This is a puzzling world. There is enough order in it to show that it is not just chaotic nonsense. But as soon as we try to make sense of it, it eludes all our efforts at neatness. There are so many things which do not seem to come into a reasonable scheme at all. If we had been making a world, we are inclined to think, we should have tidied away a great many things which God seems to have left lying about for us to stumble over. Sin, and pain, and waste, and death seem strange objects to be the handiwork of God.
Also this is a very dark and dim world. True, there is one spot which for each of us is intensely illuminated. My own life of thought and imagination and sensation is at any particular moment clear and vivid. Yet while it would be madness to say that that is the only thing I can be sure of, the moment I direct my thought outside this “spotlight” all my certainties seem to become dim; I may “feel certain” of many things about other people’s minds and characters, but that is a very different thing from the brightness and definition of my own perceptions.
It seems that there is a veil between our minds and God
In both these ways it seems that there is a veil between our minds and God. True, it is only a veil, not a thick and impenetrable screen. If anyone asserts either that there is no God, or that we can know nothing at all about Him, our own nature at once raises vehement protest, and the voices of the saints and the mystics laugh him out of court. Yet though our minds feel sure about the fact of God, they remain puzzled; and though the experience of religious people all the world over leaves them confident, there are few who would dare to claim that they have seen otherwise than “through a glass, darkly.”
Sooner or later the enquirer must deal with Jesus of Nazareth
Sooner or later the inquiring mind must deal with Jesus of Nazareth. For He, and He one, seems both to know and to see God. To Him this world is neither puzzling nor dark. He understands it, and understanding it knows likewise what God and man are. He is confident. He has no hesitations. Where He does not know He is not ashamed to confess ignorance (see S. Mark 8:32 and perhaps S. Luke 15:32). Yet this occasional incompleteness of knowledge detracts not in the slightest degree from the general impression that here in very deed is the true “Master of them that know.” If He is what He thought Himself to be, if He really knew what He seemed to know, then the importance of Jesus for those in quest of God and reality is primary.
The importance of Jesus for those in quest for God and reality is primary
If He was mistaken as to the nature of His own personality or as to the range of His own knowledge, or, equally, if anyone can prove that the sources of our knowledge about Him are altogether untrustworthy, then, of course, we must hammer out our ideas of the world as well as we can without His help. But otherwise somewhere in our inquiry we must face the fact that here is Someone who seems to hold the key that we are seeking. We cannot escape Jesus, nor avoid making some attempt to answer the question who that gracious, tragic figure really is. Have we to deal with an inquirer like ourselves, or with a messenger from God? Or is it indeed possible that God Himself has taken our nature, and strangely and mysteriously translated Himself into the only language we can understand? Is Jesus merely one of ourselves, however highly gifted, or is He God made visible? Or is it too much to hope that He somehow unites both natures in himself?
Jesus holds the key that we are seeking
Now for the learned there are great books written every year which deal with these deep questions, and it might seem that simpleminded people must leave them alone. But, fortunately or unfortunately, even simple minds ask questions, and are not satisfied without an answer. And, on the other hand, in the presence of Christ the greatest find themselves as little children. They may sit down and think about Him, or stand up to try to follow Him, but sooner or later they find themselves on their knees to worship Him. He is the Prophet of the simple, and we must become simple ourselves before we can appreciate Him. So there is room for a simple book like this one.
Sooner or later we find ourselves on our knees to worship Jesus Christ
Moreover, faith in Christ is by no means merely a matter of the mind. I must use my mind, of course, to learn what Christ did say and do and suffer, but no sooner have I begun to do so than I begin to hear a majestic voice calling me not to argue but to trust.
“Never a man spake like this Man,” and every word of His that I hear, every action that I know about, and, still more, every suffering that I try to sympathise with, inspires me with deeper and surer trust in Him. “He knows all there is to know,” I feel, “and if I trust in Him, He is not the sort of person to betray me. Call this credulity, if you like, but in that case you must use the same word about a husband’s trust in his wife, or a soldier’s in his officer. We do not need much book-learning to believe in Christ; but it is our duty to get as much as we can, and if we will only keep our simplicity and our reverence we need never fear that it will take us away from our faith. “I know him whom I have believed,” [2 Tim. 1:12] said S. Paul, and that may be as true for us as for him.
“I know him whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12)
Nor need we be too much afraid of being biassed in favour of orthodox Christianity. If we come to the conclusion that apart from Christianity the world is simply a hopeless puzzle, we shall not be ashamed of “liking this Christianity,” as Browning put it. It can never be an open question to me whether that professor is right who thinks that Jesus of Nazareth was a misguided fanatic, or that other equally learned professor who believes in Him as God Incarnate. Obviously, I am not capable of weighing up the opposing arguments; but I can see that one makes nonsense of the spiritual history of the world, while the other interprets it. If I were choosing between two equally possible keys to a cipher in such circumstances, I should not hesitate to accept that one which seems to promise to make the writing intelligible; and there is nothing intellectually disreputable in the Christian who, as he says, “prefers to believe” that the Master of the spiritual life of the world is able to substantiate His claims. (To be continued with Chapter II: “The Gospel Truth”
– From: Christ the King, A Study of the Incarnation, K. D. Mackenzie, M.A., Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 1927