In Doubt or In Faith, The Question of God Always Points To God

In Doubt or In Faith, The Question of God Always Points To God December 9, 2011

Many people note religious experiences when communing with nature. They feel a great sense of wonder which touches them in their innermost being. They get a sense of their place in the world. The world around them is vast – this vastness hints at, and draws in, the infinite. Looking up to a great, open sky, such as in Montana, especially at night when the light of space invades the darkness on earth, one is engulfed with a sense of awe. The infinite is all around them, and they are a part of it even as they are a witness to it. In this infinite, the presence of God, who is absolute infinity,[1] can be felt.  Any infinite would, in its infinity, participate in the absolute infinity (the form of infinity) and so would represent that infinity, bringing the presence and experience of the absolute infinity with it. This means that the experience of the infinite can serve as a way for us to know of the existence of God.

In this way, the problem of infinite regress is not really the problem which we often think it to be. As we know infinities can be bound (as mathematicians have shown), infinite regress points to such a boundary; the absolute infinite allows for that infinite regress to reach its limits, its boundary, so that the infinite regress actually does reach its limit. Zeno’s paradox is met when we realize the existence of the absolutely infinite which brings all infinite regresses to their limit and allows the realization of that limit in reality. When St. Thomas Aquinas brings up the problem of infinite regress, he is right in saying the problem points to God,[2] but it points to God because it points to the absolute infinite – the one in which all other infinities necessarily rely upon for their existence. Movement and causality exist in actuality and not just potentiality because the absolute infinite supplies for and establishes the infinite needed for each to reach the point they are at in the present.

In his exploration of what happened to him in 1974, Philip K. Dick went through explanation after explanation, developing ideas which he would take with him, dropping others as he saw fit. He would feel he “got it” one day before thinking he was all wrong and explored a new way of understanding his experiences. It became an obsession to him; he was addicted to the exploration, but it was also wearing him out. At times, he thought it was a great secret and reward given to him, at other times, he felt it was punishment for something he had done; sometimes he wondered if he were still alive or if all he was going through and experienced was the experience of purgatory. At times, the Christian content of his experience would hold sway, at other times, scientific explanations would take over. He went over his experience time and time again, with some secondary (but short) cues from a “voice” he felt directing him, for well over six years before he would have a second major theophany, one which he would at times feel put the first one to shame and required him to rethink everything; he even questioned whether or not his first experience was a Satanic delusion meant to distract him from God. This second theophany was clearly theistic: he got a sense of the existence of a personal God, transcendent to creation and yet so full of love and compassion – a God who came to remind him that behind all such explorations, beyond all his questions, he would always return to and find God.

Writing on November 17, 1980, PKD begins:

God manifested himself to me as the infinite void; but it was not the abyss; it was the vault of heaven, with blue sky and wisps of white clouds. He was not some foreign God but the God of my fathers. He was loving and kind and he had personality. He said, ‘You suffer a little now in life; it is little compared with the great joys, the bliss that awaits you. Do you think I in my theodicy allow you to suffer greatly in proportion to your reward?’[3]

After providing PKD a sense of the bliss which is to come, God in the theophany continued:

I am the infinite. I will show you. Where I am, infinity is; where infinity is, I am.  Construct lines of reasoning by which to understand your experience in 1974. I will enter the field against their shifting nature. You think they are logical but they are not; they are infinitively creative.[4]

Here, almost like the way God’s encounter with Job is described, PKD got a sense of God through God’s majesty – his absolute infinity. This time, God willingly puts himself the dock with PKD as questioner. The challenge was to find a line of thought which didn’t go on into infinity; any infinity regress would show God and then reveal God behind the universe.

I thought a thought and then an infinite regression of theses and countertheses came into being. God said, ‘Here I am; here is infinity.’ I thought another explanation; again an infinite series of thought split off in dialectical antithetical interaction. God said, ‘Here is infinity; here I am.’ I thought, then, of an infinite number of explanations, in succession, that explained 2-3-74; each single one yielded up an infinite progression of flip-flops, of thesis and anti-thesis, forever. Each time, God said, ‘Here is infinity. Here, then, I am.”[5]

Here then, the I Am. When we look for God, when we try to find God, we can go through an infinite series of theses and antitheses, going back and forth; the realization of the infinite sequence behind such debates allows us, more than the debates themselves, to see God. For even if we start off with the wrong footing, even if we start with wrong premises, we can find God because God reveals himself in the infinite, in any infinite. He is what holds such infinities together for he is the absolute infinite, the great I Am who revealed himself to Moses.

This is what is revealed to PKD – that God is there. PKD might doubt – and indeed, as long as he doubted, he could be said to be doubt itself,[6] but he was called to look at it, to explore his doubt, and to find God in the infinities he makes. What other thing could PKD have found? Was it not God behind it all?

“I said, ‘Probably it is you, since there is an infinity of infinities forming before me.’

“ ‘There is the answer, the only one you will ever have,’ God said.

“‘You could be pretending to be God,’ I said, and actually be Satan.’ Another infinitude of thesis and antithesis and new synthesis, the infinite regress, was set off.

“God said, ‘Infinity.’”[7]

This questioning, this exploration went on. God put himself on the dock, and countered whatever PKD said with the revelation of infinity. God revealed himself in the questions. God revealed himself in the doubt.

It became like a game. God was playing with PKD. Try and try again. God could continue this infinitely. Could PKD? If not, God is revealed, if so, God is revealed! There is much humor and sorrow expressed in this entry of the Exegesis. God reveals himself as capable of taking anything set up against him and turn it into his favor. God is not to be mocked, for in the mocking of God. God is revealed in it – as is the bliss of God. There is a kind of merriment in how he reaches down to PKD, allowing PKD to give all he can until PKD finds himself too tired, too exhausted to do any more. God wins in a way analogous to what we have seen at the crucifixion. Jesus took all that humanity could give – all the hate and doubt and anger and resentment was unleashed on him; all of it came to an end – but Jesus rose up after, showing that behind all negation there is the resurrection, the eternal, infinite glory of God. “Thus God works and wins within the fallen entropic creation of the disintegrating, ‘splitting’ dialectic to win us one and all in the end by different routes.”[8] The game continues, but God’s eschatological triumph has been revealed.

[1] There are many kinds of infinities. We can draw a bounded infinity; but the absolute infinite contains all other infinities within, tying them together. We can think of an infinite range of infinities within one plane by seeing an infinite number of lines; we can then think of an infinite number of infinite infinities when we add up the different planes. God transcends all of this but yet, when speaking of the absolute infinity, this is the kind of analogy which best satisfies what is meant by the term.

[2]“The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

“The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

“The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence — which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God,” St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1948), I-ii.3.

[3] Philip K. Dick, Exegesis. ed. Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2011), 639.

[4] Ibid., 639.

[5] Ibid., 639.

[6] see Ibid., 640.

[7] Ibid., 640.

[8] Ibid., 645

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