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Quaker Thought & History

Christ and the World Problem

By Edward Grubb


Christ and the World Problem

"The World Problem" afflicts most thoughtful minds to-day — the difficulty of reconciling, with a theistic or even a rational interpretation of the universe, the presence and power of evil in the world. In pre-war days, it may be, only the minority of people were severely troubled by it; but now it is difficult for anyone to escape it who thinks at all. The great war, with its immeasurable toll of death and mutilation and starvation, left the world on the edge of an abyss — with the imminent prospect of total destruction by social anarchy or further war, or both together. The collapse of the Central European Powers provided a unique opportunity for binding up the wounds of war, and starting the world on a new path of peace. But, with the exception of securing agreement to the Covenant of the League of Nations, the chance was missed. Millions of men, women and children in central and eastern Europe were condemned to further years of slow starvation, and a generation is growing up with constitutions undermined by long years of under-feeding. But for help from individuals in other nations, and from the American Government, millions of them would never have grown up at all.

We were confidently assured that this war was not like others — it was a "war to end all war." But already political and military leaders in most of the nations, including the United States, are eagerly preparing for the next. What will it be like if it comes? Everyone who has given any thought to the matter, whether civilian or soldier, knows that it will not be a war of army against army, but will be waged against the civilian population. This is no "pacifist" scare, the warning comes from military authorities themselves. Lieut. Col. Fuller, chief general staff-officer of the Tank Corps, writes thus in his book Tanks in the Great War:

"Fleets of fast-moving tanks, equipped with tons of liquid gas, against which the enemy will probably have no protection, will cross the frontier, and obliterate every living thing in the fields and farms, the villages and cities of the enemy's country. While his life is being swept away around the frontier, fleets of aeroplanes will attack the enemy's great industrial and governing centres. All these attacks will be made against the civil population, in order to compel it to accept the will of the attacker."1

But, before this comes, each separate nation is liable to be destroyed by internal bankruptcy, leading to chaos and wholesale bloodshed and starvation. Some people seem to have viewed with calmness the oncoming of such a fate for our late enemies; but the disease, if it comes, will spread. General Smuts in 1923 declared that "To-day we are all marching to certain and inevitable defeat, victors and vanquished alike . . . Europe has started on a pilgrimage, a crusade of suicide."2  Mr. Winston Churchill, even, stated that "Another great war would shatter the structure of our civilization. It might lead to a destruction of the human race on such a scale that the world would be cast back thousands of years in its progress."3

It is very clear that war has not ended war or brought the reign of peace on earth; Satan has not cast out Satan. We are brought to the point that either humanity must destroy war, or war will very soon destroy humanity.

The late war, with all that it has entailed, was a manifestation of the Evil of the world on a gigantic and appalling scale. The question I wish us to ponder is this: Does it represent the real nature of the universe in which we live? Is the world so constructed that it necessarily bears such bitter fruit? Is our life, by nature and inevitably, such a scene of strife and destruction? Was the war an outcome of the real nature of man? Is that the sort of life he was made for — we cannot say by God, for if the answer is "yes" there is no God in any reasonable meaning of that word — but by the blind force that rules the world?

Christianity, of course, says "No — the world was made and is governed by a God of love." But it speaks with no compelling voice through the lips of its professors. It does not convince the world at large that its answer is true — and this, largely, because it failed to prevent the evil. Christianity as represented by the organized Churches did not prevent the war, and still fails to heal its ravages. It is not to the leaders of the Churches that we look, in the main, for guidance or inspiration. The Church has become divided and nationalized, and each branch of it has been content to support the cause of its own nation against others. Few or none of the great leaders of Christianity, except to some extent the Pope of Rome, have stood "above the battlefield," have upheld a supra-national standpoint, or called upon the warring nations to recognize the unity and brotherhood of all mankind.

There has been no clear call to the peoples of the earth to discharge their duties one to another, or to use or trust the spiritual forces of justice and goodwill. A false idea of Patriotism has been exalted, and religion, which ought to be the great uniting force in human life, has been placed at the service of the forces that divide. Love has not been proclaimed and practised as the expression of national and international life. It is little cause for wonder that among the mass of the workers in most countries our religion is regarded with undisguised contempt.

Nor need we wonder that in our day Christianity has its rivals. The chief of these is the great movement for which, perhaps, the broadest name is Social Democracy. Apart from its extreme and monstrous manifestations in Bolshevism and the like, this movement is allied to Christianity — in so far at least as it aims at substituting co-operation for strife in the dealings of men and nations with one another, and at giving to the weaker members of society a share in life's good things. But whether it is to help -in saving the world depends upon the aim it sets before it, and the spirit in which it seeks to attain its purpose. If Social Democracy is, above everything else, a struggle for the possession of material goods, through a "class war," it will be sowing the seeds of its own destruction. The possessing class will fight, as did the rich in the slave wars under the Roman republic, with full assurance that right and justice are on their side. A struggle on these lines will be long and bloody, and if history is any guide it will end in reaction and despotism, as did the French Revolution of 1789.

But it need not be so. If it is raised to the spiritual plane, and becomes first and foremost a struggle for the enfranchisement of all human spirits, for the removal of all conditions which thwart and hinder the development of manhood and womanhood and childhood, then it may be permanently successful. It will not in that case be a war of classes, the "Haves" against the "Have-nots." For many of the possessors of wealth will be on the side of the dispossessed, as they have been in this country from the days of Lord Shaftesbury and John Bright to our own time, knowing that the aim is right and just. It will be a conflict between the believers and the disbelievers in the inherent worth of manhood — between those in all classes who for its sake are prepared to sacrifice something of their own apparent good, and those who are not. It will be fought out, not with bombs and barricades, but in Parliament, in the Press, and in the polling-booth — it will be a peaceful struggle, and likely to be permanent in results.

But how is the conflict, which is now upon us, to be raised to, and remain on, this higher plane? I see no answer but that it must be inspired and controlled by religious faith. An Internationalism that has no root in spiritual insight, in belief in God and the worth of manhood, will prove, as it has proved already, a feeble bond that snaps at the first strain of war. Assurance of the inherent and inalienable worth of all persons, whatever their race or colour or upbringing, is not of the kind that attaches to a self-evident proposition — as anyone knows who has argued for "social equality" in the Southern States of America, or in South Africa, or anywhere amid strong race passions. Nor can it be proved by processes of argument. It appears to be strictly an intuition, a conviction due to an illumination of the mind by a light beyond its own. And no religion can yield this conviction with the same power and certainty that Christianity can, and ought to, afford. For Christ has both taught it and lived it out, and has shown in Himself that human nature is in its deepest essence Divine. The Christian ought to see in every human soul a potential sharer in the manhood of Christ; "Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name, receiveth me." A Social Democracy rooted in religion would be no rival of Christianity, but its political expression.

True Christianity does not shirk the World Problem; it meets the puzzle fairly, and offers a solution. In this it differs from optimism on the one hand and pessimism on the other. The shallow and easy optimism with which many to-day are trying in vain to find satisfaction evades the problem by denying its real existence. Evil, it tells us, is illusion; think rightly, and all will be well. It refuses to recognise the real tragedy of the world, saying "Peace, peace, when there is no peace." It tries to heal the hurt of humanity lightly. There is, indeed much truth in the doctrine that evil comes from wrong thinking. But wrong thoughts lie very very deep, and are not to be got rid of by merely looking another way. They are not eradicated by any of our modem rose-water religions.

Pessimism is nearer to reality, claiming that it faces the facts as they are. It sees the tragedy of the world, and assumes that in deepest reality the world is like what it sees. Either the Universe is malevolent, or it is wholly indifferent to our moral strivings. The solar heat is being dissipated into space, and our world like others will gradually cease to support life. There are men and women who hold this gloomy belief and yet devote their lives to human betterment; all honour to them. But how many are likely to do so, if inwardly convinced that all their efforts will be finally wasted?

And yet, out of the heart of pessimism, there are some few who, like H. G. Wells, find God once more — a "Finite God," our Comrade and our Leader in revolt against the veiled inhuman Might that made and rules the world.

I believe that none of these substitutes for Christianity will finally help us, for none of them touches the bottom. Either they refuse to recognize the tragedy of the world, or they give us a Universe that we can never accept as good. From the Universe we come, and to the Universe we go; it is in harmony with the Universe and its laws that our true life can alone be lived. The heart of man will not find rest except in a Universe that ultimately supports his intuition of goodness.

What, then, is the real Christian solution of the World Problem? For answer, let us glance at the Johannine writings of the New Testament, which come to us from the close of the first century, when the novelty of the new faith that Christ had brought to men was passing, and when some had begun to reflect upon what it meant. These writings are in no sense philosophical. They do not call us to intellectual enquiry. What they profess to offer us is a revelation of God, that is, an unveiling of hidden Reality. This revelation, they tell us, was brought to men by Christ, and is to be received by experience of what He can do for men's souls. Few or none of those living in the year 100 can have known Jesus in the flesh. But the message of His life and death and resurrection had given them real insight into the kind of man He was. They saw in some measure His true character — His conflict with the evil in men's hearts, His perfect love even unto death. And they were assured that through death He had triumphed, and was still living His life in them by what they called His Holy Spirit.

This experience had lifted them — not the leaders only, but the "servants and handmaidens", into a new knowledge of God; Jesus had been able to share with them a measure of His own experience of sonship.4  He had brought them a revelation of God, not in words or formulae but in His own quality and character. When they asserted His Divine nature, it meant to them that God is like Jesus. As Jesus had loved men, so God loved them; as He had yielded up His life in the struggle with evil, so God was ever suffering sacrificially to redeem men from sin. The deepest thing in this mad world was love. God Himself was love, and was reproducing His own character in those who gave themselves up to Him. "We love because He first loved us." The loving, suffering, dying, living "Son of God" had made their lives new; had called out in them possibilities of love and service and self-sacrifice of which they had never dreamed. They saw now what life was for, what the Universe really meant. The Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus had shown them the hidden Reality of a God who was overcoming evil by taking it upon Himself, bearing it and forgiving it and removing it; and so was bringing good out of the very heart of monstrous wrong. And so these wholly unphilosophic writings contain after all a deep philosophy of human life. Prof. Pringle-Pattison says:

"No deeper foundation can be laid than the perception of the Spirit's power to transform the very meaning of the past, and to transmute every loss into a gain, finding even in the worst of tragedies the means of an otherwise impossible triumph — a triumph which, but for that wrong or treason, had never been. This is the real omnipotence of atoning love, unweariedly creating good out of evil; and it is no far-off theological mystery, but (God be thanked) the very texture of our human experience."5

It made a real difference, therefore, what the followers of Jesus thought of Him. The Johannine writer, in his first Epistle, stresses the importance of recognizing Jesus as at once human and Divine.6  And we can see Why both aspects mattered. Unless Jesus was in some real sense one with God, His life of love was not necessarily a revelation of the Divine character. But unless He had really become man, and died upon the Cross, God had not faced the lowest depth of humiliation for man's sake. These are the two aspects of the Person of Christ which Greek thinkers in the Church sought to preserve in the Creeds. They endeavoured to think out the question in terms of the Greek metaphysic of "substance" or "nature"; and laid down that in Jesus there were two "natures," the human and the Divine, in one undivided Person.

The Johannine writings, however, as has been already said, are not metaphysical. They are Jewish and ethical through and through. The "nature" of God, for this writer, was not some subtle essence, it was character; and a man may be one with God in mind and will and purpose. There is not, therefore, in his thoughts of Jesus, any confusion of "natures." His sub-conscious thought, I venture to say, must have been something like this: that human nature at its best, when wholly free from sin, is Divine nature. A human life wholly under the control of the Spirit of God is a Divine life — is an adequate expression of the nature or character of God, so far as this can be expressed under the limitations of humanity. Previous Jewish thought concerning the "Wisdom" of God — translated for Greeks into the doctrine of the "Logos" — had prepared the minds of some for believing that the nature of God could so express itself; and the life of Jesus and what He had done for men convinced them that it had so expressed itself. Acceptance of the Divine humanity of Jesus, not as a dogma to be received blindly on authority, but as a revelation to men's inmost souls, meets the problem of the world as nothing else does; because it assures us that God is revealed in Jesus, and that the deepest thing in this otherwise unintelligible world is love.7

Real Christianity does not shirk the World Problem as insoluble. It is not blind to the darkness of the universe, but it sees a light shining in the darkness, which the darkness cannot "overwhelm"8  The world is evil, but its evil is to be "overcome," though not without men's "faith."9  The ultimate God is, as H. G. Wells tells us, a "Veiled Being" ("No man hath seen God at any time"); but He has unveiled Himself for man's redemption. In Christ He gives us the clue to His real nature, and therefore to the meaning of the Universe. The ultimate reality of things is of the kind suggested by the character and personality, the life and death, of Jesus Christ. In other words, the world is not really, at bottom, what, when we look at its surface only, it appears to be. Its confusion and unreason is not at its heart; its seeming malignity or indifference is but a veil, which hides a heart of eternal, sacrificial and redemptive Love.

But, after all, is this credible? Can it be believed by anyone who frankly faces the facts as they are, and is not content with dreams? Some of us, if we are made that way, are bound (as we value Truth) to do our best to find an intellectual assurance — philosophically, by reflecting on what we mean by "God," and scientifically, by studying the real nature of the world of life. The Greek Christians of the early centuries did the first, and their efforts resulted in the Doctrine of the Trinity — which at bottom is not a piece of mere idle speculation, but has its roots in the practical and moral needs of men. It is an attempt to express in words the idea of Divine self-sacrifice ("God giving His own Son"), and of the reproduction of this life of sacrificial love in men by "the Holy Spirit." We too have to think out as best we may the nature of God, and it may be that our choice will be found to lie between a full Christianity and blank atheistic pessimism. But for us there is, also, as there was not for the Greeks, the method of approach through scientific study; and here perhaps some will feel that the conclusion I have been suggesting does but raise in a new and even acute form the old "conflict between religion and science." Certainly the Darwinian doctrine, as it was taught by leaders of science in the nineteenth century, seems hard indeed to reconcile with belief in a God of love. It was thought to teach that the whole progress of life depended on struggle and survival, and on the triumph of the strong over the weak. It has been pointed out that "a female cod-fish will lay in one season nine million eggs, and that out of all the eggs she lays in her lifetime on an average only two will reach maturity."10  The existence of this struggle, in the lower forms of life especially, we are bound to recognize; but recent biology has been teaching us more and more clearly the co-existence of another and deeper principle of progress, that of co-operation and mutual aid. Professors Patrick Geddes and J. Arthur Thomson, and Prince Kropotkin in his Mutual Aid in Nature have shown how, in the higher ranges of organic evolution especially, this element of love or helpfulness has been the chief factor in progress. Why, for instance, did the feeble race of mammals gradually supplant the gigantic saurians of mesozoic times? Obviously not because they were stronger; it was partly that they were more intelligent, but mainly because they cared for their young. It is mother love, among all the higher animals, that has mainly enabled the young to survive. A recent biologist, Hermann Reinheimer, has gone so far as to state that "Evolution is essentially a process of progressive co-operation . . . Organic life is a whole, of which each species and each individual is a part; and neither can live by themselves or for themselves without transgressing the laws of co-operation . . . The whole organic world is primarily and normally based on mutualist relations, and every step that transgresses these relations leads towards degeneration and decline."11  It looks, then, as if biology were already beginning to verify, by more accurate observation, some of the deeper intuitions of religion, and perhaps we need no longer fear a "conflict between religion and science" in this field.

But for most of us, and those especially who are little qualified for independent study either in philosophy or science, it will not be along intellectual lines only, or mainly, that assurance must be sought of the truth of Christ's revelation of God. We shall not gain assurance without life, without the venture of faith, without striving to act as if the revelation were true, and verifying it as true in our own life's experience. Christ offers us not only a definite moral ideal to aim at, but a living inspiration to follow and attain it. Belief in Him, if it is of the true quality, is more than saying "Lord, Lord "; it is doing the things that He said. It involves placing trust in His deepest intuitions of the Father, of the nature of ultimate reality, and striving to live as if those intuitions held. Only so can we verify them for ourselves.

This is where we fail, from want of full belief that Christ's principles will work in practice. In spite of all our orthodoxies, many of us still think of Him as a dreamer who did not understand the real nature of the universe. We fancy that the world of business, the world of politics, the world of international relations, is built on some quite different basis from His law of love. It will not do; we cannot have real Christianity so cheaply. We must have faith in Him to the extent of believing that He is in reality "The Lord of Thought." It is only by trusting His insight that we ourselves can come to share it. In particular, we must learn to follow Him fearlessly in the path of love to men. Love for Him was the deepest of all realities, and it is for us to embody and express it in our lives as He did in His. All separating walls must be broken down, all maxims of mere worldly prudence abandoned. Not only our private concerns but our national life and our international relations must be fearlessly and avowedly based, not on the law of self-preservation, but on the law of love.

This, it may be said, is mere impractical idealism; the practical man must take things as they are. That is exactly what the average "practical man" does not do. He faces things as they look, and has not the insight to see them as they really are. William Penn made the bold venture, in reliance on his belief in the Light of God in all men, of trusting the bloodthirsty Indian tribes as if they had been his own flesh and blood. For seventy years his colonists in Pennsylvania never armed themselves against the Indians, but met them in the spirit of justice, goodwill and trust. And during all those years, while other colonists were exposed to raid and massacre, the Pennsylvanians were never once attacked. Penn proved that Christ's principles would work in practice if men had the courage to apply them. His idealism was far more "practical" than the policy of armed defence. He ventured to take Christ seriously; he ran the risk of trusting Him, and verified His principles by experience.

So of the relations between sections of people, or classes, within a nation: all must be based on the law of love, on recognition of the inherent worth of all human personality. We must aim explicitly and avowedly at the enfranchisement of every human spirit — a revolutionary programme truly, but Christianity means revolution, bloodless and lasting, or it means nothing. Its very purpose is to transform the present world-order, based on self-seeking and self-preservation, into the higher order which it calls the Kingdom of God — an order based on justice, goodwill, and mutual confidence. On this must rest our national defence, and our hope of harmonious relations within the nation.

Only by willingness to lead in this great venture can the Church of Christ regain its place as the embodiment of the Christian spirit in the affairs of men. Only by faith and love — by the great experiment of taking Christ seriously and following where He leads, can we "assure our hearts" as individuals, and convince mankind that He has the key that can unlock the problem of the world.

Chapter V ...>

From Quaker Thought and History: A Volume of Essays. By Edward Grubb, M.A. Published in 1925 by The MacMillan Company, New York.)

Notes and Links

 1  Quoted in The Nation, February 28, 1920. (Italics mine.)

 2  1 The Times, October 24, 1923.

 3  2 The Times, March 16, 1924.

 4  Note Paul's expression "the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry 'Abba, Father.'" (Rom. viii. 151 Gal. iv. 5, 6.)

 5  The Idea of God, p. 417.

 6  I John iv. 2, 15.

 7  It should be noted that even if we try to simplify Christianity by dropping its dogmatic statements about the Divine humanity of Jesus Christ, we still have the problem of the world on our hands, and it may be we are closing our eyes to the light that could show us a solution.

 8  That is almost certainly the meaning of the word translated "apprehend" in John i. 5. Compare the words of George Fox:
"I saw that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God." (Journal, Bicentenary Edition, p. 19.)

 9  John xvi. 33; I John v. 4.

 10  Paper on "Evolution a Vital Phenomenon" read by Prof. E. W. Macbride at the Modern Churchman's Congress, Oxford, 1924. (The Modem Churchman, September, 1924, p. 240.)

 11  Quoted in Public Opinion, October 26, 1923.