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By E. Stanley Jones
Abingdon PressCopyright © 1964 E. Stanley Jones
All rights reserved.
Week 1 Sunday
The Question That Halts Our Quest
Job 11:7-9; 21:15; 23:3-9; John 14:8
"In the beginning" God (Gen. 1:1).
It would be well if, in our quest for "Victorious Living," we could all begin with God. It would put a solid fact beneath our questing feet. It would give meaning and purpose to the whole of life. But, alas, many of us cannot begin there. For God is the vague, the unreal. We wish we could believe in God, and get hold of God so that we could live by God; for life without the Great Companion has a certain emptiness and meaninglessness about it. For many skepticism is not voluntary, but apparently unavoidable. The facts of life are too much for us—the unemployment, the hunger of little children, the underlying strife in modern life, the exploitation of the weak and incapacitated by the strong, the apparently unmerited suffering around us, the heartlessness of nature, the discoveries of science that seem to render the hypothesis of God unnecessary—all these things and more seem to shatter our belief in God. We do not reject that belief; it simply fades away and becomes unreal. And we cannot assert what, to us, is not real. For amid all the losses and wreckage of our modern day, we are trying to save one thing: the desire for reality. We wish to keep an inner integrity. We loathe all unreality. That leads us to face the fact that our skepticism has gone deeper than the matter of belief in God; we find ourselves questioning life itself. Has life any meaning? Any goal? Is the flame of life within us different from the flame that leaps from the logs in the fireplace—both of them the result of material forces and both destined to die down into a final ash? If it has no ultimate meaning, has it any meaning now as we live it?
O God, our Lord (if we may call you thus), as we begin this quest we are haunted with many a biting fear and with hesitation and doubt. Help us to face them all and come out, if possible, on the further side of them into victorious living. Amen.
Week 1 Monday
Follow a Life of No or a Life of Yes?
Ecclesiastes 4:1-2; 9:2-3; John 10:10
There are just two elemental philosophies of life: that of Buddha and that of Christ. The rest are compromises between. (When writer H. G. Wells chose the three greatest men of history he selected Christ, then Buddha, then Aristotle: life affirmation, life denial, and the scientific method.) The two greatest characters of history head up two diametrically different outlooks on life. Both of them looked at the same facts of life and came to opposite conclusions—one to a final yes, and the other to a final no.
Buddha, pondering under the bo tree, came to the conclusion that existence and evil are one. The only way to get out of evil is to get out of existence itself. Nirvana is so close to annihilation that scholars still doubt whether it means annihilation or not. "Is there any existence in Nirvana?" I asked a Buddhist monk in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). "How could there be?" he replied, "for if there were existence, there would be suffering." "Is it an emptiness, a cipher?" "It is an emptiness, a cipher," he replied with a final and decisive gesture. It is true that this is called bliss, but it is the bliss of the world-weary. In its revolt against life, the soul performs its final "hara-kiri," clothed, it is true, with an air of sanctity and nobility. Buddha would cheat the sufferings and evils of life by getting rid of life itself. He would have us perform a sanctified suicide, not only of the physical, but of personality itself. It is a final no to life.
There is much to be said for Buddha's position. Everything seems to be under the process of decay. The blushing bride—then the withered old woman shriveling to fit her narrow final shroud. We grasp the lurid colors of the sunset and find that we have grasped the dark—first the beauty, then the blackness.
O God, our Lord, we stand confused and dismayed, not knowing if we shall be compelled to adopt the noble pessimism of souls like Buddha. Perhaps there is another way. We hardly dare to believe it. But show us the way—the way to life, if there is such a way. Amen.
Week 1 Tuesday
Is Life a Bubble or an Egg?
Ecclesiastes 1:1-9; 2 Corinthians 5:1-4
A noble missionary drew near in spirit to Buddha when he said with a sigh, "Every new affection brings a new affliction." Philosopher Bertrand Russell also took his stand with Buddha when he said, "All the loneliness of humanity amid hostile forces is concentrated upon the individual soul which must struggle alone, with what courage it can command, against the whole weight of the universe that cares nothing for his hopes or fears." There are many modern followers of Buddha, unconscious of course, but driven there by the hard facts of life. They worship with a sigh at the shrine of the stupa.
Standing in the midst of a Buddhist ruin, I asked the learned Indian curator why the stupa was always oval shaped. "Because Buddhism believes that life is a bubble, therefore the stupa is shaped like one," he replied. Life is a bubble—sunnayavada ("nothingness" in Sanskrit)—at its heart! At the very thought I felt the darkness close in upon me, and my universe reeled. But as I looked at it again light seemed to dawn: "Why, it isn't shaped like a bubble, it is shaped like an egg," I remarked, as I felt the rock beneath my feet.
Is life a bubble, or is it an egg? Is it a bubble with nothing in it, or is it an egg filled with infinite possibilities—possibilities of growth and development and perfection? I vote for the egg view of life. I grant that even an egg, if badly handled, can turn rotten, so life can turn rotten if we handle it badly. Nevertheless, I shall have to vote on one side or the other of that question, and I shall tell you why I vote for the egg view of life.
I follow the One who saw just as deeply as and more deeply than Buddha into the sorrow, the sheer misery of life and yet came out at the other end of it all and affirmed his faith in life. "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." He affirmed that life was not a bubble, but an egg. Was he right?
O God, our Lord, light gilds our darkened horizon as we listen to this Man. But will it be an ignis fatuus that leaves us floundering in the swamp of final despair? Help us, we pray. Amen.
Week 1 Wednesday
In Which We Look at the Alternatives
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Is life a bubble or is it an egg? I must make my choice. On the one hand, experts tell us that the universe is slowly running down and that one day it will end in ash, carrying with it all things and all life to its final doom. Death shall reign. On the other hand, they tell us that the universe is being renewed by a silent and saving bombardment of life-giving rays, so that the last word is not being spoken by death but by life. Life shall reign. One says the universe is a bubble, the other says it is an egg.
On the one hand, they tell us that man is made up of elements that can be purchased for a few cents, so that life is only mucus and misery. On the other hand, they tell us that humanity is made in the image of the Divine, that we have infinite possibilities of growth and development before us. One says humanity is a bundle of futilities, the other says we are a bundle of possibilities.
On the one hand, they say that humans are just a composite of responses to stimuli from environment, mechanically determined and with no real power of choice. On the other hand, they say that we have sufficient freedom to determine our destiny and that the soul shapes its environment as well as being shaped by it. One says that human freedom is a bubble, the other says it is an egg.
Some say that prayer is an auto-suggesting of oneself into illusory states of mind, that nothing comes back save the echo of one's own voice. Others say that in prayer actual communication takes place, that I link myself with the resources of God, so that my powers and faculties are heightened and life is strengthened and purified at its center. One says prayer is futile, the other says it is fertile.
O God, our Lord, we want life, but not false life. Show us if there is real life, and if there is, help us to choose it. Amen.
Week 1 Thursday
In Which We Continue to Look at the Alternatives
Psalm 42:1-5; 53:1
On the one hand are those who tell us that God is an unnecessary hypothesis, that science can explain all, that the interstices and gaps of the universe into which we used to put the working of God are being slowly but surely filled up by science, so that the universe is self-sufficient, law-abiding, and predictable.
On the other hand are those who tell us that God is not to be found in the gaps and interstices and in an occasional breaking into the process, but that God is in the process itself, the life of its life; that the universe is dependable because God is dependable; that it works according to law because God's mind is orderly, not whimsical and notional; that since intelligence comes out of the universe and meets my intelligence it must have gone into it, so that according to Sir James Hopwood Jeans, the twentieth-century English physicist: "the universe is more like a thought than a machine"; that since the universe seems to work toward purposive ends, we must either endow matter with intelligent purposes (in which case it would not be mere matter), or we must put a purposive creative Intelligence in and behind the process; that since the universe—from the tiniest atom to the farthest star—is mathematical, we must either believe that matter has sufficient intelligence to be mathematical, or else that "God is a pure mathematician."
It would seem that the purposive-matter hypothesis takes more sheer credulity than the notion of an Infinite Spirit, called God, who is within the process working toward intelligent moral ends, inviting our limited spirits to work with him toward intelligent, redemptive purposes.
One says the idea of God is a bubble, the other says it is an egg. I must make my choice.
O God, our Lord, shall I rule you out and vote for a dead universe, dead because its final goal is death? Or shall I vote for a living universe with you as its genesis, with you as its perpetual Creator and with you as its goal and end? Clarify my mind, my heart, that I may not lose myself and you in the maze of things. Amen.
Week 1 Friday
In Which We Still Continue to Look at the Alternatives
2 Corinthians 13:3 (Moffatt); 2 Timothy 2:8; Hebrews 1:1-3
On the one hand are those who tell us that Christ is a spent force in humanity; that Thomas Carlyle (nineteenth-century Scottish satirist) was right when he stood before the Italian wayside crucifix, slowly shook his head, and said, "Poor Fellow, you have had your day." They tell us that his day is over because he spoke to a simple age, but now we face a complicated, scientific age; that he was good, but not good enough for us.
On the other hand are those who feel (with the Carlyle of later years) that his day is just beginning; that what has failed has been a miserable caricature and not the real thing; that even the partial application of his teaching and spirit has been the one thing that has kept the soul of humanity alive; that he has been and is the depository and creator of the finest and best in humanity; that when we have hold of him we have the key to God, to the meaning of the universe, and to our own lives; that when we expose ourselves to him in simplicity and obedience, life is changed, lifted, renewed; that he is the one really unspent force in religion. Jesus faces this age as the Great Contemporary and Judge. One says that dependence upon Jesus is a bubble, an illusion; the other says it is an egg with untold redemptive possibilities.
On the one hand are those who say that conversion is an adolescent phenomenon; coincident with and caused by the awakening of the sex instinct; or that it is the result of mob-suggestion, easily induced and quickly evanescent. On the other hand, many affirm that this change called conversion helps them control and redirect the powers of the sex instinct, and that, far from being mob-suggestion, it helps them to cut across the purposes of both the mob and the self when they are wrong. One says that conversion is a bubble, the other says that it is an egg.
O God, our Lord, hold us steady as we face the issues. May there be no dodging, no turning to irrelevancies, and no excuses. Save us to the real. Amen.
Week 1 Saturday
In Which We Make Our Choice
Joshua 24:15; Matthew 4:17-22
The issues of life are before me, I must vote for or against a view of life that has worth, purpose, and goal. If I vote that the universe has no meaning, then I vote that my own life has none. But if my life has no meaning and hence no purpose, it will go to pieces. Psychology tells us that without a strong controlling purpose, which coordinates life, the personality disintegrates through its own inner clashes—no purpose, no personality.
But my purpose must be high enough to lift me out of myself. If my purposes end with myself, again I disintegrate. They must include God, who gives basis and lasting meaning to my purpose. If I lose God, I lose myself, my universe, everything. I see that the eighteenth-century French critic Voltaire was right when he said, "If there is no God, we will have to invent one to keep sane."
If I let go of Christ, then God becomes the Distant, the Vague, the Unreal. In Christ, I find "the near side of God." In him, God speaks to me a language I can understand, a human language. And as I listen to that language, my universe seems to become a Face—tender, strong, forgiving, and redemptive. Law becomes Love.
If I do not sincerely get in touch with him through the written Word, I neglect the greatest and most redemptive fact of history, and I pay the penalty of being unfed at the place of my deepest need. If I do not pray, I shall probably become cynical and shallow. If I do pray, I shall probably get nerve and courage, a sense of adequacy, power over wayward desires and passions. If I undergo a moral and spiritual change called conversion, I shall probably be unified, morally straight, and spiritually adjusted. If I do not, I shall probably become a stunted human soul.
If I must vote, then I do. I vote for Life.
O God, our Lord, I make the choice. I do choose life with all its fullest, deepest implications. Help me to find life and live it victoriously. Amen.CHAPTER 2
Week 2 Sunday
Why Are We Religious?
Matthew 5:48; Romans 8:19-23 (Weymouth)
There are a hundred and fifty or more various definitions of religion. One says it is "what we do with our solitariness"; another that it is "how we integrate ourselves socially"; another that "the root of religion is fear," and so on.
The reason that it is so difficult to define is that life is difficult to define. When we define religion in terms of its various manifestations, we get partial, sometimes contradictory definitions. Religion, having many forms, has one root. That root is in the urge after life, fuller life. In everything, from the lowest cell clear up to the highest man, there is an urge toward completion, toward perfection; "all creation, gazing eagerly as if with outstretched neck"(Rom. 8:19 Weymouth). The religious urge is found in that urge for more complete life. It is that urge tuned toward higher, nobler ends. We feel that we cannot be complete unless this urge for life is fastened upon the highest life, God. Religion is the urge for life turned qualitative. It is not satisfied with life apart from quality. The urge for quantitative life reached its crest in the dinosaurs. That failed; it was a road with a dead end. The huge animals died. In human beings, the life urge turns from being merely big to being better. The qualitative and the moral emerge.
We are religious, then, because we cannot help it. We want to live in the highest, fullest sense, and that qualitative expression of life is called religion. So religion is not a cloak we can put on or off; it is identified with life itself. We are all incurably religious. Even the Communists, though repudiating religion, are deeply religious. They want a better social order. They may be right or wrong in the method of getting it, but the very desire for a better social order is religious. For religion is a cry for life.
O God, our Lord, who planted this urge for completion within us? Did you? Then, O my God, this urge is not in vain. You inspired it. You shall satisfy it with yourself. Amen.
Week 2 Monday
The Divine Initiative
John 1:1, 9, 12-13, 16-18
Yesterday we said we are religious because it is the qualitative expression of the life-urge. But this is only half the truth. This upward movement of the spirit of humanity would not of itself account for our religious spirit.
Excerpted from Victorious Living by E. Stanley Jones. Copyright © 1964 E. Stanley Jones. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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