“The sun knoweth his going down”—PSALM 104:19

“Time, that takes a survey of all the world,” wrote Shakespeare, “must have a stop.” No one has ever doubted that the pendulum of each individual life must some day fail to hit its full arc, and fall motionless. But today there is an astonishingly widespread feeling that in a larger sense the corporate life of all men, human history, is reaching some kind of culmination or cataclysm. The dizzying acceleration of events, coupled with the incalculable growth of power and no balancing growth of wisdom, has created a feeling that man’s influence on his destiny is cracking or already shattered. The belief is growing that the Bible’s view of human history as linear, with a beginning, middle, and end, may have some truth in it.

The voices of the complacent (“since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning …”) have little conviction, and the faces of the prophets of automatic human progress wear strained smiles. True, the old mottoes are still sometimes heard, chiefly those predicting the elimination or reduction of the human problem through technology, or computers, or drugs, and to doubt this is still to open oneself to the charge of pessimism. But beneath the surface one finds in most people a profound disquiet. Perhaps the following statement is too strong, but one rather sympathizes with its mood: “We confront several problems,” it was recently asserted, “which are absolutely predictable, absolutely unavoidable, and absolutely disastrous.” (Mentioned were the population explosion, pollution of the planet, proliferation of atomic weapons, and depletion of natural resources. Not mentioned: sin.)

When, in Housman’s phrase, to think is to lay one’s hand upon his heart, it is natural to try to block off the troublesome message of reason, and to live viscerally, unthinkingly, emotionally, passionately. “O for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts!” cried Keats, though he had no conception of the aid in this direction man would find in the electric guitar and the weird realm of psychedelia.

So to live, however, requires that one put his entire trust in this flesh and this world, both demonstrably slaves of time—and it is sometimes hard to hear the music over the ticking of the clock. It is, indeed, difficult to comply merrily with the injunction to “love that well which thou must leave ere long.” Worse yet, it requires that one retreat into himself, the smallest prison possible, and the loneliest. And worst of all, it requires that death be embraced as the only ultimate reality, for such a life must, if the inescapable fact is faced, be defined as death. Only that which is not born is not subject to death. The first moment of biological life is a movement toward biological death, with only a quantitative element, time, intervening, an element that, no matter how prolonged, is incapable of altering one whit the qualitative fact of death.

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It may be objected that this is needlessly melancholy talk, probably the product of poor metabolism, lack of vitamins, or some other condition easily alleviated by diet and exercise. But the facts remain, and they have haunted man from the beginning of his existence on this earth. The most enduring monuments of his literature, those in which he most deeply expressed himself, are composed in a minor key. Indeed, it has often been pointed out that the greatest literary works of the greatest writers from the ancients to the moderns have expressed a tragic (a term not synonymous with despairing) view of man. This is also the Bible’s view, for at the heart of tragedy is the theme of the fall of a great one owing to a basic moral flaw. Investing the mood with hope and grandeur is the possibility of victory, of redemption, even if the glimpse, in secular works, be so faint as that in the cry the dying Lear utters, with Cordelia in his arms, thinking he sees life: “Look on her! look! her lips! Look there, look there!” A corrective to Kent’s “All’s cheerless, dark, and deadly.”

The foregoing lines have had a single purpose: to provide a frame of reference in which to assert the total and unique relevance of the Bible to man in his every dimension, and to plead in these dangerous and perhaps climactic days that all hear and obey the word of God graciously commanding, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isa. 45:22).

It is a cause of continuing astonishment to the Christian that the words and works of God are so seemingly invisible and inaudible to the world. And yet he knows the reason for that, too: sin, the common lot of all men, hardens the heart and makes rigid the mind in stubborn refusal even to look to God, much less to turn in obedience to him, willing to receive his mercy and love. How hard it was for the prodigal son, even in his hunger, enslavement, and misery, finally to say, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee.…” Yet how untiring and persistent is the invitation to return—“I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts” (Isa. 65:2). “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” (Ezek. 33:11).

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The most poignant and futile question a person asks himself is usually an echo of that query, “Why?”—“Why did I do this?” or “Why did I not do that?” In retrospect one sees that the moment came when one could have taken the action, made the decision, that would have altered a timeless future. And one sees, in retrospect, with what folly that moment was dismissed in the hope that another, more propitious, moment would come. But none did, and “What might have been is an abstraction/Remaining a perpetual possibility/Only in a world of speculation,” as Eliot expresses it in “Burnt Norton.” There is no record that those at Athens who told the Apostle Paul, “We will hear thee again of this matter,” ever did.

There is only one “accepted time” mentioned in the Bible: Now (2 Cor. 6:2). “Choose ye this day …” exhorted Joshua; and Jesus’ command was, “Follow me,” not “Join me next week.” Time, God’s great and mysterious gift to man, is not to be wasted, much less killed. It is to be redeemed (Eph. 5:16).

Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

—PSALM 22:1

Perhaps the Socrates he had never read,

The Socrates that Socrates poorly understood,

Had the answer. From opposites, opposites

Are generated. Cold to heat, heat to cold,

Life to death, and death to life.

Perhaps the grave’s Obscenity is the womb, the only one

For the glorified body. It may be

Darkness alone, darkness, black and mute,

Void of God and a human smile, filled

With hateful laughter, dirty jokes, rattling dice,

Can empty the living room of all color

So that the chromatic slide of salvation

Fully possesses the bright screen of vision.

Or perhaps, being Man, it was simply

He must first go wherever man had been,

To whatever caves of loneliness, whatever

Caverns of no light, deep damp darkness,

Dripping walls of the spirit, man has known.

I have called to God and heard no answer,

I have seen the thick curtain drop, and sunlight die;

My voice has echoed back, a foolish voice,

The prayer restored intact to its silly source.

I have walked in darkness, he hung in it.

In all of my mines of night, he was there first;

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In whatever dead tunnel I am lost, he finds me.

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

From his perfect darkness a voice says, I have not.


From The Psalm of Christ, by Chad Walsh. The Westminster Press Copyright © 1963 by W. L. Jenkins. Used by permission.

Hear again from the Isaiah 45:22 text how gracious the Lord is, how direct, how all sufficient, how simple: “Look unto me, and be ye saved.…” So direct and simple, indeed, as to offend the pseudo-sophisticate, who does not see that the command goes to the depth of man’s need. Every twist of human philosophy, every complexity of history, every confusion of man’s effort to understand himself, producing a tangled mass of theory spinning as large as the world itself, is encompassed, cut through, laid out, and given an utterly authoritative interpretation, based upon an inerrant statement of the cause of man’s need. “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters. They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire …” (Isa. 1:4, 7). “The pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the LORD: therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered” (Jer. 10:21). “It is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord GOD of hosts” (Jer. 2:19). “They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Ps. 14:3).

In short, and quite frighteningly, man is “the enemy of God” (Rom. 5:10), he is “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18), he is “guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19), he is “under the wrath of God” (John 3:36), and he will be punished by God (2 Thess. 1:8, 9). A fearful and insupportable condition.

But in the midst of the helplessness and the hopelessness of man’s predicament, God’s sovereign invitation remains open, precisely as long as time shall last: “Look unto me, and be ye saved.…”

Now the command to “look” may not be construed (the Bible makes plain) as merely to glance in the direction of. True, the first evidence of man’s compliance is that he gives God his attention, that he pays heed to the Lord. But one cannot look when his back is turned, and to turn about at God’s invitation involves much more—repentance, belief, obedience. Each of these conditions goes counter to the first act of sin, wherein Adam set the course of his natural offspring. Hence, each is “unnatural,” and God must provide the power to enter into them.

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One thinks of the occasion described in Numbers 21, when the Israelites wandered in a desert wasteland (as fallen man does, spiritually) and were bitten to death by serpents, typifying sin. First God provided a mediator, Moses (foretype in this role of Christ), who “prayed for the people.” Then God provided what seemed a strange salvation. At his command, Moses made a bronze serpent, symbolizing sin judged, and held it high on a pole, as Christ was made sin for us (though he knew no sin) and was lifted up on the cross; and it came to pass that “if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld [simply, obediently looked] the serpent of brass, he lived” (Num. 21:9).

When a greater than Moses was come, the object of our looking—our repentant, believing, obedient looking—was manifested and authenticated to all men. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matt. 17:5). Our hope is in him, or nowhere, for “all flesh is as grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field … but the word of our God shall stand forever” (Isa. 40:6, 8). In the presence of such a One, no one has uttered the true Gospel more clearly than Mary: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it” (John 2:5). Jesus said, “Come unto me …” (Matt. 11:28), and “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27, 28). One who knows God and does not believe him makes him a liar, “because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son” (1 John 5:10). “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established” (Isa. 7:9). “How long will this people provoke me,” the Lord asked Moses, “and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?” (Num. 14:11). “O my people, what have I done unto thee? And wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me” (Mic. 6:3).

The Lord will not weary the people with his graciousness forever. “He hath appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness,” “… when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”; “behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger …” (Acts 17:31; 2 Thess. 1:7, 8; Isa. 13:9). Time must have a stop—but it has not yet; and, as W. H. Auden says in his introduction to the journals of Baudelaire, “Though the spirit needs time, an instant of it is enough.”

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Man does so love to modify, adjust, alter the things of God as he thinks they should be! He is offended by the absolute, and tries with much learning and sophistication to convince himself that God means neither his promise of absolute salvation nor his warning of absolute condemnation. The arrogance, the bland superiority, the sheer brassy conceit of man, surrounded on every hand by the mounting mess he has made of the world, must make the angels weep.

How solemn, how applicable are the warnings: “If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, … because ye do not lay it to heart” (Mal. 2:2). “Their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste” (Deut. 32:35). In nature, in history, in sign and wonder, in the words of the Book, in the inner voice of conscience, and supremely in the revelation of God himself in the Son, man has been taught. He is without excuse. But still not without hope, for, most amazingly, he is loved. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love …”; “I have loved you, saith the LORD …”; “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away …” (Jer. 31:3; Mal. 1:2; Hos. 14:4). “Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee” (Ps. 86:5).

Confirming his divine words with double affirmation, Jesus said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). It is not given to man to edit these words, or modify them—only to believe them, or to declare them a lie. He cannot even ignore them, for having once heard them he is judged by his knowledge of them.

The clock ticks, the minutes run. The first moment after time is eternity. “The night of time far surpasseth the day, and who knows when was the equinox.”

How God Melted C. S. Lewis*

Amiable agnostics who talk cheerfully of “man’s search for God”
might as well speak of “the mouse’s search for the cat”

The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice. In a sense. I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words and (I think) almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay, or shutting something out. Or, if you like, that I was wearing some stiff clothing, like corsets, or even a suit of armor, as if I were a lobster. I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut; I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. Neither choice was presented as a duty; no threat or promise was attached to either, though I knew that to open the door or to take off the corset meant the incalculable. The choice appeared to be momentous but it was also strangely unemotional. I was moved by no desires or fears. In a sense I was not moved by anything. I chose to open, to unbuckle, to loosen the rein. I say, “I chose,” yet it did not really seem possible to do the opposite. On the other hand, I was aware of no motives. You could argue that I was not a free agent, but I am more inclined to think that this came nearer to being a perfectly free act than most that I have ever done. Necessity may not be the opposite of freedom, and perhaps a man is most free when, instead of producing motives, he could only say, “I am what I do.” Then came the repercussion on the imagination level. I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. The melting was starting in my back—drip-drip and presently trickle-trickle. I rather disliked the feeling.

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The fox had been dislodged from Hegelian Wood and was now running in the open, “with all the wo in the world,” bedraggled and weary, hounds barely a field behind. And nearly everyone was now (one way or another) in the pack: Plato, Dante, MacDonald, Herbert, Barfield, Tolkien, Dyson, Joy itself. Everyone and everything had joined the other side. Even my own pupil Griffiths—now Dom Bede Griffiths—though not yet himself a believer, did his share. Once, when he and Barfield were lunching in my room, I happened to refer to philosophy as “a subject.” “It wasn’t a subject to Plato,” said Barfield, “it was a way.” The quiet but fervent agreement of Griffiths, and the quick glance of understanding between these two, revealed to me my own frivolity. Enough had been thought, and said, and felt, and imagined. It was about time that something should be done.

For of course there had long been an ethic (theoretically) attached to my Idealism. I thought the business of us finite and half-unreal souls was to multiply the consciousness of Spirit by seeing the world from different positions while yet remaining qualitatively the same as Spirit; to be tied to a particular time and place and set of circumstances, yet there to will and think as Spirit itself does. This was hard; for the very act whereby Spirit projected souls and a world gave those souls different and competitive interests, so that there was a temptation to selfishness. But I thought each of us had it in his power to discount the emotional perspective produced by his own particular self-hood, just as we discount the optical perspective produced by our position in space. To prefer my own happiness to my neighbor’s was like thinking that the nearest telegraph post was really the largest. The way to recover, and act upon, this universal and objective vision was daily and hourly to remember our true nature, to reascend or return into that Spirit which, in so far as we really were at all, we still were. Yes; but I now felt I had better try to do it. I faced at last (in MacDonald’s words) “some thing to be neither more nor less nor other than done.” An attempt at complete virtue must be made.

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Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side. You must not do, you must not even try to do, the will of the Father unless you are prepared to “know of the doctrine.” All my acts, desires, and thoughts were to be brought into harmony with universal Spirit. For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me: a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.

Of course, I could do nothing—I could not last out one hour—without continual conscious recourse to what I called Spirit. But the fine, philosophical distinction between this and what ordinary people call “prayer to God” breaks down as soon as you start doing it in earnest. Idealism can be talked, and even felt; it cannot be lived. It became patently absurd to go on thinking of “Spirit” as either ignorant of, or passive to, my approaches. Even if my own philosophy were true, how could the initiative lie on my side? My own analogy, as I now first perceived, suggested the opposite; if Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare’s doing. Hamlet could initiate nothing. Perhaps, even now, my Absolute Spirit still differed in some way from the God of religion. The real issue was not, or not yet, there. The real terror was that if you seriously believed in even such a “God” or “Spirit” as I admitted, a wholly new situation developed. As the dry bones shook and came together in that dreadful valley of Ezekiel’s, so now a philosophical theorem, cerebrally entertained, began to stir and heave and throw off its graveclothes, and stood upright and became a living presence. I was to be allowed to play at philosophy no longer. It might, as I say, still be true that my “Spirit” differed in some way from “the God of popular religion.” My Adversary waived the point. It sank into utter unimportance. He would not argue about it. He only said, “I am the Lord”; “I am that I am”; “I am.”

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People who are naturally religious find difficulty in understanding the horror of such a revelation. Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about “man’s search for God.” To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat. The best image of my predicament is the meeting of Mime and Wotan in the first act of Siegfried: hier brauch’ ich nicht Spärer noch Späher, Einsam will ich … (I’ve no use for spies and snoopers. I would be private.…)

Remember, I had always wanted, above all things, not to be “interfered with.” I had wanted (mad wish) “to call my soul my own.” I had been far more anxious to avoid suffering than to achieve delight. I had always aimed at limited liabilities. The supernatural itself had been to me, first, an illicit dream, and then, as by a drunkard’s reaction, nauseous. Even my recent attempt to live my philosophy had secretly (I now knew) been hedged round by all sorts of reservations. I had pretty well known that my ideal of virtue would never be allowed to lead me into anything intolerably painful; I would be “reasonable.” But now what had been an ideal became a command; and what might not be expected of one? Doubtless, by definition, God was Reason itself. But would He also be “reasonable” in the other, more comfortable, sense? Not the slightest assurance on that score was offered me. Total surrender, the absolute leap in the dark, were demanded. The reality with which no treaty can be made was upon me. The demand was not even “All or nothing.” I think that stage had been passed, on the bus top when I unbuckled my armor and the snowman started to melt. Now, the demand was simply “All.”

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.

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Milton D. Hunnex is professor and head of the department of philosophy at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon. He received the B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Redlands and the Ph.D. in the Inter-collegiate Program in Graduate Studies, Claremont, California. He is author of “Philosophies and Philosophers.”

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