ESSAYS IN ORTHODOXY
Oliver Chase Quick
fairness to the reader it is well to state at the outset the limitations of the
task which we are undertaking.
Apologetic is not our primary aim.
Our purpose is not to prove nor even to estimate the evidence for the
Christian faith; rather it is to reach a clearer conception of its meaning and
application to life. We are trying, not
to defend against attack, but to elucidate in face of misunderstanding. In order to achieve this purpose it will be
necessary to show that the affirmations of the Christian faith may be true, but
not that they must be true, or even, except indirectly, that they are more
probably true than not.
illustration may serve to define the scope of our discussion. If it be proved that the conditions
obtaining on Mars are such that life cannot maintain itself there, we can no
longer retain any clear conception of living creatures supposed to exist on
Mars. Our imagination indeed may still,
in a sense, people the planet, diverting novels may still be written on the
assumption that Mars is inhabited; but if we recognise that those inhabitants
cannot be more than mere creatures of our fancy, we can no longer think of them
at all as really existing on Mars, for in order to do so we should have to
delude ourselves, so that they might appear to us to be more than merely
fanciful. If on the other hand the
evidence as to the habitability of Mars is simply inconclusive, even though the
balance of probability be on the negative side, we may still think of Martian
creatures as real, and attach a definite meaning to our description of
them. If, therefore, a real meaning is
to be attached to the Christian faith, it must be shown that it may be true,
not necessarily that it is true. Our
discussions therefore will trench upon the sphere of apologetics, but only to
the extent of showing the failure of attempts to prove that our faith is false.
this task is by no means so trivial as our illustration would seem to
indicate. For if we show that the
Christian faith may be true, we have already gone much further towards
establishing its truth, than we should go towards establishing the existence of
life on Mars, merely by showing its possibility. For in the case of Martian inhabitants we can be content to
suspend our judgement. The question
does not very vitally concern the man in the street. The answer to it, whatever it be, need not make any difference to
the thoughts and actions of his daily life.
Far otherwise is it with the affirmations of the Christian faith. If God exists as an Almighty and all-loving
Creator and Father; then that fact has an immediate bearing upon every careless
moment which a man spends or wastes. He
cannot afford to suspend his judgement, nay, he cannot really suspend his
judgement at all, for every moment he must think and act either as though the
Christian faith were true, or as though it were false. The question about the existence of the
Christian God is vitally and continually relevant, the
about the existence of Mr. Wells’s Martians is not. But we must observe that this vital relevance of God’s existence
depends upon our attributing to that existence a definite character and
meaning. The existence of an Epicurean
god, who does not interfere with the world, or of a Hegelian absolute, which
cannot, is hardly more relevant to common life than the existence of a
Martian. This consideration is of the
first importance and has too often been ignored. Christian apologists have laid too much stress on “proofs” of
God’s existence which leave His nature and character vague. They have forgotten that if the Christian
conception of God’s character can be made clear and credible, then the
practical facts of life will inevitably force a decision as to its truth; and
it is really not obscure which way the sinner who feels his need, and the saint
who strives after goodness, will in the long run decide. It is much more important to show that the
Christian God may exist and what His existence means, than to show that some
God does exist, while the meaning of that existence is still shrouded in
is much truth in Tolstoy’s contention, that for a man to argue about the
existence of the Christian God is as though a drowning man should argue about
the strength of a rope which is flung to him.
The drowning man sees what appears to be a rope, recognises the chance
of safety which it offers, and snatches it, content to let the issue settle
whether it is strong enough to bear his weight. Similarly any human soul, which understands its own distress, if
it apprehends the meaning of the gospel, will seize hold on it, content to let
the issue settle whether it is true.
Our task is to show that the Christian faith offers to man’s soul what
may prove to be a rope of salvation.
Perhaps the first task even of an apologetic writer should be rather to
prove to man that he is drowning, than to prove that the rope must be strong
enough to save him. A man can and will
settle this latter point for himself.
Possibly all that theory of any kind can ever do towards establishing
the Christian faith is to make clear its meaning and its relevance; its
verification must be left to experience.