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GOD — His Nature And Relation To The Universe
by A. A. Hodge
THREE questions obviously lie at the foundation, not only of all man's religious knowledge, but of every possible form of knowledge:
1. Is there a God?
2. What is God?
3. What is God's relation to the universe?
And if he does sustain a relation to the universe which is in any degree intelligible to us, a fourth question emerges:
4. What is the sphere, nature, and extent of his providential action upon or in reference to his creatures?
The answer to the first question, as to the fact of God's existence, we propose to assume as granted. The most certain of all truths is the existence of God.
I. The second question, therefore, presents itself: WHAT DO WE KNOW AS TO THE ESSENTIAL NATURE OF GOD?
God reveals himself to us through the simultaneously concurrent action of two sources of knowledge, neither of which could give us the information separately. We are, each one, immediately conscious that we are intelligent, moral, voluntary agents and true causes. This, and all that this involves, comes to us by consciousness. It is the most immediate and certain of all knowledge, and that upon which all other knowledge rests; and we give definite expression to this self-knowledge when we call ourselves spirits and persons.
It is precisely this, and nothing else, that we mean by the words 'spirit' and 'person.' When we come to look upon the course of external nature, to reflect upon our own origin and history internal and external, and upon the history of the human race and the life of the general community of which we form a part, we immediately and indubitably discern everywhere the presence and control of a Being like ourselves in kind. In that intelligible order which pervades the infinite multiplicity and heterogeneity of events, and which makes science possible, we see and certainly know the presence of intelligence, of personal will, of moral character -- that is, of all that is connoted by our common term 'personal spirit.'
God is seen to be of common generic character with ourselves. The great difference we see is that, while we are essentially limited in respect to time or space or knowledge or power, God, the personal agent we see at work in nature and history, is essentially unlimited in all these respects. The only reason that so many students of natural science have found themselves unable to see God in nature, is that their absorption in nature has made them lose sight of their own essential personality.
Hence they have attempted to interpret the phenomena of self-consciousness in the terms of mechanical nature, instead of interpreting nature under the light of self-conscious spirit. But the scientist, after all, comes before his science, the reader before the book he deciphers. And the intelligibility of nature proves its intelligent source, and the essential likeness of the Author of nature, who reveals himself in his work, and of the interpreter of nature, who retraces his processes and appreciates alike the intellectual and the artistic character of his design.
Since God is infinite, of course a definition of him is impossible. Obviously, no bounds can be drawn around the boundless. God can be known only so far forth as he has chosen to reveal himself. And being essentially infinite, every side and element of his nature is infinite, and every glimpse we have of his being involves the outlying immensity or the transcendent perfection which cannot be known, But since we have been created in his likeness, and since we discern him in all his works as, like ourselves, an intelligent and moral personal spirit, we can define our idea of him by stating (1) the genus, or kind, to which he is known to belong, and (2) the differentia, or differences, which distinguish him from all other beings of that kind.
The best, definition of the idea of God ever given is constructed on this principle. First, as to his kind: God is a personal Spirit, Second, as to his difference from all other spirits: God is infinite, eternal, unchangeable, and in all his moral attributes absolutely perfect; and he is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable alike in his being, in his wisdom, in his power, etc., etc.
First, as to his kind. God is a personal Spirit. We mean by this precisely what we mean when we affirm that we ourselves are personal spirits. This conception comes wholly from consciousness, and it is absolutely certain. We see, and know God, as manifested in his activities alike in the whole world within us and around us as far as the remotest star, to be another of the same kind with ourselves. We know ourselves to be intelligent causes. We see him likewise to be an intelligent Cause, and the original, the absolute, and the perfect One.
In applying this law in constructing our idea of God, we proceed according to three principles of judgment:
1. That of causality. We judge the nature of every cause from what we see of its effects; we judge the character of every author from what we read of his works, So the manifold works of God; past and present, physical and spiritual, reveal his nature as First Cause.
2. That of negation. We deny of him all those attributes and conditions the possession of which involves imperfection -- for example, materiality, bodily parts or passions, the limitations of time or space.
3. That of eminence. We attribute to him all that is found to be excellent in ourselves, in absolute perfection and in unlimited degree.
Second. This leads, necessarily, to the discrimination, in the second place, of those properties which distinguish God from all other personal spirits.
(1.) We know ourselves as causes: we can really originate new things. But we are dependent and limited causes. We did not originate, and we cannot sustain, ourselves. We can put forth our causal energy only under certain conditions, and we can bring to pass only a very limited class of effects. But God as a cause is absolutely independent and unlimited. He is the uncaused First Cause of all things. He is an eternal and necessary Being who has his own cause in himself. He is not only the first link in the chain of causation, but he is the everywhere present sustaining and actuating basis of all dependent existence and the originating con-cause in all causation, because we and all other dependent causes act only as we live and move and have all our being in him.
(2.) We know ourselves always and necessarily as existing, thinking, and acting under the limitations of time and space; we can think or act only under these limitations. But God necessarily transcends all these limitations, and condescends to them only on occasion, at his own pleasure, in the way of self-limitation.
We began to be at a definite period in the past. We continue to exist and to think and to act through a ceaseless succession of moments, the present, moment ever emerging out of the past and emerging into the future. But God is without beginning or succession or end. All duration, past, present, and future, is always equally comprehended in his infinite consciousness as the ETERNAL Now.
We are in space definitely, and are surrounded by it, and pass from one position to another through all the intermediate portions of space in succession. But God fills all space: not by extension, like the water of the sea or as the atmosphere; not by multiplication, nor by rapid movement, like an ubiquitous general along the line of his army; not as represented by his agents, as the head of an army or state may be said to be, and to act wherever his agents carry out his orders; not by his knowledge or his power merely, as when an astronomer may be said to be in thought wherever his telescope points, or a great sovereign to reign wherever his laws are obeyed.
But by reason of his own infinite perfection, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are in their whole undivided being present at every point of space at every moment of time. The whole God is always everywhere: within all things, acting from within outward from the center of every atom, and from the innermost springs of the life and thought and feeling and will of every spirit; without all things, embracing them as an infinite abyss, and acting upon them in a thousand ways from without.