“SEEKING GOD” IS A DANGEROUS UNDERTAKING …

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Excerpted from The Way, The Truth, and The Life by J.R. MacPhail.  London: Oxford University Press (1954)

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…the only religion worth discussing is personal religion, the religion of a ‘living God’; and, second, that there are some reasons for at least discussing the question with an open mind. Is the argument sound so far? Is there any case [in support and favoring this proposition] going on?

Of course there are many people, some of them wise and good, who don’t think so. They think, or feel, that the case must be dismissed as ‘not proven’; they are content to remain ‘agnostics’, or not-knowers. All that can be said of them is that an agnostic is not being neutral: he is taking sides. He is deciding either that God doesn’t exist or can’t be known, or else that the question doesn’t matter. In some contexts it is right to keep one’s mind open and to suspend judgement, how­ever difficult it may be. But in others it is wrong. A man who falls in love, or has to choose a career, will find that if he doesn’t make up his mind to decide, he has decided without making up his mind. And surely our question about God is one that deserves to be decided; and anyway decision is inescapable.

If, then, there is a case for going forward, the next step is a big one. It is one thing to read a critical in­troduction to a book of poems, and another thing to launch out on the poems for ourselves. It is one thing to conclude from the spoor at the mouth of a cave that there’s a lion inside, and another thing to go and see. The man who looks into religion for himself may find that he can’t simply add one or two new ideas to the ones he now gets on with so comfortably, he must change his whole way of life as well as of thinking; it is as if he had been playing with a bomb. As C. S. Lewis puts it (Miracles, p. 113), ‘It is always shocking to meet life when we thought we were alone. “Look out!” we cry, “it’s alive”. . . . There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (Man’s search for God) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?’

Even at the outset, in religious thinking, we must make ready if need be to commit ourselves, and to find that we are no longer judging God, it is God who is judging us. Thinking about God may lead to knowing about Him, and knowing about Him may lead to know­ing Him.

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