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The personal God is the basis of the moral, (1) in that He, as holy will, is the eternal fountain and embodiment of the moral idea. The good is not a mere object of a possible willing, not merely ought to be willed, but is eternally willed by an eternal will, and is nothing other than the contents of this will itself; God is the absolutely moral spirit, the holy spirit—perfectly at one with himself in his free personality, and eternally self-consistent,—and who as such guarantees to the moral life-task of his free creatures, full truth, unconditional and permanent validity as God’s requirement, and unshaken certainty, and perfect, constant unity and consistency.83
Outside of the Christian God-consciousness the moral idea lacks all certainty and strength. It is easy to say, that we should do the good for its own sake, that the moral law presents itself as a “categorical imperative,” but in the reality of life such generalities will not avail. For a mere idea without any sort of reality, no human heart can grow actively warm; here there is at best only an intellectual interest, but not a morally-practical one. The validity of the moral idea must have a deeper basis than a mere intellectual process. Before I can do the good for its own sake, I must love it; before I love it, I must with full certainty know it. So long as I am in doubt as to what is good, or as to whether there is any good, I have no object of love. The essence of the good, however, implies that the same is not my merely subjective opinion, but that it is universally valid—good per se. Now, should I leave the God-consciousness out of sight, then there would remain for me, in order to determine the unconditional validity of a supposed moral precept, and to avoid the possibility of a mere arbitrary judgment, no other resort than the impracticable test of Kant.88Namely: “Act so that the maxim of thy conduct shall be adapted to become a universal law for all men.” Suppose, however, that, apart from religious faith, there were in fact a scientific source for a certain knowledge of the moral law, still this would not yet answer the purpose;—not every one can be a philosopher, but all are required to be moral. Hence the moral consciousness cannot be based on mere scientific demonstrations, but must have a basis available for all rational men; now just such a resource is the God-consciousness. So soon as I know that a mode of action is God’s will, then am I perfectly certain that it is good, that it has universal and unconditional validity;—I have not to infer that because it is universally valid, therefore it is God’s will, but the converse. Without certainty of moral consciousness there can be no moral confidence; in this connection all doubt works ruin. The question is as to certainty of moral consciousness, and hence essentially as to God’s will’s becoming known to me.
So soon as there exists a consciousness of God, all good must be referred absolutely to God’s will; whatever God wills is good, and whatever is good is God’s will. The 84divine order of the world assumes, in the sphere of the free will of creatures, the form of a moral command; the “must” becomes a “should;” this is not a lowering, but an exalting of the law, for freely realized good is higher than the unfreely realized, seeing that God himself is freedom. If a moral duty is God’s will, then I am also further certain that it cannot be in real conflict with other moral duties. This is the high moral significancy of faith in the living God, namely, that it alone can give a full unity and certainty to the moral consciousness; with every limitation of the idea of God the moral consciousness also becomes uncertain and doubtful. Hence the Scriptures, even in the Old Testament, attribute such high significancy to the unity and unchangeableness of the holy and almighty God as moral law-giver, and base thereon, in contrast to heathenism, all morality,—as, for example, in Gen. xvii, 1; Deut. vi, 4 sqq.; x, 14, 17. In the first passage God’s omnipotence is emphasized in order to awaken in man a consciousness of his dependence; inasmuch as all existence is absolutely in God’s hand, therefore should also man’s free activity subordinate itself to Him,—therefore also is the sinful effort to be independent of God, that is, to be equal to God, unmitigated folly. Hence also he, who walks before the Almighty, has the assurance that he will attain to his goal; thou canst, for the reason that thou shouldst, for it is God who places upon thee the “should.”
But the certainty of the moral idea is only one of its phases, the other is its actuating power. It is true, the idea itself of the good should move the will; but its power is immeasurably greater When it is itself the expression of a holy will than when it merely speaks to the human will. It is the sacred awe of the Holy One that lends it this power. In a mere idea I can have pleasure, but it cannot inspire me with awe. The command that emanates from the Living One, gives life; a mere idea pre-supposes life as a condition of its efficacy. The moral idea becomes truly influential on the personal spirit only by its being the actual will of a personal God. “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” [Psa. xix, 8].
The question: is a thing good because God wills it, or does 85God will it because it is good? contains for us no contradiction. It would do so, however, if the first clause meant, that it is accidental and arbitrary that God declares this or that to be good, and that He might also just as well have declared good the very opposite (Duns Scotus, Occam, Descartes, Pufendorf). God cannot will anything else than what is God-like—corresponding to his nature; this “cannot” is a limitation only in the form of expression, in reality it is the highest perfection. A being that can come into contradiction and antagonism with itself, is not perfect. If the good is that which corresponds to the divine nature, and if God’s will is necessarily an expression of his nature, then, whatever is good is good because God wills it, and God wills it because it is good. God’s declaration: “I am that I am” [Exod. iii, 14] is valid also for his holy volitions. The idea of the good is not something existing without and apart from God, it is a direct beam from his inner nature.
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