Francis Howe Johnson.

God in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology online

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ourselves, in some sort, the zest and the value of
life is gone. We must lay hold of some worthy
interest and make it ours, fall in love with some
end, or ideal, to which we can give a whole-souled
devotion, otherwise, there sets in a natural de-
generation, physical, mental, and spiritual; in
fact, we begin to die.

By rising above the coercions of necessity we
have only entered an advanced form, a higher
grade, — a most perilous situation for those who
are not alive to its opportunities and responsi-
bilities. We shall never, perhaps, at least from
our present plane of existence, be able to see why
the tasks set in the great school might not have
been made something less severe, the assistance


given to those on the verge of discouragement
more timely. And, from the standpoint of this
inability to fathom the ways of the Almighty, the
most searching questions are urged upon those
who would defend the doctrine of the goodness
of God.

Why, it is asked, if a benevolent intelligence is
responsible for the existing order, was the true
and normal way of living left in such obscurity
and made so perilously difficult? Why has man,
formed for intelligence, for morality, for happi-
ness, been so long on his blundering way to a
realization that ever recedes before him? Could
not man and his environment have been so
adjusted to each other as to ensure prosperity,
peace, tranquillity, contentment, and the kindly
relations between man and man that naturally
flow from such a condition of things?

To put it reasonably, why was not the human
race, from the beginning, so constituted and so
related to its environment that a form of society
like the best that we have realized and proved
to be possible should have been quickly reached
and retained? Why were the abnormal ways of
squandering life made so attractive? Why were
the right and the wrong so inextricably mixed up
that nothing seems altogether right or altogether
wrong, but only a matter of degree, of more or
less, of moderation or excess? Why should the
way of honest ambition, the impulse to realize
our powers, sweep us, so often under full headway,



to a moral catastrophe? Why is the civilized
world to-day, with all its long experience and
conflicts, its many and exhausting attempts to
improve itself, in a condition that in some ways
seems more difficult and more hopeless, in its
ever-increasing complexity, than in the days of
its greater simplicity?

These are tremendous questions, and it is
neither useless nor impious for us to ask them.
God, Who has formed us not to be dumb, driven
cattle, must intend us to ask them and to work
at the solution of the problems they suggest. We
may be very sure that none of the answers we
give will be final, that the future of the world
will modify them, but we may be sure also that
we shall continually move toward a solution so
long as we stick to the hypothesis that exhibits
the existing social order as a great training school.
Whatever else it may be, it certainly is this; and
by the recognition of the fact, every one of these
questions is, so to speak, loosened. The hard
knots into which the reverse hypothesis has drawn
them give way. The gravest difficulties of the
situation are seen to have their ground in an
unwarranted assumption, — the assumption, that
is, that the end of social evolution is, or ought to
be, the comfort, the happiness, the freedom from
care, anxiety, or friction of the whole community.

Our view of the situation sees in the absence of
contentment, of completeness, and of peace the
conditions that make for the highest well-being


of the race. The greatest gifts, those of inex-
haustible value to humanity, are its wants, its
dissatisfactions. All those things that we have
been demanding as our moral right are seen to be
the prizes held up to stimulate our efforts, they
are purposely put beyond our reach, with all sorts
of difficulties to be overcome before we can enter
upon the enjoyment of them. And this, because
the great end to be attained is not our enjoyment
of them, but the development of man into a
creature of a nobler and higher type.

Except for the briefest intervals we never
quite overtake our dreams of happiness. The
permanency they seemed to promise is never
realized. It is always the beyond that we live
for and worship. We are by nature insatiable,
and the world in which we live is wonderfully
well calculated to stimulate our desires and lure
us on. And what is true of the individual is
equally true, and of the same significance, in the
evolution of the social order.

The dreams of a perfected social organism, of a
millennium of peace and tranquillity, of social
equality and fraternity, in which every one is
satisfied, bear the same relation to reality that is
born by those other visions that sometimes keep
the individual man steady to one purpose through
a lifetime for the realization of a condition that
never materializes. Neither in the one case nor
in the other, are these dreams realities to be pos-
sessed and enjoyed. They are ideals to be



worked for, ideals adjusted to our very limited
understanding. And being so adjusted, they are
continually readjusting themselves as we approach
and seem about to grasp them.

Is this world then all a system of cleverly
framed delusions? Are we doomed to be for ever
striving toward ends that will cease to interest
us as soon as we have compassed them? It is,
indeed, truly so. No fact, nor class of facts, is
more clearly and incontestably established in the
experience of the human race than this. " Vanity
of vanities, all is vanity, saith the preacher."

But this is not the whole truth. Though we
may not realize our dreams, our labour has not
been in vain. Though the special satisfactions
on which we had set our hearts have not been
accomplished, many other things have been, —
matters of far greater and more enduring
value. And without entering into detail, we
may comprehend many of these in that one word
education, character-forging.

I say many, not all, for whoever labours wisely
for the achievement of personal or social ends
adds something to the solidity and effectiveness
of the instrumentalities by which we live. To
do this, to build up, improve, and fortify the
social order is one of the great ends of human
existence. Though not the final, it is the proxi-
mate end. To labour wisely for this, to discern
truthfully the particular part which we are
fitted to play in it, and to perform this faithfully,


in the consciousness of our corporate implica-
tions and responsibilities, is to honour the life
that has been given us and to live in harmony
with the supreme intelligence that has ordained
and superintended it.



ASSUMING then, that the social order
in which we find ourselves is not, even
in its greatest perfection, the goal of
evolution, but an instrumentality, a great train-
ing school, the next question is, For what does
it train us? What values in the immediate or
remote future can we conceive as adequate to
justify the severe discipline to which we are
subjected? It might be replied at once that
character in itself is an acquisition of inestimable
value. But even so, something more needs to
be supplied. Character, without something in
which it can realize itself, is a mere abstraction.
There must be an objective reality of adequate
worth to which it can be applied, or it is a barren

It might indeed seem, at first sight, as if the
results reached in the foregoing chapter ren-
dered valueless any attempt to answer this
question. If, as we have said, this world is a
system of cleverly framed delusions calculated to
lure us on to continued achievement, if we are
for ever leaving our imagined heavens behind us,



of what use can any speculation of ours be? Even
if a divine seer could put before us a true descrip-
tion of some remote stage of the higher type
toward which we are moving, is there any likeli-
hood that, from our present standpoint, we
should be able to understand its value, or attrac-
tiveness? We may, indeed, on the ground of
continuity, analogically construct a scheme of
probabilities with regard to the proximate stages
of the future. We may vision forth a social
organism on a higher plane, in which each one
who has acquitted himself well on earth will
find himself promoted, with re-enforced powers,
to a sphere of enlarged activities and increased
responsibilities. But this does not fill the require-
ments. It belongs still to the category of instru-
mentalities. Though the promotion be from the
custody of one pound to that of authority over
ten cities, it still appeals to the imagination as a
matter of more or less.


What we want to find is the one supreme,
all-embracing interest that is and always will be
worth while, — the ever-enduring, inexhaustible
satisfaction. Can we discover any way of ap-
proach to an understanding of this? Some-
times, when the main and obvious and apparently
only road to a place is hopelessly barred against
us, it happens that a side-road, unpretentious,
unobserved, and roundabout, will bring us to


the goal of our desires. This is not the first
impasse of thought that we have encountered in
the course of our discussion. Let us bring to
bear upon it the method by which these others
have been reduced. We have seen that some
of the most obstinate cases of this kind are
rooted in a false analogy. May it not be so

The little word end has, in this connection,
much to answer for. It is a word that we use,
and shall probably continue to use, as a synonym
for purpose without meaning all that it implies,
and yet our thought is influenced by its implica-
tions. We say "the end toward which we move."
We may not think of that end as a finality, but
yet the suggestion of finality attaches to it.
The word, of course, is not altogether responsible.
We have made choice of it for this purpose be-
cause we have somehow formed the habit of
thinking of the future statically, of imagining a
definite, fixed condition as the goal which will
finish our labours and satisfy us.

Now, let us change the conception. Instead
of asking "to what all-desirable end does evolu-
tion carry us," let us ask to what sublime and
all-satisfying activity does it seem to point.
I think we shall find this workable. In the first
place, it is a conception fully in harmony with
evolution. Abandoning the idea of fixedness,
which was the essence of the old thought, it takes
a firm grip on the great reality of this world as


a world of movement. And at once our personal
recollections of past experiences jump to the
endorsement of this construction. For our great-
est satisfactions have been always, somehow,
linked with our activities, and somehow, also,
they have faded out with the decline of those
activities. It is true that one of the most accepted
and cherished thoughts of a better world is that
it will be a place of rest. But this is only a pro-
visional conception. Rest prolonged beyond the
time of necessary recuperation becomes restless-
ness. There is nothing abiding in it. Just rest
enough to give a renewed zest to activity is all
that we can make use of in this world or another.

Following then the lead of this idea, that our
earthly training will find its application in some
unique and very exalted form of soul activity,
our first step may profitably be an inquiry as to
the nature of the satisfaction which we derive
from our ordinary activities. As these range all
the way from those that are purely physical to
those which are almost as purely spiritual, our
inquiry might seem to have an interminable
outlook. But it is only to one particular charac-
teristic of our activities that I wish to call atten-
tion, namely, that they yield their greatest
values to us as side issues.

In our efforts to grasp life's prizes there is a
continual recurrence of certain secondary products
that are not disappointing. They cannot disap-
point us because we have had no expectations


with regard to them. They flow in, as it were,
from the side. If, when our attention is called
to them, we try to make them the direct object
of our designed activities, they are capable of
disappointing us, like anything else. They are
the rewards of earnest striving for the achieve-
ment of other interests. They come to an end,
it is true, when the particular form of activity, in
connection with which they have been generated,
ceases. But they spring up anew with each new
pursuit, and their cessation in each case leaves
no bitterness behind it. The memory of them is
purely one of happiness. Although the fruit for
which we climbed was not worth while, the
remembrance of the climb is exhilarating.

"The Preacher," who proclaimed all things
to be but vanity and vexation of spirit, made,
in the same connection, admissions that fatally
discredit his aspersions of life. In each quest to
which he addressed himself he declares that he
received great satisfaction during all the period
of his approach to the object of his desire. Every
hour of his working toward each of his prospective
ends paid him his reward, in good coin, which he
took and appropriated. His heart " rejoiced in
his labour, " a rejoicing that might have been
continued indefinitely and increasingly had he not
been so unfortunate as to out-fly his quarry
and put it to death. There are two points which
this aspect of life opens for our consideration.

First, that this experience of the Preacher


emphasizes a great principle of life, one that is
limited to no one class of experiences, but is true
in every department of our manifold activity.
Let us formulate it in some such hypothesis as
the following: Progressive being and progressive
satisfaction in being are to be looked for in the line
of life's side issues.

Without minimizing the importance of the
direct outcome of our ambitions, we may safely
say that as related to the great end of life they
are of subsidiary value, means to an end — the
end being the increase and perfection of being.
Every faculty normally exercised tends to become
something higher in the scale of being. Its
range is increased; it grows stronger, finer,
quicker in its response to other faculties, and ever
more firmly integrated as a vital part of the or-
ganism to which it belongs. So also with the
organism as a whole. The cumulative effect of
its efforts in the various directions of its activity
raises it, by a series of unmarked gradations, till
it has come to belong to a superior order. That
this is the purpose of the great process, that for
which it exists, is made increasingly probable
by the fact that it is accompanied by happiness.

This is nature's endorsement of its normality.
In its lower ranges this consciousness of well-
being, of progressive becoming, may yield a
happiness only somewhat higher than that of
healthily developing animals. In its higher ranges
it is the underlying source of the deepest satis-


factions that human beings can experience. We
have then a gradation of happiness, the degrees
of which correspond to the successive stages of
growth. And, if we may find ourselves justified
in postulating an unending ascent in the scale
of being, for the human personality that keeps
its place in the line of promotion, we have a good
basis for a definite hypothesis as to the future of

It will, I think, clear the atmosphere, at this
point, if we address ourselves to an examination
of the kind of satisfaction that attends the con-
sciousness of progressive being; for it has elements
that are clearly distinguishable. In the first
place there is in it that element which, in the
widest signification, we may call worship, and in
the second place there is the sense of movement
toward something better, the exhilaration of ac-
quisition and attainment. Both are elemental
in human nature. They are referrible to nothing
lying behind them save the great intelligence that
has implanted all our enduring instincts. Both
are essential to the highest well-being. The
first belongs to the region of ideals, the second
has regard to the pursuit of them. All along the
course of soul development they work together.
The ideal gives rise to the pursuit. The pursuit,
in turn, causes the ideal to deepen and expand
and to hold the soul with an ever firmer grip.

I have called the first worship, because that
word alone, by including the lower as well as the


higher forms of human devotion, expresses the
continuity of that principle which I believe to be
the motive power and, at the same time, the end
of evolution. The use of such a word will seem
no doubt to strike a strange note when applied
to the subordinate pursuits of our ordinary lives.

Worship, to our ordinary thinking, dwells in a
place apart. It is a transcendent activity of the
soul, if it be real; a solemn and perhaps weari-
some observance, if it is a mere formality. What
we call public worship, represented by innumerable
churches, exalted music and psalmody, an army
of priests and supporting worshippers, is a depart-
ment of life quite separate from the world of our
daily strivings. But there is another significa-
tion to the word. There is a worship that finds
its expression not only through established forms,
but more essentially and helpfully in every experi-
ence of life. It is not a matter of time or place,
of "this mountain or Jerusalem," but the joyous
uplifting of the soul that, always and everywhere,
worships the Father in spirit and in truth.

With this signification the sphere of worship
is immeasurably widened. The word connotes
not alone a specific act, a rite observed, a duty
performed, not merely an exalted, but occasional
and specialized, experience, but, rather, an atti-
tude of soul, an abiding passion, a specialized
life, a new being. But even this enlarged con-
ception fails to exhaust the meaning of the word,
or to express the far-reaching influence of the


principle which underlies it. That energy of the
soul which, when it is directed to the supreme
ideal we call distinctively worship, has innumerable
manifestations. It is not a mere figure of speech
when we say that a man worships power or wealth,
his dream or his profession. Not all the charac-
teristics of the higher worship are there, but the
moving principle is; and when the same principle
rises to higher ranges, its transformation is the
result of the different nature of that on which it
expends itself.

We have therefore a gradation of worships,
illustrated not alone in the successive develop-
ment of distinctive religions, but also more clearly
and vitally in the quality of the ambitions and
quests that constitute the great volume of pro-
gressive life which we call human evolution.

It is a principle which so far as we know is
peculiar to man. That is, we have no evidence
that the animals lower in the scale share it to
any great degree. Or, if they do, it is probably
unconscious, — not a matter on which they can
reflect. The look of devotion with which a dog
regards his master does, indeed, suggest the
worship of a person. The ambition of a horse to
be swifter than all other horses, and the collapse
of his spirit when it is proved that he is not, is
akin to the worship of an ideal, and the skylark
pouring out its heart as it soars into the heavens
seems the exultant expression of it. But man,
looking before and after, not only becomes con-


scious of his ideals, he, more or less consciously,
creates and fosters them.

As soon as creature wants are supplied the man
who has the seeds of development in him begins
to reach out to something higher. There is some
sort of a vision. It may be that of power, of
feeling himself to be greater, more influential,
more forceful than those about him. It may be
the vision of accumulation and possession; it
may be that of creation, the ambition of the
poet, the architect, the composer, the painter, the
sculptor, the inventor, the organizer of an indus-
try. It may be the ideal of the discoverer, who
feels that every onward step in science is a step
upward for the human race.

For the realization of any one of these ideals
there must be concentration of attention and
energy. And in connection with this concentra-
tion, this narrowing and deepening of the stream
of vitality toward one end, there springs up a
feeling, an enthusiasm which, without violence,
we may call the worship of the ideal. Sometimes
the object of supreme desire takes violent posses-
sion of a man. His imagination is captured and
held. The ideal quickly becomes an idee fixe,
an obsession. His life is controlled by it, and all
his energies, if he be a man of achievement, find
their outlet in this one direction. But more
often, it is a quiet, natural growth. There is a
gradual building up from the dawning of the first
impression, the first feeling of attraction, to the


recognized ideal. And before this domination of
one desire is attained there is often the growth
and decadence of many lesser ideals.

The episodic, kaleidoscopic ideals of youth
chase each other through the years of immaturity,
each one surrounded with a temporary glamour,
intense while it lasts and apparently imperishable,
but, fading away as one more luminous appears
on the horizon. Each one leaves a residuum of
feeling and experience, a compound of disillusion
and regret and, probably, a measurable harden-
ing of the susceptibilities of the imagination. As
the man approaches maturity he is likely to exer-
cise his critical faculties more, to question the
seductiveness of this, or that, appeal for his devo-
tion, to ask, Is it worth while? is it what it appears
to be? will it fulfil its promises?

If it stands these challenges and still holds the
imagination, its attractiveness increases. Every
time the man turns away and looks oack again
there is a stronger light upon it. It acquires
form and clearness of outline. He no longer
thinks he sees, but, he sees the object which is
above all other things desirable. When a man
reaches this stage he generally experiences a
great happiness. For the chief want of his nature,
an end to live for, has for a time at least been met.
Even though the realization of his ideal seems at
the beginning almost hopelessly out of his reach,
its mere existence, as a well-defined ideal, gives
him a glow and a satisfaction in living that noth-


ing else can give. He has a wellspring of life
and joy and energy within him such as the man
without an object in life can never possess. And
as, day by day, he fosters it and moves toward
it, by innumerable little steps, the attractiveness
and the joy increase. He lives and he knows that
he lives. His heart sings within him, not for
what he has as yet in his possession, but for the
movement, the progress toward ? that which is to
him a light shining brighter and brighter.

Though he may have frequent disappoint-
ments and discomfitures, there is an undercurrent
of satisfaction because he is in love with some-
thing, because his soul has found an outlet through
which it streams forth in daily worship. And by
worship and effort the man grows in strength of
will and in power of achievement. He becomes a
perfected instrument for the accomplishment of
the end to which he has devoted his unswerving
attention and passionate regard. This is what
makes the world go round, not simply for the
individual, but also for the great social and in-
dustrial organism in its totality. It is the wor-
ship of the ideal that fits men for their tasks,
that keeps them to their tasks through weariness
and self-denial, through watchings and fastings,
through years of ingratitude and neglect and
human cruelty.

Now, does not all this point to the belief that
the future of evolution will have for its motive
power, and perhaps essentially consist in, some


form of the worship of the ideal? We are war-
ranted, I think, by the facts in making this


The next question then is, what are the ante-
cedent probabilities as to the characteristics of
this ideal? The experiences to which we have

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Online LibraryFrancis Howe JohnsonGod in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology → online text (page 13 of 22)