Here’s a quote from a book I picked up at a second-hand sale the other day. They were advertised for 50p each, but when I went up to the desk with nine, the wifie only asked me for £3. Not bad eh.
This one was written in 1959 by a Church of Scotland minister, Murdo Ewen Macdonald (whose obituary turns out to be available here, upon a brief consultation with Google). The book consists of a series of mini essays on a variety of subjects, and one recurring theme is the perennial question of the relationship between science and religion. In chapter 2 he has just finished discussing a range of old and new scientific discoveries, and goes on to say this:
It is true, of course, that not one of these discoveries affects in the slightest the validity of religion, but they have done something drastic to our human thinking. They have not disproved God, but they have elbowed him out from the centre of human consciousness. Secure in the knowledge that we live in a law-abiding universe where the vast majority of events are predictable and even ascertainable, God is pushed out to the very circumference of things and is only called upon when the clockwork of normal events does not function. That is why for the ordinary man today religion is a last ditch recourse, something he turns to in desperation when nothing else offers him any hope.
Even if I hadn’t told you the date of this publication you could still see from the way it doesn’t put knowledge in scare quotes, speaks unabashedly about things being ascertainable, and uses generic he, that it is less than contemporary.
Yet the main point still holds. As long as a person can maintain the illusion that they’re on top of what’s going on in their life, religious thoughts don’t need to trouble their mind – because we can do so much, and understand so much, and handle so much on our own as we think, there’s no pressing reason in the wider environment to force us to recognise power and wisdom that is so obviously bigger and better than ours that it must be divine.
The reason why this doesn’t ‘affect in the slightest the validity of religion,’ is because there has never been any conflict between human advances in learning and technology and the power and wisdom of God who is almighty, omniscient, and sovereign. But this is the God who people are unwilling to acknowledge in any way in their everyday lives, and the one who people are only too ready to dismiss as ineffectual and imaginary if ever the thought of him does cross their minds.
I’m sure at least part of this reluctance comes from not knowing very much about him. If people were really convinced that he is infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably good, for example, in his power and his wisdom and his sovereignty, we would be so much more ready to listen and obey when we considered both his law and his gospel.
Even so, as the theologians say, it isn’t God considered absolutely who we’re meant to deal with in the matter of salvation – there has to be a mediator, to stand between God who is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being and all his other attributes, and sinful human beings. When this person calls and says, ‘Come to me, look to me, return to me: I am the way, the truth, and the life,’ surely it is far better to turn to him straight away, not wait till some sort of desperation drives us to him as a last resort. Better for us, and more honouring to his invitation: there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, and this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, even the chief of sinners. I Timothy 2:5
Murdo Ewen Macdonald (1959), The Need to Believe. Fontana Books. Quote from p17.
Title of the post comes from the metrical version of Psalm 71:3, ‘Be thou my dwelling-rock, to which / I ever may resort,’ cp the prose version, ‘Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment to save me, for thou art my rock and my fortress.’