metaphysical points of 
discrimination and to indicate just how much of the 
divine omnipotence or omniscience the historical re- 
vealer of God carried with him into history are mean- 
ingless or even confusing. The truth which is revealed 
in Christ must be apprehended in faith. Faith, as far 
as it uses our natural endowments, draws on poetic 



144 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

and imaginative capacities rather than rational ones. 
The point of the Christian story is that we see a clue 
to the character of God in the character and the drama 
of Christ 5 and we have some understanding of the 
fact that the -similarity of love between God and 
Christ is partly revealed by the dissimilarity of power 
in the historical and trans-historical. The divine good- 
ness is a part of the divine majesty and power j but it 
can appear in history only in powerless, rather than 
powerful, terms. 

IV 

Yet this is not the whole meaning of the powerless 
Christ, comprehended by faith even while it is re- 
jected by the derision and mockery of priests and 
soldiers. The Christian faith makes a distinction on 
the one hand between the Father and the Son, be- 
tween the God above history and the God in history, 
and on the other hand declares that the two are one. 
To declare that the two are one is to insist that the 
distinction between the historical and the trans-his- 
torical, between the facet of the divine which appears 
in history and the plenitude of the divine which bears 
all history and creation, must not be made too un- 
qualifiedly. 

It must not be made absolutely because the weak- 
ness of Christ is not merely the weakness which God's 
revelation in history makes necessary. It is in part the 



POWER AND WEAKNESS OF GOD 145 

weakness of God, as He is in His nature. It is the 
weakness of His love. 

The weakness of God's love is not the weakness of 
goodness striving against the recalcitrance of some 
"given" stuff of creation. It is the self-imposed weak- 
ness of His love. If God has created free spirits who 
have the capacity to defy Him in their freedom. He 
has created forms of life so independent that even the 
power of God, acting merely as power, can not reach 
the final source of their defiance. The divine power, 
the very structure of the world, the requirements for 
mutual living which are made part of the very char- 
acter of human existence, all these are able to set an 
ultimate limit to man's defiance of the order of crea- 
tion. The justice and the "wrath" of God can prevent 
any human rebellion from developing its defiance to 
the point of ultimate triumph. The devil, according 
to Christian myth, is able to defy God but not abso- 
lutely. The divine order is supported by the divine 
power. 

But such power does not reach the heart of the 
rebel. We can, as instruments of the divine justice, set 
a limit to the defiance of tyranny against the justice 
of our civilized institutions. The nations which en- 
gaged in such defiance have been brought low, and 
their cities lie in dust and ashes. The imagination of 
faith is right in discerning this doom as part of the 
divine justice, however much human instruments of 
this justice may have obscured and brought confusion 



146 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

into the terrible drama. But this punishment does not 
reach the heart of Germany or Japan. No punishment 
can. Justice and wrath have a negatively redemptive 
effect. They prove to men and nations that there are 
limits beyond which their rebellion can not go. But 
punishment may prompt men and nations to despair 
as well as to repentance. There can indeed be no re- 
pentance if love does not shine through the justice. It 
shines through whenever it becomes apparent that the 
executor of judgment suffers willingly, as guiltless 
sufferer, with the guilty victim of punishment. Thus 
the love of parents shines through the punishment 
which they may have to mete out to childish recal- 
citrance. If it does not shine through, childish recal- 
citrance may harden into adolescent rebellion and ma- 
ture despair. Because such love seldom shines through 
the punishment which "righteous" victors exact of the 
"unrighteous" vanquished, the repentance of van- 
quished nations is extremely difficult. 

The Christian story is that, whatever the inade- 
quacies of forgiveness and love may be in the opera- 
tions of human justice, men ultimately face divine 
forgiveness as well as divine wrath. The Christ upon 
the cross is the point of illumination where the ulti- 
mate mercy is apprehended. It is not a mercy which 
cancels out the divine justice 5 nor does it prove the 
divine justice to be merely love. There is a hard and 
terrible facet to justice which stands in contradiction 
to love. It is not for that reason evil. Justice is good 



POWER AND WEAKNESS OF GOD 147 

and punishment is necessary. Yet justice alone does 
not move men to repentance. The inner core of their 
rebellion is not touched until they behold the executor 
of judgment suffering with and for the victim of 
punishment. This is the meaning of "atonement" as 
apprehended by faith. It is the final meaning and the 
final mystery of the relation of God to man. Since it 
is meaning and not pure mystery, faith must explicate 
what it means even as we seek to do so in these words. 
Since it is mystery it can not be fully explicated 5 
which is why all theories of the atonement are less 
illuminating (and sometimes positively confusing) 
thar. the apprehension of the mystery and the mean- 
ing by faith. Faith rises above all philosophies and 
theologies in sensing that the weakness of God is His 
final power. It is the weakness of love which touches 
the heart of the offender. The mystery lies in the fact 
that this mercy is partly the fulfillment and partly 
the contradiction to the justice which punishes. The 
fact that justice and mercy are one is symbolically 
expressed in the idea of the unity of Father and Son. 
The fact that justice and mercy stand in contradiction 
is symbolically expressed in the distinction between 
Father and Son and in the idea that the Son bears the 
wrath of the Father. In less metaphysical and more 
historic-symbolic terms the unity of mercy and justice 
are expressed in the biblical idea that "God so loved 
the world that he gave his only begotten son." The 
distinction between justice and mercy is expressed by 



148 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

the idea that the Son bears the sufferings which the 
wrath of the Father exacts. 

The moralists of every age and faith, including the 
Christian faith, regard these insights as meaningless 
subleties of theologians or as incredible biblical myths 
which can impress only the ignorant and credulous. 
They make these disparaging judgments because they 
have never plumbed the problem of justice and mercy 
through to its final depth. Even now they divide into 
two schools, the hard and the soft school. The hard 
school would seek to persuade a fallen foe to repent- 
ance by the rigor of the punishment of the victors. 
And the soft school would remit punishment and sub- 
stitute mercy for judgment. The power which main- 
tains the order of the world is good and not evil} but 
its virtue does not reach into the secret of the human 
heart. The justice which checks and punishes evil is 
also good and not evil 5 but its force is negative and 
the persuasive power of repentance and redemption 
is not in it. Thus the final majesty of God is the 
majesty of His mercy. It is both the completion and 
the contradiction of His power. This is the truth ap- 
prehended in the cross, which resolves the mystery of 
the relation of justice to mercy, and gives it meaning. 

Naturally the final paradoxes of faith are always 
in peril of disintegration, inside the Christian com- 
munity as well as outside. Thus there have been 
Christian heresies (particularly in the extreme form 
of Marcionism) which make an absolute distinction 



POWER AND WEAKNESS OF GOD 149 

between the God of power who is not good and the 
God of mercy who is good but not powerful. Some 
very persuasive forms of the Christian faith drift to 
the very edge of this heresy. In the first world war 
the most famous of English chaplains, Studdert- 
Kennedy, allowed his tragic sense of life to be elabo- 
rated into a homiletical theology which resolved the 
Christian paradox and denied every form of the 
divine majesty and power except the power of love. 
One of his best known poems stated his theology 
as follows: 

"God, the God I love and worship, reigns in sor- 
row on the Tree, 

Broken, bleeding, but unconquered, very God of 
God to me. 

All that showy pomp of splendour, all that sheen 
of angel wings, 

Was not borrowed from the baubles that sur- 
round our earthly kings. . . . 

. . . For Thy glory is the glory of Love's loss, 

And Thou hast no other splendour but the splen- 
dour of the Cross. 

For in Christ I see the martyrs and the beauty 
of their pain, 

And in Him I hear the promise that my dead 
shall rise again. 

High and lifted up, I see Him on the eternal 
Calvary, 

And two pierced hands are stretching east and 
west o'er land and sea. 



ISO THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

On my knees I fall and worship that great Cross 

that shines above. 
For the very God of Heaven is not Power, but 

Power of Love." I 

A non-Christian interpretation of the problem of 
suffering, also presented during the first world war, 
in H. G. Wells' Go d, the Invisible Kmg y arrived at 
somewhat the same picture of a kind but not very 
powerful divine ruler who suffered with man in fight- 
ing against the recalcitrance of something in the uni- 
verse more powerful than himself. Recently some 
Christian philosophers have sought to present the 
same doctrine in Christian form. 

But all these efforts, however small or great their 
ingredients of Scriptural content, manage to obscure 
the sublimity of the paradox which the revelation of 
God in Christ contains. They are provisionally plausi- 
ble because they are philosophically more consistent 
than the Christian doctrine. But they are not true to 
all of the facts of existence and they fail to illumine 
the final mystery of justice and mercy, of power and 
goodness, which is revealed from the cross. Faith, by 
a wisdom which touches sublimities beyond the ken of 
philosophies, will thus continue to cherish the scandal 
of the cross and accept the mockery and derision of 
the various crowd at Calvary as a kind of tribute to 
the truth which transcends and fulfills the highest 

1 From "High and Lifted Up" in The Sorrows of God, Anil 
Other PoemSj by G. A. Studdert-Kennedy. 



POWER AND WEAKNESS OF GOD 151 

insights of reason. The words of derision: "He saved 
others, himself he cannot save," gives us a clue to the 
innermost character of a man in history who perished 
upon the cross. It also gives us a clue to the mystery 
of the very character of God. 



IX 



MTSTERT AND MEANING 

"For now we see through a glass darkly ; but 
then face to face: now I know In fart; but then 
shall I know even as also I am known" I Cor. 
13:12. 



JiHE testimonies of religious faith are confused more 
greatly by those who claim to know too much about 
the mystery of life than by those who claim to know 
too little. Those who disavow all knowledge of the 
final mystery of life are so impressed by the fact that 
we see through a glass darkly that they would make 
no claim of seeing at all. In the history of culture 
such a position is known as agnosticism. "Agnosticism 
sees no practical value in seeking to solve the mystery 
of life. But there are not really many agnostics in any 
age or culture. A much larger number of people for- 
get that they see through a glass darkly. They claim 
to know too much. 

Those who claim to know too much may be divided 
into two groups, one ostensibly religious and the other 
irreligious. The irreligious resolve the problem of 

152 



MYSTERY AND MEANING 153 

human existence and the mystery of the created world 
into systems of easily ascertained meaning. They deny 
that there is any mystery in life or the world. If they 
can find a previous cause for any subsequent effect in 
nature, they are certain that they have arrived at a 
full understanding of why such and such a thing 
exists. The natural cause is, for them, an adequate 
explanation of anything they may perceive. 

The religious group on the other hand recognizes 
that the whole of the created world is not self- 
explanatory. They see that it points beyond itself to a 
mysterious ground of existence, to an enigmatic power 
beyond all discernible vitalities, and to a "first cause" 
beyond all known causes. But they usually claim to 
know too much about this eternal mystery. Sometimes 
they sharply define the limits of reason, and the fur- 
ther limits of faith beyond reason, and claim to know 
exactly how far reason penetrates into the eternal 
mystery, and how much further faith reaches. Yet 
though they make a distinction between faith and 
reason, they straightway so mix and confuse reason 
and faith that they pretend to be able to give a rational 
and sharply defined account of the character of God 
and of the eternal ground of existence. They define 
the power and knowledge of God precisely, and ex- 
plain the exact extent of His control and foreknowl- 
edge of the course of events. They dissect the mys- 
terious relation between man's intellectual faculties 
and his vital capacities, and claim to know the exact 



154 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

limits of physiS) psyche and nous y of body, soul and 
spirit. They know that man is immortal and why 5 and 
just what portion and part of him is mortal and what 
part immortal. Thus they banish the mystery of the 
unity of man's spiritual and physical existence. They 
have no sense of mystery about the problem of im- 
mortality. They know the geography of heaven and 
of hell, and the furniture of the one and the tempera- 
ture of the other. 

A genuine Christian faith must move between those 
who claim to know so much about the natural world 
that it ceases to point to any mystery beyond itself 
and those who claim to know so much about the mys- 
tery of the "unseen" world that all reverence for its 
secret and hidden character is dissipated. A genuine 
faith must recognize the fact that it is through a dark 
glass that we see 5 though by faith we do penetrate 
sufficiently to the heart of the mystery not to be over- 
whelmed by it. A genuine faith resolves the mystery 
of life by the mystery of God. It recognizes that no 
aspect of life or existence explains itself, even after 
all known causes and consequences have been traced. 
All known existence points beyond itself. To realize 
that it points beyond itself to God is to assert that the 
mystery of life does not dissolve life into meaning- 
lessness. Faith in God is faith in some ultimate unity 
of life, in some final comprehensive purpose which 
holds all the various, and frequently contradictory, 
realms of coherence and meaning together. A genuine 



MYSTERY AND MEANING 155 

faith does not mark this mysterious source and end of 
existence as merely an X, or as an unknown quantity. 
The Christian faith, at least, is a faith in revelation. 
It believes that God has made Himself known. It 
believes that He has spoken through the prophets and 
finally in His Son. It accepts the revelation in Christ 
as the ultimate clue to the mystery of God's nature 
and purpose in the world, particularly the mystery of 
the relation of His justice to His mercy. But these 
clues to the mystery do not eliminate the periphery 
of mystery. God remains deus absconditus. 

Of the prophets of the Old Testament, the Second 
Isaiah is particularly conscious of the penumbra of 
mystery which surrounds the eternal and the divine. 
He insists upon the distance between the divine wis- 
dom and human counsels: "Who hath directed the 
spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught 
him?" 1 He emphasizes the transcendence of God's 
power: "It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the 
earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers 
. . . that bringeth the princes to nothing j he maketh 
the judges of the earth as vanity." 2 The question of 
the meaning of life must not be pressed too far, ac- 
cording to the prophet: "Woe unto him that striveth 
with his Maker. . . . Shall the clay say to him that 
fashioneth it, What makest thou? Woe unto him 
that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or 
to the woman, What hast thou brought forth?"* 

1 Isa. 4.0:13. a lsa. 40:22-23. a lsa. 4.5:9-10. 



I 5 6 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

Faith, as the prophet conceives it, discerns the mean- 
ing of existence but must not seek to define it too care- 
fully. The divine wisdom and purpose must always 
be partly hid from human understanding "For my 
thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways 
my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are 
higher than the earth, so are my ways higher 
than your ways, and my thoughts than your 
thoughts." 4 

The sense of both mystery and meaning is perhaps 
most succinctly expressed in the forty-fifth chapter of 
Isaiah, where, practically in the same breath, the 
prophet declares on the one hand, "Verily thou art 
a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the 
Saviour," 5 and on the other, insists that God has made 
Himself known: "I have not spoken in secret, in a 
dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of 
Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the Lord speak righteous- 
ness, I declare things that are right." e This double 
emphasis is a perfect symbolic expression both of the 
meaning which faith discerns and of the penumbra 
of mystery which it recognizes around the core of 
meaning. The essential character of God, in His rela- 
tions to the world, is known. He is the Creator, Judge 
and Saviour of men. Yet He does not fully disclose 
Himself, and His thoughts are too high to be com- 
prehended by human thought. 

* Isa. 55:8-9. 5 Isa. 45:15. *Isa. 45:19. 



MYSTERY AND MEANING 157 

II 

For some centuries the intellectual life of modern 
man has been dominated by rebellion against medie- 
val faith. The main outlines of modern culture are 
defined by modern man's faith in science and his 
defiance of the authority of religion. This conflict be- 
tween the faith which flowered in the thirteenth cen- 
tury and that which flowered in the seventeenth and 
eighteenth centuries is a conflict between two forms 
of faith which in their different ways obscured the 
penumbra of the mystery of life and made the core 
of meaning too large. Medieval Catholicism was not 
completely lacking in a reverent sense of mystery. 
The rites of the Church frequently excel the more 
rationalized forms of the Protestant faith by their 
poetic expression of mystery. There is, for instance, 
an advantage in chanting rather than saying a creed. 
The musical and poetical forms of a creed emphasize 
the salient affirmation of faith which the creed con- 
tains, and slightly derogate the exact details? of 
symbolism through which the basic affirmation is ex- 
pressed. That is a virtue of the liturgical and sac- 
ramental Church, which is hardened into a pitiless 
fundamentalism when every "i" is dotted and every 
"t" crossed in the soberly recited credo. 

On the other hand the same Catholic faith com- 
bined a pretentious rationalism with its sense of 



158 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

poetry. Any careful reading of the works of Thomas 
Aquinas must impress the thoughtful student with the 
element of pretension which informs the flowering of 
the Catholic faith in the "golden" thirteenth century. 
There seems to be no mystery which is not carefully 
dissected, and no dark depth of evil which is not fully 
explained, and no height of existence which is not 
scaled. The various attributes of God are all carefully 
defined and related to each other. The mysteries of 
the human soul and spirit are mastered and rationally 
defined in the most meticulous terms. The exact line 
which marks justice from injustice is known. Faith 
and reason are so intermingled that the characteristic 
certainty of each is compounded with the other. Thus 
a very imposing structure is created. Yet it ought to 
have been possible to anticipate the doubts which it 
would ultimately arouse. Granted its foundation of 
presuppositions, every beam and joist in the intellec- 
tual structure is reared with perfect logical consis- 
tency. But the foundation is insecure. It is a founda- 
tion of faith in which the timeless affirmations of the 
Christian belief are compounded with detailed knowl- 
edge characteristic of a pre-scientific age. An age of 
science challenged this whole foundation of presuppo- 
sition and seemed to invalidate the whole structure. 
The new age of science attempted an even more 
rigorous denial of mystery. The age of science traced 
the relations of the world of nature, studied the vari- 
ous causes which seemed to be at the root of various 



MYSTERY AND MEANING 159 

effects in every realm of natural coherence 5 and came 
to the conclusion that knowledge dissolved mystery. 
Mystery was simply the darkness of ignorance which 
the light of knowledge dispelled. Religious faith was, 
in its opinion, merely the fear of the unknown which 
could be dissipated by further knowledge. In the one 
case the "spiritual," the "eternal" and the "super- 
natural," conceived as a separate and distinct realm 
of existence (instead of as the final ground and ulti- 
mate dimension of the unity of existence), is so exactly 
defined that the penumbra of mystery is destroyed. 
In the other case the "natural," the "temporal" and 
the "material" are supposedly comprehended so fully 
that they cease to point beyond themselves to a more 
ultimate mystery. There are significant differences 
between these two ways of apprehending the world 
about us and the depth of existence within us; but the 
differences are no greater than the similarity between 
them. Both ways contain an element of human pre- 
tension. Both fail to recognize that we see through a 
glass darkly. 

HI 

We see through a glass darkly when we seek to 
understand the world about us; because no natural 
cause is ever a complete and adequate explanation of 
the subsequent event. The subsequent event is un- 
doubtedly causally related to preceding events; but it 



160 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

is only one of many untold possibilities which might 
have been actualized. The biblical idea o a divine 
creator moves on a different level than scientific con- 
cepts of causation. The two become mutually exclu- 
sive, as they have done in the controversies of recent 
ages, only if, on the one hand, we deny the mysteri- 
ous element in creation and regard it as an exact 
explanation of why things are as they are and become 
what they become 5 and if, on the other hand, we deny 
the mystery which overarches the process of causation 
in nature. Thus two dimensions of meaning, each too 
exactly defined, come in conflict with each other. 
More truly and justly conceived, the realm of co- 
herence, which we call nature, points to a realm of 
power beyond itself. This realm is discerned by faith, 
but not fully known. It is a mystery which resolves 
the mystery of nature. But if mystery is denied in 
each realm, the meaning which men pretend to ap- 
prehend in each becomes too pat and calculated. The 
depth of meaning is destroyed in the process of chart- 
ing it exactly. Thus the sense of meaning is deepened, 
and not annulled, by the sense of mystery. 

The understanding of ourselves is even more sub- 
ject to seeing through a glass darkly than the under- 
standing of the world about us. We "are fearfully and 
wonderfully made." Man is a creature of nature, sub- 
ject to its necessities and bound by its limits. Yet he 
surveys the ages and touches the fringes of the eter- 
nal. Despite the limited character of his life, he is con- 



MYSTERY AND MEANING 1 6 1 

stantly under compulsions and responsibilities which 
reach to the very heart of the eternal. 

"Thou hast beset me behind and before, 
And laid thine hand upon me. 
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me ; 
It is high, I cannot attain unto it." 

confesses the Psalmist in recording the universal 
human experience of feeling related to a divine law- 
giver and judge. 

"Whither shall I go from thy spirit? 
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? 
If I ascend into heaven, thou art there : 
If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. 
If I take the wings of the morning, 
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; 
Even there shall thy hand lead me, 
And thy right hand shall hold me." 1 

Thus the Psalmist continues in describing the bound- 
less character of the human spirit., which rises above 
and beyond all finite limitations to confront and feel 
itself confronted by the divine. 

The finiteness of human life, contrasted with the 
limitless quality of the human spirit, presents us with 
a profound mystery. We are an enigma to our- 
selves. 

There are many forms of modern thought which 
deny the mystery of our life by reducing the dimen- 

1 Psalm 139. 



1 62 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

sion of human existence to the level of nature. We 
are animals, we are told, with a slightly greater reach 
of reason and a slightly "more complex central nerv- 
ous system" than the other brute creatures. But this 
is a palpable denial of the real stature of man's spirit. 
We may be only slightly more inventive than the 
most astute monkey. But there is, as far as we know, 
no Weltschmer'z in the soul of any monkey, no anxiety 
about what he is and ought to be, and no visitation 
from a divine accuser who "besets him behind and 
before" and from whose spirit he can not flee. There 
is among animals no uneasy conscience and no ambi- 
tion which tends to transgress all natural bounds and 
become the source of the highest nobility of spirit and 
of the most demonic madness. 

We are a mystery to ourselves in our weakness 
and our greatness 5 and this mystery can be resolved 
in part only as we reach into the height of the mys- 
terious dimension of the eternal into which the pin- 
nacle of our spiritual freedom seems to rise. The 
mystery of God resolves the mystery of the self into 
meaning. By faith we find the source of our life: "It 
is he that hath made us and not we ourselves." Here 
too we find the author of our moral duties: "He that 
judgeth me is the Lord." And here is the certitude 
of our fulfillment: "But then shall I know even as 
also I am known," declares St. Paul. This is to say 
that despite the height of our vision no man can com- 
plete the structure of meaning in which he is involved 



MYSTERY AND MEANING 163 

except as by faith he discerns that he "is known/' 
though he himself only "knows in part." The human 
spirit reaches beyond the limit of nature and does not 
fully comprehend the level of reality into which it 
reaches. Any interpretation of life which denies this 
height of reality because it ends in mystery gives a 
false picture of the stature of man. On the other hand 
any interpretation which seeks to comprehend the 
ultimate dimension by the knowledge and the sym- 
bols of the known world also gives a false picture of 
man. Such theologies obscure the finiteness of human 
knowledge. We see through a glass darkly when we 
seek to discern the divine ground and end of human 
experience 5 we see only by faith. But by faith we 
do see. 



IV 

The source of the evil in us is almost as mysterious 
as the divine source and the end of our spiritual life, 
"O Lord," cried the prophet, "why hast thou made 
us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from 
thy fear?" 1 We desire the good and yet do evil. In 
the words of St. Paul, "I delight in the law of God 
after the inward man: but I see another law in my 
members, warring against the law of my mind." 2 The 
inclination to evil, which is primarily the inclination 
to inordinate self-love, runs counter to our conscious 

1 Isa. 63:17. a Rom. 7:22-23. 



j 64 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

desires. We seem to be betrayed into it. "Now if I 
do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but 
sin that dwelleth in me," 3 declares St. Paul, in trying 
to explain the powerful drift toward evil in us against 
our conscious purposes. There is a deep mystery here 
which has been simply resolved in modern culture. It 
has interpreted man as an essentially virtuous crea- 
ture who is betrayed into evil by ignorance, or by evil 
economic, political, or religious institutions. These 
simple theories of historical evil do not explain how 
virtuous men of another generation created the evil 
in these inherited institutions, or how mere ignorance 
could give the evil in man the positive thrust and 
demonic energy in which it frequently expresses itself. 
Modern culture's understanding of the evil in man 
fails to do justice to the tragic and perplexing aspect 
of the problem. 

Orthodox Christianity on the other hand has fre- 
quently given a dogmatic answer to the problem^ 
which suggests mystery, but which immediately ob- 
scures the mystery by a dogmatic formula. Men are 
evil, Christian orthodoxy declared, because of the "sin 
of Adam" which has been transmitted to all men. 
Sometimes the mode of transmission is allowed to 
remain mysterious 5 but sometimes it is identified with 
the concupiscence in the act of procreation. This dog- 
matic explanation has prompted the justified protest 
and incredulity of modern man, particularly since it 

3 Rom. 7:20. 



MYSTERY , AND MEANING 165 

is generally couched in language and symbols taken 
from a pre-scientific age. 

Actually there is a great mystery in the fact that 
man, who is so created that he can not fulfill his life 
except in his fellowmen, and who has some conscious- 
ness of this law of love in his very nature, should 
nevertheless seek so persistently to make his fellow- 
men the tools of his desires and the objects of his 
ambitions. If we try to explain this tendency toward 
self-love, we can find various plausible explanations. 
We can say it is due to the fact that man exists at the 
juncture of nature and spirit, of freedom and neces- 
sity. Being a weak creature, he is anxious for his life; 
and being a resourceful creature, armed with the guile 
of spirit, he seeks to overcome his insecurity by the 
various instruments which are placed at his disposal 
by the resources of his freedom. But inevitably the 
security which he seeks for himself is bought at the 
price of other men's security. Being an. insignificant 
creature with suggestions of great significance in the 
stature of his freedom, man uses his strength to hide 
his weakness and thus falls into the evil of the lust 
for power and self-idolatry. 

These explanations of man's self-love are plausible 
enough as far as they go. But they are wrong if they 
assume that the peculiar amphibious situation of man, 
being partly immersed in the time process and partly 
transcending it, must inevitably and necessarily tempt 
him to an inordinate self-love. The situation does 



1 66 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

not create evil if it is not falsely interpreted. From 
whence comes the false interpretation? There is thus 
great profundity in the biblical myth of the serpent 
who "tempted" Eve by suggesting that God was 
jealous of man's strength and sought to limit it. 
Man's situation tempts to evil, provided man is un- 
willing to accept the peculiar weakness of his crea- 
turely life, and is unable to find the ultimate source 
and end of his existence beyond himself. It is man's 
unbelief and pride which tempt to sin. And every such 
temptation presupposes a previous "tempter" (of 
which the serpent is the symbol). Thus before man 
fell into sin there was, according to Biblical myth, a 
fall of the devil in heaven. The devil is a fallen angel 
who refused to accept his rightful place in the scheme 
of things and sought a position equal to God. 

This then is the real mystery of evil; that it pre- 
supposes itself. No matter how far back it is traced in 
the individual or the race, or even preceding the his- 
tory of the race, a profound scrutiny of the nature of 
evil reveals that there is an element of sin in the 
temptation which leads to sin; and that, without this 
presupposed evil, the consequent sin would not neces- 
sarily arise from the situation in which man finds him- 
self. This is what Kierkegaard means by saying that 
"sin posits itself." This is the mystery of "original 
sin" about which Pascal truly observes that "without 
this mystery man remains a mystery to himself." 

Purely sociological and historical explanations of 



MYSTERY AND MEANING 167 

the rise of evil do not touch the depth of the mystery 
at all. Christian dogmatic explanations have some 
sense of it ; but they obscure it as soon as they have 
revealed it by their pat dogmatic formulae. In deal- 
ing with the problem of sin the sense of meaning is 
inextricably interwoven with the sense of mystery. 
We see through a glass darkly when we seek to under- 
stand the cause and the nature of evil in our own 
souls. But we see more profoundly when we know 
it is through a dark glass that we see than if we 
pretend to have clear light upon this profound prob- 
lem. 



The final mystery about human life concerns its 
incompleteness and the method of its completion. 
Here again modern culture has resolved all mystery 
into simple meaning. It believes that the historical 
process is such that it guarantees the ultimate fulfill- 
ment of all legitimate human desires. It believes that 
history, as such, is redemptive. Men may be frus- 
trated today, may live in poverty and in conflict, and 
may feel that they "bring their years to an end like a 
tale that is told." But the modern man is certain that 
there will be a tomorrow in which poverty and war 
and all injustice will be abolished. Utopia is the sim- 
ple answer which modern culture offers in various 
guises to the problem of man's ultimate frustration. 



1 68 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

History is, according to the most characteristic thought 
of modern life, a process which gradually closes the 
hiatus between what man is and what he would be. 
The difficulty with this answer is that there is no evi- 
dence that history has any such effect. In the collective 
enterprises of man, the progress of history arms the 
evil, as well as the good, with greater potency $ and 
the mystery of how history is to be brought to comple- 
tion, therefore, remains on every level of human 
achievement. It may in fact express itself more poi- 
gnantly in the future than in the past. 

Furthermore, there is no resolution of the problem 
of the individual in any collective achievement of 
mankind. The individual must continue to find the 
collective life of man his ultimate moral frustration, 
as well as his fulfillment. For there is no human 
society, and there can be none, the moral mediocrity 
of which must not be shocking to the individual's 
highest moral scruples. Furthermore, the individual 
dies before any of the promised collective comple- 
tions of history. 

But -this is not all. The problem of death is deeply 
involved with the problem of sin. Men die with an 
uneasy conscience and must confess with the Psalmist, 
"for we are consumed by thine anger and by thy 
wrath are we troubled." Any honest self -analysis must 
persuade us that we end our life in frustration not 
only because "our reach is beyond our grasp," i.e., 
because we are finite creatures with more than finite 



MYSTERY AND MEANING 169 

conceptions of an ultimate consummation of life, but 
also because we are sinners who constantly introduce 
positive evil into the operations of divine providence. 

The answer of Christian faith to this problem is 
belief in "the forgiveness of sin and life everlasting." 
We believe that only a power greater than our own 
can complete our incomplete life, and only a divine 
mercy can heal us of our evil. Significantly St. Paul 
adds this expression of Christian hope immediately to 
his confession that we see through a glass darkly. We 
see through a glass darkly now, "but then" we shall 
"see face to face." Now we "know in part" but "then" 
we shall know even as we are known. This Christian 
hope makes it possible to look at all the perplexities 
and mysteries of life without too much fear. 

In another context St. Paul declares: "We are per- 
plexed, but not unto despair." One might well divide 
the world into those who are not perplexed, those 
who are perplexed unto despair, and those who are 
perplexed but not unto despair. Those who are not 
perplexed have dissolved all the mysteries and per- 
plexities of life by some simple scheme of meaning. 
The scheme is always too simple to do justice to the 
depth of man's problem. When life reveals itself in 
its full terror, as well as its full beauty, these little 
schemes break down. Optimism gives way to despair. 
The Christian faith does not pretend to resolve all 
perplexities. It confesses the darkness of human sight 
and the perplexities of faith. It escapes despair never- 



1 7 o THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

theless because it holds fast to the essential goodness 
of God as revealed in Christ, and is therefore "per- 
suaded that neither life nor death are able to sepa- 
rate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus 
our Lord." 

It can not be denied, however, that this same Chris- 
tian faith is frequently vulgarized and cheapened to 
the point where all mystery is banished. The Chris- 
tian faith in heaven is sometimes as cheap as, and 
sometimes even more vulgar than, the modern faith in 
Utopia. It may be even less capable of expressing the 
final perplexity and the final certainty of faith. On 
this issue, as on the others we have considered, a faith 
which measures the final dimension of existence, but 
dissipates all mystery in that dimension, may be only 
a little better or worse than a shallow creed which 
reduces human existence to the level of nature. 

Our situation is that, by reason of the freedom of 
our spirit, we have purposes and ends beyond the 
limits of the finiteness of our physical existence. Faith 
may discern the certainty of a final completion of life 
beyond our power, and a final purging of the evil 
which we introduce into life by our false efforts to 
complete it in our own strength. But faith can not 
resolve the mystery of how this will be done. When 
we look into the future we see through a glass darkly. 
The important issue is whether we will be tempted 
by the incompleteness and frustration of life to de- 
spair; or whether we can, by faith, lay hold on the 



MYSTERY AND MEANING 171 

divine power and wisdom which completes what re- 
mains otherwise incomplete. A faith which resolves 
mystery too much denies the finiteness of all human 
knowledge, including the knowledge of faith. A faith 
which is overwhelmed by mystery denies the clues of 
divine meaning which shine through the perplexities 
of life. The proper combination of humility and trust 
is precisely defined when we affirm that we see, but 
admit that we see through a glass darkly. 

VI 

Our primary concern in this exposition of the 
Pauline text has been to understand the fact that the 
Christian faith is conscious of the penumbra of mys- 
tery which surrounds its conception of meaning. Yet 
in conclusion it must be emphasized that our faith can 
not be identified with poetic forms of religion which 
worship mystery without any conception of meaning. 
All such poetic forms of faith might well be placed 
in the category of the worship of the unknown God, 
typified in the religion which Paul found in Athens. 
In contrast to this religion Paul set the faith which is 
rooted in the certainty that the mysterious God has 
made Himself known, and that the revelation of His 
nature and purpose, apprehended by faith, must be 
declared: "Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship 
him declare I unto you." This declaration of faith 
rests upon the belief that the divine is not mere mys- 



172 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

tery, the heart of it having been disclosed to those 
who are able to apprehend the divine disclosure in 
Christ. It is by the certainty of that faith that St. Paul 
can confidently look toward a future completion of 
our imperfect knowledge: "Now I know in part, but 
then shall I know." The indication that faith regards 
the meaning, which has been disclosed, as victorious 
over the mystery of existence is the expression of a 
certain hope that "then shall I know." Faith expects 
that ultimately all mystery will be resolved in the 
perfect knowledge of God. 

Faith in a religion of revelation is thus distin- 
guished on the one side from merely poetic apprecia- 
tions of mystery, just as on the other side it is distin- 
guished from philosophies of religion which find the 
idea of revelation meaningless. Revelation is mean- 
ingless to all forms of rational religion which ap- 
proach the mystery of life with the certainty that 
human reason can at length entirely resolve the mys- 
tery. The Christian faith is the right expression of 
the greatness and the weakness of man in relation to 
the mystery and the meaning of life. It is an acknowl- 
edgment of human weakness, for, unlike "natural 
religion" and "natural theology," it does not regard 
the human mind as capable of resolving the enigma 
of existence because it knows that human reason is 
itself involved in the enigma which it tries to com- 
prehend. It is an acknowledgment of the greatness of 
the human spirit because it assumes that man is capa- 



MYSTERY AND MEANING 173 

ble of apprehending clues to the divine mystery and 
accepting the disclosure of the purposes of God which 
He has made to us. It is a confession at once of both 
weakness and strength, because it recognizes that the 
disclosures of the divine are given to man, who is 
capable of apprehending them, when made, but is not 
capable of anticipating them. 

According to the Christian faith there is a light 
which shineth in darkness j and the darkness is not able 
to comprehend it. Reason does not light that light} 
but faith is able to pierce the darkness and appre- 
hend it. 



X 



THE PEACE OF GOD 

"The -peace of God, which fasseth all under" 
standing, shall keep your hearts and- minds through 
Christ Jesus." Phil. 4:7. 



M, 



LAN lives in tumult and anxiety, seeking for peace* 
The greatness and freedom of the human spirit places 
his life beyond the dimension of nature and makes her 
peace an impossible security for him. The creatures of 
nature have an internal peace because they are what 
they are. They do not have to worry about becoming 
their true selves. Since all desires and hungers of 
brute creatures have a natural limit, the frictions and 
conflicts of the world of nature also move within defi- 
nite bounds. Nature may be red in tooth and clawj 
and life may feed on life. But the conflicts of nature 
do not exceed the bounds which are set in nature's 
economy. 

Man, on the other hand, has no natural peace either 
within or without. "Within are tumults and without 
are fears." The tumults within spring from human 
freedom. None of the impulses which regulate the 

174. 



THE PEACE OF GOD 175 

functions of animal existence operate in man without 
the intervention of his thought. They can be extended 
or repressed. They can not be organized into a living 
unity without the introduction of a unifying principle 
and center. What is that center to be? If man makes 
his life its own center, he destroys himself $ for his 
imagination reaches too far and his capacities are too 
great for self-sufficiency. But if the center of his life 
is to be beyond himself, where is that center to be? 
Man's anxieties and inner fears are prompted both 
by the abortive effort to center his life within himself 
and by the uneasiness of trying to find the true center 
beyond himself. 

The fact that there are no natural limits to human 
desires and ambitions makes man's relation to his 
fellowmen uneasy and full of discord. Man can not 
live without the support of his fellowmen 5 and he 
can not live truly without offering them his support. 
But this mutual relation is constantly disturbed by the 
inordinate claims which the self makes on the com- 
munity. The social peace of the community is thus an 
achievement of only the wisest statecraft which knows 
how to place social checks upon inordinate desires, and 
which is able to find the best available instruments 
for encouraging mutual tasks and discouraging preda- 
tory and inordinate desires. But even the wisest state- 
craft can not achieve the harmony within the human 
community which ants and bees possess by virtue of 
the instinctive direction of their mutual tasks. 



176 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

Man's unquiet and restless life is thus the fruit of 
his special freedom 5 and of the inevitable corruptions 
of that freedom by inordinate desire. But he can not 
accept this anxiety and friction as normal. All crea- 
tures, including man, must have peace. Harmony is 
the normal condition of all existence. All vitalities and 
centers of life in the whole creation were meant to 
exist in conformity with their own proper nature and 
in accord with all other creatures. For this reason 
man seeks after peace just as certainly as he also seeks 
after many ends incompatible with it. But what kind 
of peace is possible for man? How is he to find a 
peace which will not destroy his essential freedom? 
Which will not rob him of the unique dignity that 
distinguishes him from the brute creation? 

When we survey this fundamental human problem 
and explore its full dimension we come upon a per- 
plexing fact. We discover that every form of peace 
which is easily understood is not adequate for man. 
Only a peace "which passeth all understanding" is 
adequate. 

There are two forms of peace within the limits of 
understanding. The one is the peace of nature which 
leaves human freedom out of consideration; the 
other is the peace of human reason which is achieved 
by denying or obscuring the hopes, fears and ambi- 
tions, transcending reason, and the impulses and de- 
sires, lying below it. Both are simple forms of peace. 
Both are too simple. The peace of God, on the other 



THE PEACE OF GOD 177 

hand, is not simple. There is pain and sorrow in it. 
That at least is the peace of God which has been 
revealed in the cross of Christ. It passeth understand- 
ing to such a degree that the very revelation of it has 
been an offense to the wise. The wise men of the 
world have always pictured God as dwelling in a 
supernal serenity, in an Olympian equanimity, un- 
touched by the sorrows of the world and undisturbed 
by its tumults. The God who is revealed in Christ is 
not so easily understood. There is indeed peace in 
Him and with Him. He is the calm source from 
which all life springs and the serene end in which all 
life finds its fulfillment. But strangely and paradoxi- 
cally there is also sorrow and suffering in His heart, 
and it is by that sorrow and suffering that He finally 
overcomes the world's disquiet. 

This kind of peace is both difficult to understand 
and impossible to acquire by striving. That is why 
men would rather seek for the peace which is within 
the limits of understanding. Only, unfortunately, they 
are destroyed by that kind of peace. 

II 

Though the peace of nature is obviously a Paradise 
from which man has been expelled and which an 
angel with a flaming sword guards against his re- 
entry, history is filled with abortive efforts to return 
to that peace. In classical antiquity Democritus and 



i 7 8 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

Epicurus, Lucretius and Diogenes and many other 
wise men-, sought to beguile men from their inordi- 
nate ambitions by seeking to persuade them to return 
to nature and live within the limits of desire set by 
it. In the modern day the same abortive effort has 
been made, by the German romantics and the French 
naturalists, by Thoreau and Walt Whitman. The 
accents of the philosophy of romanticism have varied; 
but the general strategy is identical. The idea is that 
there is a peace of nature which man can claim as his 
own and be redeemed by it. 

These philosophies have a certain plausibility be- 
cause there is a provisionally therapeutic power in the 
peace of nature. Close communion with nature does 
quiet many a fear and tumult and exorcise many a 
devil of care. The poets of every age have discerned 
this power of nature: 

"The little cares that fretted me, 
I lost them yesterday, 
Among the fields above the sea, 
Among the winds at play, 
Among the lowing of the herds, 
The rustling of the trees, 
Among the singing of the birds, 
The humming of the bees." 1 

The peace of nature is provisionally therapeutic 
because the majesties and immensities of nature serve 

1 Anonymous, 



THE PEACE OF GOD 179 

to make the hopes and fears of the human heart 
slightly ridiculous, thus prompting man to shame for 
his pretensions. Furthermore the symphony of na- 
ture's various quiet melodies the swish of the grass, 
the singing of the birds, the lap of the water on the 
shore, the rustle of the leaves has a quieting effect 
upon the human spirit. They are sacramental re- 
minders of the ultimate peace which life must achieve. 
Within limits, they are even the means of grace for 
achieving such peace. 

But these ministries of nature are only tentative 
and provisional. Walt Whitman may glory in the 
animals who are so "peaceful and self-contained" and 
who "do not lie awake at nights fretting about their 
sins." But only a little reflection must make it appar- 
ent that bovine serenity would annihilate man, were 
he able to achieve it. The animal may be peaceful be- 
cause it is self-contained j but man is man precisely 
because he is not self-contained. His imagination 
sweeps the heavens and the ages 5 and all his capacities 
and needs are so intimately related to those of his 
fellows that self-sufficiency is an impossible source of 
equanimity for him. The peace of nature is the fruit 
of blindness which does not see beyond its little orbit; 
and of deafness that does not hear a cry of joy or 
pain beyond its little circle; and of satisfied hungers 
because they have definite limits. What is man to do 
with that kind of peace, since his eyes look beyond all 
horizons and fill him with forebodings of the meaning 



i8o THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

of the reality beyondj and since his ears are sensitive 
to all the noises of battle and all the pagans of victory 
all over the world j and since his spirit gives every 
hunger of the body an infinite dimension and every 
craving of the spirit a limitless scope? 

The peace of nature may persuade man of the 
desirability of serenity ; and it may even give him a 
foretaste of it. But it can not really quiet the human 
heart without destroying man's essential being. How 
can nature, which does not know what god it serves, 
help man, who is searching for God and is disquiet 
because he does not know whether he has found the 
real God, the true source and end of his existence }. or 
is anxious because he is darkly conscious of the fact 
that his preoccupation with self is an idolatrous form 
of worship, placing him under the judgment of the 
true God? 

Ill 

Another form of peace also within the limits of 
human understanding is supposed to be superior to 
the peace of nature. It is the peace of a quiet mind. 
The human mind is of course intimately and organ- 
ically related to the whole realm of human vitality. 
Human reason gives our animal purposes a wider, and 
sometimes a nobler, scope. Our rational faculties may 
also, as Aristotle observed, bring a certain order into 
the whole field of our vital impulses and organize 



THE PEACE OF GOD 181 

and restrain them according to the principle "in noth- 
ing too much." A certain degree of both inner and 
social peace can be achieved by the law of moderation. 
A prudent restraint upon every ambition and a cau- 
tious check upon every desire can serve to create a 
modicum of harmony within the self 5 and the check 
upon inordinate desire can serve to maintain peace 
with our fellowmen. 

But reason itself has no sure criterion of harmony 
beyond the canon of moderation. It can not determine 
the supreme loyalty of life. It can not organize life 
in the proper hierarchy of values. Even if it possessed 
the criteria to do so, it would not have the final power 
to moderate the passions. It might produce some cool 
and calculating discipline of life 5 but such a life would 
be as devoid of great heroic passion as of destructive 
mania. 

Whenever philosophers become aware of the im- 
potence of reason in its relation to power, desire and 
ambition, they tend to translate the ideal of a rational 
peace to a peace of detachment. Thus the Stoics re- 
garded the final and supreme good a form of 
equanimity (Atarama) in which the self is completely 
detached from all of its responsibilities, loyalties and 
affections, as well as from its hopes, fears and ambi- 
tions. This peace of mind is, in other words, not the 
peace of a real self, but of a mind detached from the 
self. Insofar as it is achieved the real self is destroyed. 
It is significant that both Stoicism and Platonism 



1 82 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

tended to develop this logic of detachment to a con- 
sistent mysticism in their latter forms. The final cul- 
mination of the process of detachment is a mysticism, 
in which the self seeks for the peace of an undiffer- 
entiated eternity and unity of being. This kind of 
peace is sometimes defined as "spiritual." If spirit is 
equated with reason this may be a correct definition. 
But if man's spirit is the synthesis of his vitality and 
his reason, the peace of detachment is not spiritual 
but ends in the destruction of the self as spirit. 

A purely rational peace is, in short, as destructive 
of the whole of man as the pure peace of nature. The 
peace of nature destroys the whole superstructure of 
human freedom. The peace of mind destroys man as 
a unity of body and mind, of vitality and freedom, of 
instinct and reason. 



IV 

There are religions which interpret the peace of 
God as the detached calm and passionless equanimity 
after which the Stoics and the mystics strive. There 
are indeed forms of the Christian faith which fail to 
understand that the peace of God which is revealed in 
the cross of Christ can not be equated with the peace 
of detachment. The God of the Bible is both" Creator 
and Redeemer. As Creator He is power as well as 
wisdom 5 as Redeemer He is merciful as well as holy. 
God does not therefore have a simple peace which 



THE PEACE OF GOD 183 

the mind can easily comprehend. Creativity involves 
disturbance and upheaval. To take the "things that 
are not and put to naught the things that are" means 
revolutionary activity. To suffer with sinners means 
pain. 

Christian orthodoxy has been rightly afraid o a 
too consistent emphasis upon the suffering of God. 
It has declared the doctrine, that God the Father 
suffers, to be a heresy (the heresy of "patripassion- 
ism"). Yet it has affirmed that God the Son suffers 
and that the Son and the Father are One. To insist on 
the distinction between the Majesty of the Father and 
the suffering of the Son, and yet to declare that the 
Father and the Son are one, is an effort to state, within 
the limits of human understanding, our comprehen- 
sion and our lack of comprehension of a form of peace 
which passeth understanding. If the suffering of God 
is emphasized too completely we arrive at the hereti- 
cal conception of a finite God who is frustrated by 
the inertia of some "given" stuff of reality. If the 
peace of God is defined too rationally, on the other 
hand, we arrive at a conception of a peace which is 
purchased at the price of detachment. To say that 
there is a final peace in the divine majesty and yet that 
the pinnacle of that majesty is a mercy which is in- 
volved in the sins and sorrows of the world is to speak 
beyond understanding 5 but not beyond the apprehen- 
sion of faith " y for faith rightly discerns the Father of 
the suffering Christ as the real source and end of all 



!8 4 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

human striving, and knows His peace to be the one 
form of serenity which does not destroy but which 
fulfills man in the completeness and the unity of his 
being. 

The peace of God is a peace of love. There is no 
simple peace in love. One need only to compare the 
ideals of Epictetus with the temper of the New Testa- 
ment to recognize that perfect detachment and perfect 
love are incompatible. The peace of love is the most 
perfect peace, because in it spirit is related to all of 
life. Yet it is a very imperfect peace because attach- 
ment to the pains and sorrows of others subject us, 
and even God, to those sorrows. That so imperfect a 
peace should also be the most perfect peace passes 
understanding. Yet it is the peace of God; and it is 
also the only possible peace for man. 

St. Paul, in the words of our text, expresses the hope 
that this kind of peace may guard the hearts and 
minds of Christian people. What does such a benedic- 
tion imply? How would our hearts be "kept" or 
"guarded" by such a peace? 

The "peace of God" for man is partly achieved by 
the emulation of God's love. Man is not so created 
that he can live his life in either calm detachment or 
cautious self-possession and moderation. He lives most 
truly according to his nature if his imagination, his 
sympathies, and his responsibilities draw him out of 
himself into the life of the community, into the 
needs, the hopes and aspirations of his fellows. But 



THE PEACE OF GOD 185 

this self-realization through love is not something 
which can be achieved by taking thought. It is not 
possible if we regard love as a law which must be 
obeyed* Love is indeed the law of life; but it is most 
surely obeyed when we are not conscious of obedience 
to any law. It is obeyed when the sorrows of others 
arouse our sympathies, when their needs prompt us to 
forget our own needs and meet those of opr friends 
and neighbors. We become most truly ourselves when 
we forget ourselves , for it is preoccupation with self 
which prematurely arrests the growth of the self and 
confines it to too narrow limits. The peace of love is 
thus the ultimate peace of being or becoming what 
we truly are: creatures who do not live in and for 
themselves, but find themselves in the life of the 
community, and finally in God. Obviously, however, 
this ultimate peace of love is filled with pain and sor- 
row. It is aware not only of its own pains but also of 
those of others. The anxious mother keeping a night- 
watch over the bed of a sick child has no peace within 
the limits of understanding. That kind of peace be- 
longs to those who sleep soundly because they have no 
responsibility for any ailing creature. Yet there can 
be in the heart of that mother a peace which passeth 
understanding. Above, beyond, and yet within her 
anxieties and apprehensions there can be a peace which 
is the fruit of her complete devotion to the child and 
the consequence of her fulfillment of the nature and 
the responsibilities of motherhood. 



1 86 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

The servants of the needy who embody the various 
ministries of mercy, doctors and visiting nurses, social 
workers and champions of social justice, pastors and 
all other ministers of need can not have the peace 
which Epictetus sought after. They become too deeply 
involved in the suffering to which they minister. Yet 
the most sensitive spirits of every age have rightly 
sought after such vocations and found happiness in 
them. They have experienced the joys which are 
"three parts pain"} and have touched the fringes of 
the mystery of the peace of God. 



It is, however, idle to assume that human society 
could ever be completely knit together by the perfec- 
tion of love in which each carries the burdens of all, 
and the anxieties of each are quieted by the solicitude 
of all. That is the vision of the Kingdom of God, of 
the Kingdom of perfect love, which hovers as a possi- 
bility and yet impossibility over all human life. Ac- 
tually the perfect accord between life and life is 
constantly spoiled by the inordinate concern of each 
life for its own weal. So pervasive is this self-love 
that it is sometimes most dangerously expressed when 
we think we are serving the needs of others 5 but when 
really we desire to keep the affairs of others in our 
power. Human society is full of the friction of cross 
purposes. The conflict of interest and passion between 



THE PEACE OF GOD 187 

races, classes, nations, and individuals can be arbi- 
trated into a tolerable harmony by wise statesmanship 
and astute methods of adjudication and arbitration 5 
but the peace of the world is always, as St. Augustine 
observed, something of an armistice between opposing 
factions. There is no perfect social harmony in human 
history, no peace within the limits of understanding. 
The only possible peace within and between human 
communities is the peace of forgiveness. It is not a 
peace of perfect accord of life with life, but a peace 
which is established beyond the frictions of life. And 
this is a peace beyond understanding. Moralists are 
always outraged by the idea of forgiveness. They 
think that it condones evil and is indulgent toward the 
evil doer. But moralists never fully recognize how 
much the judgment of the righteous upon the evil 
doer is below the ultimate and divine judgment. It 
is the judgment of an unrighteous self upon his fel- 
lows. There are of course legitimate judgments of the 
relatively righteous upon the unrighteous. But even 
when the unrighteous are as obviously so, as were the 
recent barbarian rebels against civilization, there is no 
vantage point in history from which a simple judg- 
ment against them can be pronounced. Reconciliation 
with even the most evil foe requires forgiveness ^ and 
forgiveness is possible only to those who have some 
recognition of common guilt. The pain of contrition is 
the root of the peace of forgiveness. The forgiveness 
of God is the readiness of guiltlessness to bear the 



i88 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

sin of the guilty. There is an element of this vicari- 
ousness in human forgiveness also. Yet a too con- 
scious righteousness never achieves real forgiveness 
toward an enemy. It is. too anxious to censure the evil 
in the foe 5 and too oblivious of its own sins. The 
capacity for forgiveness in man is therefore drawn 
both from the highest forms of loving righteousness 
and from the consciousness of common guilt. Forgive- 
ness can not be achieved out of a sense of duty; for it 
is a form of love which transcends all law and is an 
offense to the makers and keepers of the law. 

Yet it is the only ultimate answer to the complexi- 
ties of human relations. We will face foes, as well as 
friends, to the end of history. There are men and 
nations, groups and classes who prize what we abhor, 
whose interests run counter to our own, and whose 
conception of the good contradicts our sense of values. 
If there were no canons of righteousness by which 
conflicting ideas and values could be judged, human 
society would be a sea of relativity, a complete anarchy 
of values and interests* There are indeed proximate 
standards of justice and virtue by which society judges 
the most explicit forms of vice and rebellion against 
order. But there are no perfectly disinterested judges: 
all of them are partially involved in the contest of life 
with life which their judgments seek to arbitrate. 
They are interested participants in the conflict which 
they seek to compose. Insofar as they are righteous 
and just but without mercy, they may repress evil but 



THE PEACE OF GOD 189 

they can not induce true repentance in the evil doer. 
Insofar as they are righteous, but unconscious of their 
own unrighteousness that is, insofar as they pretend 
to a divine and impartial justice, when in fact they 
are men who are engaged in an interested conflict 
with the enemy their pretension of virtue is a temp- 
tation to cynicism rather than repentance in the foe. 
One of the tragic aspects of our contemporary situa- 
tion is the fact that the self-righteousness of victorious 
nations, who pose as the executors of a divine and 
ultimate judgment, and who consciously and uncon- 
sciously obscure their interests in using punishment 
as a way of maiming the foe's power of competition 
with them in the struggle of life, prevents the re- 
pentance of the foe. 

The peace of forgiveness is thus doubly beyond 
understanding. The roots of it lie in combination of 
vicarious love and consciousness of sin, which is be- 
yond the understanding of all righteous, and inevi- 
tably self-righteous, men and nations. It is possible 
only to those who by faith know themselves under a 
judgment which* in its final dimension can make no 
distinction between the self and the enemy, or be- 
tween the righteous and the unrighteous man. The 
power and source of this peace is beyond understand- 
ing, but is understood by faith. The effect of it is also 
beyond understanding, in the sense that it is a peace 
within strife, reconciliation within friction. Its highest 
perfection is achieved at precisely the point where 



190 THE SIGNS OF THE^TIMES 

# 

no one imagines that there is a possibility within the 
sinful conditions of history to find a perfect accord of 
life with life, or to achieve a vantage point of disinter- 
ested love from which others, but not the self, could 
be accused of breaking the peace. 

VI 

If the peace of God which passeth understanding 
keeps our hearts it will infuse them not only with 
the peace of forgiving but with the peace of being for- 
given. All efforts to arrive at internal peace by moder- 
ating passions and desires, or by developing a rational 
detachment from passion and desire, are only provi- 
sionally efficacious. Man is a creature of infinite de- 
sires y and the longing for the impossible is the root of 
both man's greatness and his misery. In Herman 
Melville's classic, Moby Dick, the instinct for caution, 
moderation and the prudential virtues Is symbolically 
identified with the land 5 and the impulse toward the 
infinite is typified by man's longing for the shoreless 
expanses of the sea. "In this landlessness," declares 
Melville, "alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, 
indefinite as God" and he thinks it is better to "perish 
in the howling infinite" than "craven crawl to land," 
But he is also conscious that the yearning for the 
infinite is the source of the greatest evil as well as of 
the highest in man. Ahab, the seafaring hero of Moby 
y achieves an integrity and greatness which is 



THE PEACE OF GOD 191 

beyond the limits of landlocked prudence. But his 
boundless ambitions also result in a megalomaniac at- 
tempt to destroy the mutual dependence between 
men, a^d to achieve a solitary and independent glory. 

Melville's modern exposition of the Promethean 
theme was not appreciated in his day because it 
was addressed to a generation and a culture which 
had given itself to the illusion that it had confined 
all the vitalities of human existence within the canons 
of prudence and common sense. The real situation 
is that the miseries as well as the glories of man's life 
are the fruit of his boundlessness. The desire of man 
to be related to the whole of life, to give himself to 
the widest and greatest cause, to sacrifice himself for 
the highest good, to search after and to know the 
eternity in which God dwells, is the creative force 
which breaks the little conventionalities and respect- 
able conformities of life. But the same boundlessness 
also tempts man to bring the whole of life under his 
own dominion and to make himself the idolatrous 
center of the whole scheme of things. If it were pos- 
sible to separate the two desires absolutely, one might 
have a guarantee of peace. Peace would be the ful- 
fillment of man's infinite purposes: though such a 
peace would not be too simple, for how are boundless 
possibilities to be realized? 

But actually the human situation is more compli- 
cated. The love of God and the love of self are curi- 
ously intermingled in life. The worship of God and 



1 92 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

the worship of self confronts us in a multitude o 
different compounds. There is a taint of sin in our 
highest endeavors. How shall we judge the great 
statesman who gives a nation its victorious courage 
by articulating its only partly conscious and implicit 
resources of fortitude 5 and who mixes the most ob- 
vious forms of personal and collective pride and arro- 
gance with this heroic fortitude? If he had been a 
more timid man, a more cautious soul, he would not 
have sinned so greatly, but neither would he have 
wrought so nobly. 

The perplexing mixture of good and evil in human 
history can not be solved by a complacent attitude 
toward the evil which is mixed with the good. In 
that case the evil would grow to intolerable propor- 
tions. Nor can the evil be eliminated even by the 
most precise distinctions of the moralists. Every effort 
to do so creates a form of Christian perfectionism in 
which the meaningful responsibilities of life are 
finally disavowed. The kinship between Christian 
asceticism and oriental forms of life-detachment is 
-significant* 

The only possible peace for man, thus involved in 
the contradictions of existence, is the peace of being 
forgiven. This is no complacent peace which condones 
the taint of evil in us. It knows that the evil costs God 
dearly. But neither is it a peace which prematurely 
arrests the creative urges of life for the sake of a 
tranquillity, or which denies the responsibilities of the 



THE PEACE OF GOD 193 

self toward others for fear of becoming soiled in ful- 
filling our duty. It is a peace in which an uneasy con- 
science is curiously compounded with an easy con- 
science. This peace rests upon the faith that God is 
great enough and good enough to resolve the contra- 
diction in which human life stands j and that His 
mercy is the final resource of His power, by which 
He overcomes the rebellion of man against his 
creator. 

The moralists always discount this peace because 
it passes understanding. They want the peace of an 
easy conscience, which has known and has done its 
duty. But such a peace always degenerates into a com- 
placent peace, which rests prematurely on its achieve- 
ments, while some duty remains undone and some 
responsibility unacknowledged. If on the other hand 
the boundless and unlimited character of our respon- 
sibilities should become apparent to the moralist, and 
if he should become fully conscious of the taint of 
self-love which corrupts even our highest moral 
achievements, he is driven to despair by the disclo- 
sure. All forms of simple moralism, whether Chris- 
tian or pagan, move between the poles of compla- 
cency and despair. They pretend to a peace which 
does not acknowledge the residual chaos in the human 
soul 5 or they are overcome by that chaos. 

The peace of Christian faith passes understanding 
because it is God's peace, transferred to us. It is the 
peace of having and yet not having the perfection of 



i 9 4 THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES 

Christ j of having it only by grace and yet having it 
the more surely for not pretending that we have it 
as a right. This peace will offend both rationalists and 
moralists till the end of history, because it does not 
conform to the simple canons of either rationality or 
morality. But it alone does justice to the infinite com- 
plexities and contradictions of human existence. 
Within this peace all of life's creative urges may be 
expressed and enlarged. There is therefore no simple 
calm in it. It is as tumultuous as the ocean, and yet 
as serene as the ocean's depths, which bear the tu- 
mults and storms of the surface. 

It is the only peace which does not destroy but 
fulfills all human powers. In that peace we under- 
stand that man's life in history is fragmentary and 
frustrated precisely because it is boundless and un- 
limited. 





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