Is our God a failure?

by Alan Burns

To make death endless is virtually to immortalize mortality. To make sin eternal is to elevate the foul monster to the rank of necessary existence. That the Universe in its final cycle must find room for the inclusion within it of some super-Dantean Inferno, is a thought which jars our ideas of a consummated creation. That the completed Universe must contain a cemetery for the dead of the eons does not match with our conception of what completeness means.

It will, of course, be rightly remarked that the truthfulness of a doctrine does not depend upon its thinkability; but the presumption is in favor of all truth in a rational creation being reasonable. Reason is the preservative which keeps faith from degenerating into superstition. Indeed, the large absence of reason from the beliefs of Protestant Christendom has lowered it to being little more than a kind of evangelical Catholicism.

That there is nauseating antagonism between the reason God gave, and the doctrines that man made, is evident to all. The problem of theology consists in the unreconcilability of the two. The horrors of the human creeds have sprung not from man's reason but from his religiousness, which seems to have been mostly exercised in a denial of the rationalism of his nature. We have more need to fear our under-use than our over-use of reason. Our beliefs suffer from its defect rather than its excess,

The terrible dogma of endless torment demands for its acceptance an entire suspension of man's reasoning powers. It annihilates at once all human conception of final harmony in the universe. It distorts the idea of God into a fearful dream of an omnipotent Ogre. It defies thought. It destroys faith. It creates superstition.

The mistake which the orthodox make in imputing endlessness to torment, is duplicated by those who attribute it to the alternative doctrine of destruction. In both instances the divine triumph over evil beings is not a triumph. In such a supposed outcome of God's dealings with obdurate rebels, the supposition of their endless suffering, or their total eradication, might be considered as satisfying every element in the divine wrath, but can hardly be taken as satisfying any element in the divine love.

The premise that man may come to a state of obduracy from which God cannot retrieve him, a condition in which God can do no more for him, then the annihilation of such a hopelessly miserable being, would certainly represent the atrophy of divine wisdom, and the bankruptcy of God. Our God is not merely a God of Good Intentions, an Amiable Adventurer. The religion whose salvation is offered to the man who will "do the best he can" for God, pronounces damnation on the sinner from the God who can but "do the best He can" for man. The God "of whom, and through whom, and to whom are all," and who worketh all after the counsel of His own will' must necessarily be a foreigner to such a make-shift system of theology.

If in the universe of such a Creator such a catastrophe may leap to His creatures, then it must happen by design. It must come from His deliberate intention to produce such a hopeless, miserable condition. The horrid slur which such a thought would cast on the name of God is not involved in the Biblical view of destiny. It distorts the moral features of the Creator into the monstrous likeness of a fiend. We cannot worship where we cannot love, and such conceptions of the Eternal must inevitably sap the vitalities of worship, By lessening the lovability of the worshipped One.

Suffice it to remark that these catastrophic views of God and man are all based of necessity upon the sovereignty of the human will, rather than the divine. It puts the final determination of life's issues into the hands of the creature, and relegates to the Creator the position of being, at most, a well-wishing Spectator of the event. The hands of God are thus tragically tied while man commits suicide in His presence. Such painful aspects of this doctrine - so plainly self-evident - must surely prove distressing to its firmest advocates.

The vision of God has become more glorious to us as the years have rolled by. It has been enlarged and intensified by truer conceptions of the Father of spirits. Our "Magnificat" is not in praise of man, but of Him Who was, Who is, and Who is yet to come. God never has a headache. He is never worried as we worry when our plans go wrong, for the simple reason that His plans never do. In the working out of the divine plans there are no contingencies. All history is pregnant with the guiding counsel of the ALL-Wise. His purposes never fall or cave in. They never collapse. No disaster may ever attend the undertakings of God. He is Sovereign Lord. An experiment is an experiment because of its possible failure. God never fails; hence He makes no experiments.

The doctrine of annihilation discounts our conceptions of the divine Wisdom. In a little village school a lad has been given a sum in arithmetic by his teacher. He grapples with the task of finding the solution. After hours of efforts, during which the problem's answer continues to elude his eager search, he gives up the attempt. The sum is beyond his ability to work out; and so, defeated, with his sponge he removes the problem from his slate. When our theology involves the possibility of man becoming an unanswerable riddle to Deity, and when the annihilationist suggests that God's final action upon human problems is their destruction, then we have lowered the thought of Omniscience to something kin to a baffled, boyish brain. The difference between the two is one of degree.

And, in conclusion, we may perhaps best say, that if the divine interference is absolutely necessary for the salvation of any creature, it must also be necessary for the salvation of EVERY creature; and the fact that in blessed Sovereignty He does thus save one of His creatures, is conclusive proof that He will also in due time save all of them, because if He thus saved some, and not others, a few and not all, then the Scripture which HE inspired would be nothing more than a lying mockery and deceit: "There is no respect of persons with God."

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