Last week we introduced the layout of Schaeffer’s He Is There and He Is Not Silent. This week we want to explore the first two areas of metaphysics and morals. As noted last week, Schaeffer is operating on the belief that God exists and that He has spoken – thus, He is there and He is not silent.
Metaphysics deals with the idea of existence. That which is. In fact, metaphysics can even be discussed at all because something exists rather than nothing and a part of that something, namely, humans, are capable of reflecting on the something that exists of which they are a part of. There are two primary answers to the question of existence, why is there something rather than nothing? There is the impersonal and the personal answer.
The impersonal answer suggests that everything that exists had an impersonal beginning. Off the bat Schaeffer notes that with an impersonal beginning for everything leaves mankind without and answer for or meaning to give to the particulars. Thus, an impersonal beginning of everything is not a universal that can give meaning to the particulars. If the impersonal is the explanation for everything then we cannot make sense of many things, including, most fundamentally, the very personality we find in ourselves.
To the contrary, the personal answer, as presented by the Christian worldview, states that the only answer to the question of existence as we know it is to have a personal beginning, or beginner. Schaeffer states the problem like this,
The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation, the heart of modern man’s problem. But if we begin with a personal and this is the origin of all else, then the personal does have meaning, and man and his aspirations are not meaningless. (p. 285)
But it is not enough to have a personal beginner. This personal beginner must possess certain traits, characteristics or properties that adequately explain the personality of man and everything else that exists. “To have an adequate answer of a personal beginning, we need two things. We need a personal-infinite God (or an infinite-personal God), and we need a personal unity and diversity in God.” (p. 286) Schaeffer points out two major ideas here: (1) God must be infinitely personal and (2) he must be both unified in some way as to be one and diversified in another way as to ground and explain the diversity we see in life. Thus, we need an infinitely personal triune God. We need the God as revealed in Scripture. An infinitely personal triune God is the only being than can adequately explain (1) why something exists rather than nothing and (2) why what exists exists the way it does. Schaeffer boldly states, “Without the high order of personal unity and diversity as given in the Trinity, there are no answers.” (p. 288) With that statement Schaeffer has the following words to say on the close of metaphysics,
Man is made in the image of God; therefore, on the side of the fact that God is a personal God the chasm stands not between God and man, but between man and all else. But on the side of God’s infinity, man is as separated from God as the atom or any other finite of the universe. So we have the answer to man’s being finite and yet personal.
It is not that this is the best answer to existence; it is the only answer.
The only answer to the metaphysical problem of existence is that the infinite-personal God is there; and the only answer to the metaphysical problem of existence is that the Trinity is there. (p. 288-90)
He is there and He is not silent in relation to the question of metaphysics. God has told us who He is and who we are and how we relate to one another; both God to man and man to man.
Not only is God necessary for the answer to existence but also for the answer of morals. For Schaeffer this naturally flows from the observation that man has “estranged himself from himself and other men.” (p. 293-94) We can discuss morals because while man is wonderful he is also cruel.
Like with metaphysics, the first answer to the question of morals is from an impersonal beginning. While there may be a problem of man’s finiteness and cruelty, which can be separated, an impersonal beginning melds these together. This discussion can be hard to follow so let’s let Schaeffer explain it in his own words:
With an impersonal beginning, morals really do not exist as morals. If one starts with an impersonal beginning, the answer to morals eventually turns out to be the assertion that there are no morals. This is true whether one begins with the Eastern pantheism or the new theology’s pantheism, or with the energy particle. With an impersonal beginning, everything is finally equal in the area of morals. With an impersonal beginning, eventually morals is just another form of metaphysics, of being. Morals disappear, and there is only one philosophic area rather than two. (p. 294)
As Schaeffer notes, Marquis de Sade put it best when he stated that, “What is, is right.” (p. 297) There is no eternal ground for morality. The ground of morality in a world with an impersonal beginning is the ever changing ground of the present spirit of the age. This is a shifting ground which is really no ground at all.
The second answer is that there is a personal beginning, or beginner. Schaeffer notes that this can cut two ways. First, one could look at the world as it is presently and conclude that if there is a personal God as the Christians believe then how is this God any different than man himself? That is, if man is finite and cruel, why is God any different? This is problematic for two reasons. First, it makes man the reference point for understanding God and His personality and morality. Second, it gives man no hope of escape in the future from his present condition of cruelty. ” If we say that man in his present cruelty is what man has always been, and what man intrinsically is, how can there be any hope of a qualitative change in man?” (p. 299) The second answer to morals as grounded in a personal beginning is that man as how he is now is not how man always was. This is the answer and this is the answer the Bible gives. Schaeffer put it as follows:
There was a space-time, historic change in man. There is a discontinuity and not a continuity in man. Man, made in the image of God and not programmed, turned by choice from his proper integration point at a certain time in history. When he did this, he became something that he previously was not, and the dilemma of man becomes a true moral problem rather than merely a metaphysical one. Man, at a certain point of history, changed himself, and hence stands, in his cruelty in discontinuity with what he was, and we have a true moral situation: morals do exist. Everything hangs upon the fact that man is abnormal now, in contrast to what he originally was. (p. 300)
What separates existence and morals is the fact that man was not always what he is now. If this were not so then existence and morals would be the same. What is, as Sade said, would be what is right. Since these two areas are separate man has true moral guilt before the infinite personal triune God. The answer to this guilt is the substitutionary and propitiatory death of Christ. Without either there is no meaning to Christ’s death on the cross (p. 303).
So, in answer to the problems of existence and morals, we need an infinitely-personal God who is unified and diverse (triune) and the way to keep these problems separate is to recognize the Fall that separates man from how he was, how he is now and how he can become because of Christ’s work on the cross.
Next week we will tackle the third area of epistemology by looking at the problem and the answer(s).