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COMMENT FOR THE WEEK

I

When a man, making earnest with prayer, sets himself to practice communion with God, he is likely to awaken with a start some day to a disturbing reflection. "This thing that I am doing," he well may say, "presupposes that the Almighty God takes a personal interest in me. I am taking for granted when I pray that the Eternal is specially solicitous on my behalf. Praying may seem a simple matter, but on what an enormous assumption does it rest!" Now, this reflection accords entirely with the facts. Prayer does involve confidence that God takes interest in the individual who prays. The fact, for example, that the Bible is preeminently a book of prayer, involves of necessity the companion fact that the God of the Bible cares for individuals. He knows all the stars by name (Psalm 147:4); he numbers the hairs of our heads (Matt. 10:30); of all the sparrows "not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God" (Luke 12:6). John is expressing his thought of God as well as his interpretation of Christ when he says, "He calleth his own sheep by name" (John 10:3). God is like a shepherd who misses even one lost from his flock, a housewife who seeks for a single coin, a father who grieves for one boy gone wrong (Luke 15). Of all the children in the world, says Jesus, "It is not the will of your Father . . . that one of these little ones should perish" (Matt. 18:14).

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Throughout the Bible, and especially in the New Testament, God is not a king dealing with men in masses. He is no Napoleon, who, warned by Metternich that a campaign would cost a million men, said, "What are a million men to me?" God is a father, and the essence of fatherhood is individual care for the children. For all that there are so many of us, as St. Augustine said, "He loves us every one as though there were but one of us to love." That is the message of the Book, and it underlies the possibility of vital prayer.

This truth that God cares for every one of us is easy to speak about, beautiful to contemplate, but hard to believe. How can God care for each of us? We know the heart of Jesus well enough to understand that he loved every one he met. But God? How can we make it real to ourselves that he who sustains the milky way, who holds Orion and the Pleiades in his leash, knows us by name?

II

For one thing, we seem too small and insignificant for him to know. If God cares for each of us, that presupposes in us a degree of value and importance surpassing imagination; and as one considers the vastness of the physical universe, it seems almost unbelievable that individual men can be worth so much. Even the Psalmist felt the wonder of man's worth in such a world, when he cried: 'When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?" (Psalm 8:3, 4). The Psalmist, however, never saw more than 6,000 stars on the clearest night when he looked at the sky from the heights of Zion. We today can see 100,000,000 of them through our telescopes; and when we put a photographic plate, instead of our eyes, at the orifice of the instrument, we obtain indications of multitudes more. When, therefore, a modern psalmist like Tennyson thinks of man's possible value in so great a universe, he feels the terrific urge of doubt; he gathers all the activities of mankind, our wars, politics, arts and sciences, and cries,

"What is it all but a trouble of ants in the gleam of a million million of suns?"

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How in the face of this new knowledge of the universe can we pray in the confidence that God knows and cares for each one of us?

Many a man's faith is undone and his prayers stopped by this appalling contrast between the size of the world and his own smallness. The microscope, however, should counteract a little the disheartening influence of the telescope. It is evident that the Power which cares for the stars cares for all things with utter disregard of size. Inside any common pin as marvelous activity is going on as ever was present among the stars. Here are electrons so many and so small that the race in a million years could not count them, and yet not one electron touches another. In comparison with their size they are as far apart as the planets of a solar system. Endlessly they revolve about each other, and no one ever slips by an infinitesimal degree from the control of law. Not strong reason but weak imagination leads us to be terrified by the mere size of the universe into the thought that God cannot care for us. So far as physical nature has any testimony to bear on the matter at all, she says, "There is nothing too great for the Creator to accomplish, and nothing too small for him to attend to. The microscopic world is his, as well as the stars."

The real answer to our doubt, however, comes not from physical nature at all, but from spiritual insight. We are so small that God cannot care for every one of us? But surely, we ourselves are not accustomed to judge comparative value by size. As children we may have chosen a penny rather than a dime because the penny was larger; but as maturity arrives, that basis of choice is outgrown. The dearest possessions of the human race--diamonds and little children, for example--are rather notable for their comparative smallness. A mother's love for her baby is not a matter of pounds and ounces. When one believes in God at all, the consequence is plain. God must have at least our spiritual insight to perceive the difference between size and worth. Mere bulk cannot deceive him. He must know where in all his universe the real values lie.

As to where the real values do lie, the thoughtful of all races have unanimously agreed that they are found inside personality, not outside of it. Tennyson's word is a summary of the best thought of all time:

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"For tho' the Giant Ages heave the hill

And break the shore, and evermore

Make and break, and work their will--

Tho' world on world in myriad myriads roll

Round us, each with different powers,

And other forms of life than ours,

What know we greater than the soul?"

The thinker is of nobler worth than any external thing that he can think about; the seer is more wonderful than all he sees; and righteousness, friendship, generosity, courage, wisdom, love, functions of personality, all of them, are, so far as value goes, worth more than infinite galaxies of stars. No star ever knew that it was even being gazed upon. No star ever felt God's hand upon it, or was moved by gratitude for its creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life. As an astronomer watches the unconscious heavens, does not God know, as we do, that the man, with his powers of vision, intellect, volition, and character, is far more marvelous than all the stars he sees? We may as well deny God's existence altogether, as, granting his existence, affirm that he is enamoured by hugeness, in love with avoirdupois, and blind to spiritual values. To gain the whole world and lose a soul would be a poor bargain for God as well as for man. Personality is the one infinitely valuable treasure in the universe. If God is, he cares; if he cares, he cares for personality. "For Jehovah's portion is his people" (Deut. 32:9).

III

The difficulty which many experience in trying to conceive of God's individual care, is complicated by the fact that not only are we small, but there are countless multitudes of us. With so many people, how can God know us all by name? This difficulty is one of the commonest stumbling blocks to prayer, and yet its mere statement ought to be its sufficient refutation. Could anything be more plainly an attempt to make God in man's image than this suggestion that his powers may be inadequate to his responsibilities? "It is hard for us to keep individual interest in many people," we are saying, "therefore it must be hard for God." This crude and childish 50 imposition of our human limitations on God, this fear that he will find it trying to remember so many, springs not from good reason but from immature thoughtlessness.

"There was an old woman, who lived in a shoe;

She had so many children, she didn't know what to do.

Is that nursery rhyme to represent our picture of God?

We may help ourselves to the conception of God's individual care, which is essential to all vital and earnest praying, by noting that knowledge, when it moves out toward omniscience, always breaks up vague masses into individual units, and cares for each of them. When an ignoramus goes into a library, he can see only long rows of books, almost indistinguishable as units. But when the librarian comes, the student and lover of books, he knows each one by name. Each volume has its special associations; he knows the edition, the value, the contents, the author, the purpose. He takes down one book after another, revealing his individual appreciation of each. The more he knows, as a librarian, the less he sees books in the mass; the more he knows them one by one.

Increasing knowledge is always thus not extensive only but intensive. The average man returns from seeing the turbines at Niagara, with a vague impression of enormous masses moving at tremendous speed. But the engineer? He knows every bolt and screw, every lever and piston; he knows the particular details of secret bearing and balanced strain; he pokes his wrench around dark corners for hidden bolts that the spectator never guessed were there. The more he knows, as an engineer, the more he sees the details and not the bulk. Ignorance sees things in mass; knowledge breaks all masses up into units and knows each one; omniscience perfectly understands and cares for every most minute detail.

Consider then the meaning of God's knowledge of men. When a stranger thinks of China, he imagines a vague multitude, with faces that look all alike. When a missionary thinks of China, the vague multitude is shaken loose in one spot, and individuals there stand out, separately known and loved. When God thinks of China, he knows every one of the Chinese by name. He does for humanity what a librarian does for his books, or an engineer for his turbines. We stand, every one, separate in his thought. He lifts us up 51 from the obscurity of our littleness; he picks us out from the multitude of our fellows; he gives to our lives the dignity of his individual care. The Eternal God calls us every one by name. He is not the God of mankind in the mass; he is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob! All great pray-ers have lived in the power of this individual relationship with God. They have said with the Psalmist,

"I will give thanks in the great assembly: I will praise thee among much people."

(Psalm 35:18).

IV

So important is the vital apprehension of this truth that we may well approach it from another angle. When one believes in God at all, he must believe that God has a purpose for the universe as a whole. The seers have uttered this faith in scores of figures, but no one of them is adequate to express the full meaning of this confidence that creation means something, has a goal, is not a blind accident, but a wise plan. "Nothing walks with aimless feet," says Tennyson. "There are no accidents with God," says Longfellow. All who believe in God must somehow share this faith. For them there is a divine purpose that "binds in one book the scattered leaves of all the universe." Indeed, most men do believe this. The contrary position makes life too empty and futile to be easily tolerable. If there is no purpose in creation at all, if it came from nowhere, is going nowhere, and means nothing, then the world is like a busy seamstress sewing on a machine with no thread in it. The centuries move like cloths beneath the biting needle, but no thread binds them. Nothing is being done. The years will pass; the machine will wear out; the scrap-heap will claim it; but there will be nothing to show for all its toil. That is the world without divine purpose; and because such an outlook on life makes it utterly vain and futile, most men do believe in "one far-off divine event, toward which the whole creation moves." They believe that there is a thread of divine purpose in this machine of the universe and that it binds the separate centuries together.

As soon as we speak of this general purpose of God, however, 52 an inevitable corollary faces us. Can God have a purpose for the whole and not for the parts? Can an architect thoroughly plan a house without planning the details? Shall he stand upon the site and say in a vague and sweeping way, "Let there be a house"? But, if you ask him about the chimney angles and the window frames, shall he answer, "There is no plan for them"? Rather planning a house consists in arranging the parts. And when we turn from dealing with things to deal with persons, each one so individual and unique, how much more clear the truth is! No father can love his family in general, without loving the several members of it in particular. So God can neither care nor plan for his world as a whole, without caring and planning for each of the individuals that make his world. The faith of the Bible, in the individual knowledge, love, and purpose of God for each of us is not mere sentiment. It is the inevitable corollary of theism. No man can think through the meaning of belief in God without coming to it. Purpose for the universe and purpose for each life are two aspects of the same thing and they mutually involve each other. You can as easily find a shield with only one side as a purpose that concerns the whole and not the parts. Here, too, God calls us every one by name. As an Indian poet sings,

"The subtle anklets that ring on the feet of an insect when it moves are heard of Him."

Whether, therefore, we consider the fact that God must care for value rather than for size; or the fact that knowledge, as it grows, always breaks up masses into units and understands each one of them; or the fact that no love and purpose in general can fail to include the particular parts, we come to the same conclusion: God's individual care for us is not only a reasonable, it is an inevitable corollary of our faith. Of course, God numbers the hairs of our heads! Just that sort of thing infinite knowledge necessarily implies. Of course, the Scripture cries in a passage, quoted by Jesus, "All of you sons of the Most High!" (Psalm 82:6). Just that must be said when the fatherhood of God is believed at all. Of course, it is not God's will that "one of these little ones should perish" (Matt. 18:14). How could he care for all and not for each? Of course, Jesus says, "Having shut thy 53 door, pray to thy Father who is in secret" (Matt. 6:6). For trust in God's individual love, if it have normal growth, must always flower out in prayer.

V

Indeed, prayer is the personal appropriation of this faith that God cares for each of us. When a man really prays he no longer leaves his thought of God's individual care as a theory, held in his mind, beautiful but ineffective. He now avails himself of the truth which he sees; he thrusts his life out upon it; he enters into that fellowship with God of which the creed is the theory, and prayer is the practice. It is one thing to think that a man is your friend; it is another thing actively to enter into friendly relations with him. So some men merely believe that God is, and that he cares for them; but some richly profit by their faith, so acting upon it in prayer that vague belief about God passes over into transforming relationship with him. Belief by itself is a map of the unvisited land of God's care; prayer is actually traveling the country. The tragedy of the Church is to be found in the thousands who fondle their credal maps, on which are marked the roadways of God's friendship, but who do not travel. They would resent any sceptical doubt about God's love for every individual, but they do not in habitual reliance and communion take advantage of the faith they hold. They miss the daily guidance, the consciousness of divine resource, the sustaining sense of God's presence, which can come only to those who both believe that God cares for each, and who in habitual communion with him are making earnest with their faith.

When, therefore, we have satisfied our minds of God's individual care, we have arrived at the beginning, not at the end of the matter. Now comes the vital and searching task of laying hold on the experience of that care, in whose existence we believe. We must pass from thought into spiritual activity, from the "industrious squirrel work of the brain" into an adventure of the soul in the practice of prayer. The Gospel offers a great privilege; prayer appropriates it. In Calvin's vivid figure, "Prayer digs out those treasures which the Gospel of the Lord discovers to our faith."

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