The World And God

The world and nature are marvellous in their being, but they are not

"divine"! The formula "natura sive deus" is a monstrous misuse of the

word "deus," if we are to use the words in the sense which history has

given to them. God is the Absolute Being, perfect, wholly independent,

resting in Himself, and necessary; nature is entirely contingent and

dependent, and at every point of it we are impelled to ask "Why?" God is

the immeasurable fulness of Being, nature is indeed diverse in the

manifoldness of her productions, but she is nevertheless limited, and her

possibilities are restricted within narrow limits. God is the

unrestrained, and everlasting omnipotence itself, and the perfect wisdom;

nature is indeed mighty enough in the attainment of her ends, but how

often is she obstructed, how often does she fail to reach them, and how

seldom does she do so perfectly and without mistakes? She shows wisdom,

indeed, cunning in her products, subtlety and daintiness, taste and

beauty, all these often in an overwhelming degree, yet just as often she

brings forth what is meaningless, contradictory and mutually hurtful,

traverses her own lines, and bewilders us by the brutality, the

thoughtlessness, and purposelessness, the crookedness, incompleteness, and

distortedness of her operations. And what is true of the world of external

nature is true in a far greater degree of the world of history. Nature is

not a god, but a demigod, says Aristotle. And on this, Pantheism with its

creed, "natura sive deus," makes shipwreck. The words of this credo

are either a mere tautology, and "deus" is misused as a new name for

nature; or they are false. It is not possible to transfer to nature and

the world all the great ideas and feelings which the religious mind

cherishes under the name of "God."


strange, mysterious, and marvellous, indicating God, and pointing, all

naturalism and superficial consideration notwithstanding, as we have seen,

to something outside of and beyond itself. Religion demands no more than

this. It does not insist upon finding a solution for all the riddles of

theoretical world-lore. It is not distressed because the course of nature

often seems to our eyes confused, and to our judgment contradictory and

unintelligible at a hundred places and in a hundred respects. On the

contrary, that this is the case is to religion in another aspect a strong

stimulus and corroboration. "The world is an odd fellow; may God soon make

an end of it," said Luther, and thus gave a crude but truly religious


(Aristot. "De Divin. in Somn.," c. ii.). It is part of the very essence of

religion, as we have seen, to read in the pages of nature, insufficiency,

illusion, and perplexities, and to be made thereby impatient and desirous

of penetrating to the true nature of things. Religion does not claim to be

directly deducible out of a consideration of nature; it demands only the

right and freedom to interpret the world in its own way. And for this it

is sufficient that this world affords those hints and suggestions for its

convictions that we have seen it does afford. To form clear ideas in

regard to the actual relations of the infinite to the finite, and of God

to the world, and of what religion calls creation, preservation, and

eternal providence, self-revelation in the world and in history, is hardly

the task of religion at all, but rather pertains to our general

speculative instinct, which can only satisfy itself with the help of

imagination. Attempts of this kind have often been made. They are by no

means valueless, for even if no real knowledge can be gained by this

method, we may perhaps get an analogue of it which will help us to

understand existence and phenomena, and to define our position, as well as

to give at least provisional answers to many pressing questions (such, for

instance, as the problem of theodicy).

If we study the world unprejudiced by the naturalistic interpretation, or

having shaken ourselves free from it, we are most powerfully impressed by

one fundamental phenomenon in all existence: it is the fact of evolution.

It challenges attention and interpretation, and analogies quickly reveal

themselves which give something of the same trend to all such

interpretations. From stage to stage existence advances onwards, from the

world of large masses subject only to the laws of mechanics, to the

delicately complex play of the forces of development in growth and other

vital processes. The nature of the forces is revealed in ever higher

expression, and at the same time in ever more closely connected series of

stages. Even between the inorganic and the organic there is an

intermediate stage--crystal formation--which is no longer entirely of the

one, yet not of the other. And in the organic world evolution reveals

itself most clearly of all; from the crudest and simplest it presses

onwards to the most delicate and complex. In the corporeal as in the

psychical, in the whole as in each of its parts, there are ever higher

stages, sometimes far apart, sometimes close together. However we picture

to ourselves the way in which evolution accomplishes itself in time, we

can scarcely describe it without using such expressions as "nature

advances upwards step by step," "it presses and strives upwards and

unfolds itself stage by stage."

And it is with us as it was with Plato; we inform the world with a soul,

with a desire and endeavour which continually expresses itself in higher

and higher forms. And it is with us also as with Fichte; we speak of the

will which, unconscious of itself, pours itself forth in unconscious and

lifeless nature, and then on this foundation strives forward, expressing

its activity in ever higher developments, breaking forth in life,

sensation, and desire, and finally coming to itself in conscious existence

and will. The whole world seems to us a being which wills to become,

presses restlessly forward, and passes from the potential to the actual,

realising itself. And the height of its self-realisation is conscious,

willing life.

This outlook is lofty and significant, it supplies a guiding clue by which

the facts of life and nature can be arranged. The religious outlook, too,

when it wishes to indulge in speculation, can make use of this guiding

thread. It will then say: God established the world as "a will to

existence, to consciousness, to spirit." He established it, not as

complete, but as becoming. He does not build it as a house, but plants it,

like a flower, in the seed, that it may grow, that it may struggle upwards

stage by stage to fuller existence, aspiring with toil and endeavour

towards the height where, in the image of the Creator, as a free and

reasonable spirit capable of personality, it may realise the aim of its

being. Thus the world is of God, that is, its rudiments came from God,

and it is to God, in the purpose of likeness to God. And it is imbued

with the breath of Godhead which moves in it and impels it onwards, with

the logos of the everlasting Zeus of whom Cleanthes sings, with the spirit

of Jehovah whom Isaiah and the Psalmist praise, and whom the poet of the

Creation figuratively paints; the divine breath is in everything that

lives, from grass to flower, from animal to man. But it is implanted as

becoming. And in regard to this, religion can say of the whole world what

it says of man. For man, too, is not given as a finished product, either

as regards the genus or the individual, but as a rudiment, with his

destiny to work out, in historical becoming, by realising what is inherent

in him. We call this freedom. And an adumbration of such freedom, which is

the aim of self-realisation, would help us to penetrate deeply into the

nature of things. Many riddles and apparent contradictions could be fitted

in with this view of things: the unity of the world, and yet the

gradations; the relationship of all living creatures, the unity of all

psychical life, and yet the uniqueness of the rational spirit; causal

concatenation, yet guidance by means of the highest ideas and purposes;

the tentativeness, illogicalness, and ineffectiveness of nature,

unconsciously pressing forward along uncertain paths, yet the directness

and purposefulness of the main lines of evolution in general. This

God-awakened will to be lies at the roots of the mysteries of development

in all living creatures, of the unconscious purposiveness of instinctive

action, of the gradually ascending development of psychical life and its

organ. Operating in crystals and plants purely as a formative impulse and

"entelechy," it awakes in the bodies of animals more and more as "soul."

Then it awakes fully in man, and in him, in an entirely new phase of real

free development, it builds itself up to spirit. It resembles a stream

whose waves flow casually and transiently in animal consciousness, and are

soon withdrawn again, to break forth anew at another place, in the

personal spirit, where they attain to permanent indissoluble form, since

they have now at last attained to self-realisation, and fulfilled the

purpose of all cosmic existence, the reflecting of the eternal personality

in the creature. But it is only in human history that what was prepared

for in natural evolution is completed.

The riddle of theodicy thus becomes easier, for what surrounds us in

nature and history has not come direct from the hand of eternal wisdom,

but is in the first place the product of the developing, striving world,

which only gradually and after many mistakes and failures works out what

is inherent in it as eternal idea and aim. We see and blame its mistakes,

for instance in our own human structure. We see the deficiencies in the

historical course of things. But when we find fault we do not see that

evolution and self-realisation and freedom are more worthy of praise than

ready-made existence incapable of independent action.

This principle of development, wherever it is regarded as "world-soul" or

as "will" or as the "unconscious," is frequently, through pantheism and

the doctrine of immanence, made equivalent with the object of religion,

with God. This is an impossible undertaking. We cannot worship what only

reaches its full development in ourselves. But that we can worship, and

that it is only in the feeling of complete dependence that the full depth

of what is developing within us to conscious life reveals itself, proves

better than anything else that God is above all "World-will." It was more

than allegory when Plato in Timaeus set the "eternal father and creator of

the world" above all soul and psyche. And it was religion that broke

through when Fichte in his little book, "Anweisung zum seeligen Leben,"

set being before becoming, and God above the creatures struggling towards

self-realisation. Religion knows in advance that this is so. And calm

reflection confirms it. All that we have already learnt of the dependence,

conditionedness, and contingent nature of the world is equally true of a

world "evolving itself" out of its potentiality, of a will to existence,

and of an unconscious realising itself. No flower can grow and develop

without being first implicit in the seed. Nothing can attain to

"actuality," to realisation, that was not potentially implied in the

beginning. But who originated the seed of the world-flower? Who enclosed

within it the "tendencies," the "rudiments" which realise themselves in

evolution? Invariably "the actual is before the potential" and Being

before Becoming. A world could only become if it were called to become by

an everlasting Being. God planting the world-flower that it might radiate

forth in its blossoms His own image and likeness, is an allegory which may

well symbolise for religion the relation between God and the world. And

thus it is possible to draw the outline of a religious outlook on the

world, into which the results of world-lore could well be fitted. This

frame was constructed by Plato on the basis of a religious study of

things, and after Plato it was first definitely outlined in Fichte's too

much forgotten but unforgettable books "Bestimmung des Menschen" and

"Anweisung zum seeligen Leben," and it is thus a new creation of the great

German idealism and its mighty faith. And it is not easy to see why it

should be abandoned, why we should give it up in favour of an irreligious,

semi-naturalistic outlook on the world.

One thing, however, must be kept constantly in mind: even such an

interpretation of the world as this is poetry, not knowledge. There is a

poetry of the will to live, of the unconscious, which is struggling

towards existence, but there is no philosophy. There are only analogies

and hints of what goes on at the foundations of the world. In particular,

the unconscious creative impulse in all living organisms, this "will"

towards form, its relationship with instinct and the relationship of

instinct to conscious psyche, afford us a step-ladder of illustrations,

and an illustration of the step-ladder of the "will towards existence,"

which invite us to overstep the bounds of our knowledge, and indulge in

our imagination. We can say nothing of pre-conscious consciousness and

will, we can at best only make guesses about them. We cannot think

definitely of a general world-will, which wills and aspires in individual

beings; we cannot picture to ourselves the emergence of the individual

"souls" of animals and man from a universal psyche. Imagination plays a

larger part here than clear thinking. And for our present purpose it must

be clearly borne in mind that religion does not require any speculative

construction of theories of the world. But "you shall know that it is your

imagination which creates the world for you."(108) And if a speculative

construction be desired, it will always be most easily attained along

these lines, and will in this way come nearest to our modern knowledge of

nature. We must remember, too, that the objections which may be urged

against this form of speculation are equally applicable against any other.

For the origin of the individual psyche, the graduated series of its

forms, the development of one after the other, and of that of the child

from that of its parents, are riddles which cannot be solved by any

speculative thinking. Monadology, theories of the pre-existence of the

soul, creationism, or the current traducianism--which to-day, with its

partly or wholly materialistic basis, is just as naive as the older--all

reveal equal darkness. But the speculation we have hinted at, if it gives

no explanation, at least supplies a framework for many questions which

attract us, and do so even from the point of view of religion: for

instance the collective, diffuse, and almost divisible nature of

consciousness in the lower stages, its increasing and ever more strict

centralisation, the natural relationship of the psychical in man to the

psychical in general, and yet its incommensurability and superiority to

all the world.

But let us once more turn from all the poetical and imaginative

illustrations of the relation of God to the world, which can at best be

only provisional, and only applicable at certain points, to the more

general aspect of the problem. Religion itself consists in this: believing

and experiencing that in time the Eternal, in the finite the Infinite, in

the world God is working, revealing Himself, and that in Him lies the

reason and cause of all being. For this it has names like creation,

providence, self-revelation of God in the world, and it lives by the

mysteries which are indicated under these names. The mysteries themselves

it recognises in vague or naive forms of conception long before it

attempts any definite formulation. If dogmatics begin with the latter,

some form or other of the stiff and wooden doctrines of concursus, of

influxus ordinarius and extraordinarius usually develops with many

other subtleties, which are nothing more than attempts to formulate the

divine influence in finite terms, and to think of it as a force along with

other forces. Two series of causes are usually distinguished; the system

of causes and effects within the world, according to which everything

natural takes place, the "causae secundariae"; and in addition to these

the divine causality co-operating and influencing the others, ordering

them with gentle and delicate pressure, and guiding them towards their

true end, and which may also reveal itself as "extraordinaria" in

miracles and signs. This double operation is regarded as giving rise to

all phenomena, and in it consists guidance, dispensation, providence, and

natural revelation.

This kind of conception is extremely primitive, and is unfavourable to

religion itself, for in it mystery is done away with and arranged

according to rubric, and everything has become quite "simple." Moreover,

this doctrine has a necessary tendency to turn into the dreaded "Deism."

According to the deistic view, God made the world in the beginning, and

set the system of natural causes in motion, in such a way that no farther

assistance was given, and everything went on of itself. This theory is

incredibly profane, and strikes God out of the world, and nature, and

history at a single stroke, substituting for Him the course of a

well-arranged system of clockwork. But the former theory is a very

unsatisfactory and doubtful makeshift as compared with that of deism, for

it is impossible to see why, if God arranged these causae secundariae, He

should have made them so weak and ineffective that they need all these

ingenious concursus, influxus, determinationes, gubernationes, and

the like. Both theories are crude fabrications of the dogmatists, and they

have nothing left in them of the piety they were intended to protect, nor

do they become any better in this respect, however many attempts are made

to define them. Religion possesses, without the aid of any stilted and

artificial theories, all the things we have named above, and especially

and most directly the last of them, namely, the experience of the

revelation and communication of the Divine in the great developments and

movements of spiritual and religious history. And it finds its

corroboration and justification and freedom not by way of dogmatics but of

criticism. It is impossible to distinguish artificially two sets of

causes, and to give to the world what is alleged to be of the world, and

to God what is alleged to be of God. But it is permissible to point to the

insufficiency of our causal study in general, and to the limits of our

knowledge. Even when we have established it as a fact that all phenomena

are linked together in a chain of causes we are still far from having

discovered how things actually come to pass. Every qualitative effect and

change is entirely hidden from us as far as the cause of its coming about

and its real and inner nature are concerned. Every effect which in kind or

quantity goes beyond its cause (and we cannot make anything of the domain

of living forms, of the psychical and of history without these), shows us

that we are still only at the surface. Indeed, even mechanical action,

often alleged to be entirely intelligible, such as the transference or

transformation of energy, is, as we have seen, a complete riddle. In

addition, all causality runs its course in time, and therefore partakes of

all the defects and limitations of our views of time. And finally we are

guided by the Kantian antinomy regarding the conditions of what is

"given." It destroys the charm of the "purely causal" point of view by

showing that this in itself cannot be made complete and is therefore

contradictory. Moreover, in the phenomena of life, and in the fact that

consciousness and will control our corporeal processes, and yet can hardly

be thought of as a cause "co-operating" with other causes, we found an

analogy, if a weak and obscure one, of the relation that a divine

teleology and governing of the world may bear to mundane phenomena. Thus

mystery remains in all its strength and is not replaced by the surrogate

of a too simple and shallow dogmatic theory. In confessing mystery and

resting content with it we are justified by reflection on the nature and

antinomy of our knowledge.

All this is true also of what religion means by creation. In the feeling

of complete humility, in its experience of absolute dependence and

conditionedness, the creature becomes conscious of itself as a creature,

and experiences with full clearness what it means to be a "creature" and

"created." The dogmatic theory is here again only a surrogate of mystery.

And again critical self-reflection proves a better guide than any theory

of creation, which is quite in its place as a means of expression in

religious discourse and poetry, but is quite insufficient as true

knowledge. That we must but cannot think of this world either as beginning

or as not-beginning is the analogue in knowledge of what religion

experiences in mystery; and that this contingent and conditioned world is

founded in everlasting, necessary, true Being, is the analogue of what

religion possesses and knows through devout feeling, more directly and

clearly than by any thinking, of the relations of God to the world.