Thursday, January 12, 2023

Through a glass darkly

Paul Johnson, author of Modern Times: From the Twenties to the Nineties, and some forty other books, has died at the age of 94. Steven Hayward writes that he wrote "analytical narrative." I've enjoyed reading his books and essays. From one of the essays at The Spectator, "Why I Believe in God":
...[I]n prayer, however insignificant and lowly a creature we may be, we address privately but directly and intimately the most powerful creature in existence, the architect of the entire universe. Prayer, I believe — and this is what I practise — is a direct contact with God, which makes all the spine-tingling immensities of space completely irrelevant. We can talk to God, directly, secretly and whenever we wish, and on whatever topic which causes us concern. We can use whatever words or tone of voice we choose, but we do not need words at all, merely to articulate or just convey our thoughts. This ability to communicate with God is a reflection of the fact, and to me it is a fact, that in some indefinable but definite way we are created in his image, and thus can share our concerns with him. We know that he hears, registers and records, and that what we say in prayer has consequences, even though we do not, strictly speaking, conduct a dialogue with God, for we are more in the nature of petitioners than interlocutors. For God to speak to us is exceptional, though by no means unknown. ....

What deters most sensitive and intelligent people from believing in God, or undermines the faith of those who once did, is their inability to vindicate the notion of divine providence in a world full of evil. An innocent child dying in agony is a potent argument for atheism. Life teems with triumphant monsters, unpunished crimes crying to heaven, cynical success stories. .... My own humble answer is that none of us, with our enormous, rapidly expanding but still minute knowledge measured against the mysteries of the universe, can have the temerity to question God’s wisdom. Divine providence is a colossal fact which is indefinable, immeasurable, and beyond our powers even to conceive in its potency. We cannot set our puny selves against it. We accept countless complexities of nature, and the increasing achievements of mechanistic science, having learned to trust human wisdom and its power constructs up to a point. Why, then, should we distrust divine wisdom, which is so infinitely more profound? I am content to go to my grave with many mysteries unsolved. Indeed I am not unhappy with mysteries, confident we now see through a glass darkly but ultimately will be face to face with the truth of all things. The most valuable of virtues, I increasingly feel, is patience. ....
Paul Johnson, "Why I believe in God," The Spectator, Dec., 2012.

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