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1. Grandfather’s Clock and Cosmic Alarm

“Suppose you walk through a park,” my religion teacher once said in class, “and you see a blanket spread out on the grass, with a picnic basket on it, sandwiches, apples and a tin of Coca-Cola. Even if you see nobody around, you know they were put there by a human person. A blanket can’t walk. A basket can’t carry itself. In the same way, when we look at the universe, we know it was created by Someone outside it. Nothing in the universe can make itself: neither a stone, nor the earth, nor the stars, nor a whole galaxy. Everything finite that exists must owe its existence to an infinite, self-sufficient Being. Sheer logic compels us to accept an eternal, omnipotent, unlimited Creator. ”

The argument, even if it has its validity, evokes an image of God as craftsman and organizer. Because we produce artefacts by selecting different kinds of material and putting them together in a new structural order, we think of God as having done the same. Of course, he does surpass us by his power and skill, that we grant—he created the materials he needed out of nothing, and combined them in ways infinitely more ingenious and imaginative than we could have done. All the same, creation was a job, a piece of craftsmanship, the work of an organizer. This is also how the first chapter of the Bible describes creation.

God collected basic materials by his repeated command: “Let there be . . . !” The ingredients for his manufacturing process were light, land, a sky, plants, fish, cattle and so on. Then he put everything in its place. The sun and the moon were suspended from the sky to divide day and night. Dry land was separated from the sea. Fishes were let loose in the water, birds in the air. The land was furnished with plants and animals. The Bible thus presents the world as a house which God the master architect, built for the human race.

Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C. - A.D. 54) was a Jew who knew the Genesis account well. As philosopher and writer he had also studied Aristotle’s arguments. For him the conclusion that God is the ultima followed from the nature of the world itself. “When we come across a statue or painting, do we not form at once an idea of the sculptor or painter? When we inspect a dress, a ship or a house, do we not immediately conceive a notion of the weaver, or shipbuilder, or architect who made them?” So God’s identity too, he concludes, could be established from the universe. “No artificial product can exist of its own accord. The world is the most artificial and skilfully made of all products. Therefore it carries the mark of having been put together by some extremely skilled person someone most perfect in knowledge”. (1)

Now I do not want here to enter into the argument itself, its mythopoic origins or its function in philosophy. I want to reflect on the image it evokes, an image that was bound to make God far and distant.

In the Middle Ages the world, as people knew it, was incredibly small. The earth was still believed to be a flat disk, about the size of Europe. The sky was like a huge dome, with the sun and the stars gliding along it almost within human reach. Travel being as slow as it was, the distances in the known world were large enough to impress people; yet from another point of view the “ends of the earth” were reasonably near. God, enthroned in his heavenly palace just above the sky, could be imagined to keep everything under close surveillance.

For God was thought to be directly involved in everything that went on in his creation. The sun, the moon and the stars were pushed along by angels specially appointed to that task. The weather belonged to God’s own portfolio, and he guided the seasons from month to month. At times he might send a frost or a drought to punish a sinful nation; then their repentance and insistent pleas might make him relent so as to avert total disaster. Every single human being owed his or her life to God’s specific decision to infuse a human soul into the embryo. Everything important that happened to an individual came directly from God’s hand: health or sickness, failure or good fortune, one’s marriage partner, one’s children, the moment of death. God was terribly close, for not only was he the creator, he was imagined to be like a puppet master holding every creature on a string.

This image of God was bound to shatter into a thousand pieces with the increase of our knowledge of the universe. We realize now that our earth is but a speck in an immensely vast system of millions of galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Some of the light we capture in our telescopes has travelled twelve billion light years to reach us - a distance completely beyond our imagination, if we remember that light covers 300,000 km in just one second! Since the traditional image placed God outside the universe, he was pushed further and further away with every new awareness of cosmic size.

God’s direct causality in every-day events underwent a similar kite. In every sphere of science God’s intervention was shown to be unnecessary. The weather, for instance, is entirely dominated by natural forces: the turning of the globe, the processing of the sun, currents of water and air caused by variations in temperature and pressure. Life too holds no secrets. The origin of a child can be followed from the moment of conception, the formation of the first cell by the cohesion of the father’s and mother’s chromosomes, to delivery and birth. Disease, we know, is due to natural disorders: to microbes, viruses, cancer or malnutrition. God, the puppet master, the stage manager, the organizer, seems no longer to be required to explain the events that touch us more directly. In this respect too he has been pushed away out of our view.

The larger the universe is and the more complicated in its structure, the more it requires a creator, religious people will tell us. Right. But what we are discussing now is the image of God as the outside creator. That image, whatever our philosophical reasonings may tell us, has let us down, for God has become so far and distant as to be virtually non-existent. There is the famous story of the astronomer Laplace who had constructed a replica of the solar system according to Newtonian principles. It showed the earth and the planets rotating round the sun like a giant clock. When Laplace showed his contraption to Napoleon Bonaparte, the latter is supposed to have asked: “And where does Almighty God fit into the picture?” “I’ve no longer any need of that hypothesis”, Laplace replied. God the clockmaker, clockwinder, clockmender has disappeared from our world.

It is a hilarious thing to say, but we have organized our own life so adequately that we feel quite self-sufficient. We live in houses built by ourselves. All the furniture is fabricated. We use water, gas and electricity generated by our industries. We buy food and clothes in supermarkets. When we venture outside we travel on paved streets in cars or buses. We surround ourselves with radio and television sets, calculators and word processors. We manage our own lives, we think, through science and technology. God is dead, as far as we are concerned.

Of course, it does not really work. We are fragile human beings, and all the apparatus of urbanized living cannot save us from being such. We want to know what the meaning of life really is. We discover that money and technology cannot actually make us happy, in spite of all the comfort they produce. We are suddenly confronted with the mystery of existence by an unexpected death. We love to leave our steel-and-stone fortresses and roam in a forest, or walk along a beach, or climb the face of a mountain. We know there are dimensions in us that can never be satisfied by mathematics and machines. We are beings with emotion, with a mind that searches deeper than matter, with a self-awareness that cries for affirmation. The old questions which the God-creator faith sought to answer, still need a reply.

Does the solution not stare us in the face? I have said already that we cannot run away from ourselves. God has become so far removed from us because we approached him as a creator outside us. But suppose he is just the opposite? Suppose he is more accurately described as the deepest source within us, the source from which we sprang forth? Suppose he is the inner presence in everything we are and everything we see? The image of an architect, a carpenter, a clockmaker fails precisely because such craftsmen leave their products behind. Once they have done their job, they can walk away, and the objects they have produced continue on their own. But suppose we are related to God in a different way? Suppose we are the architect, the carpenter, the clockmaker to the extent God manifests himself in us?

Adjusting ourselves to this new image of creation requires time. We are so used to the “outside creator” image that it has become a prejudice. And prejudices are frames of reference that are charged with emotion, we cannot abandon them overnight. Someone I knew called Jim had a comparable experience when his father married a second time.

The woman Jim’s father married was one of Jim’s colleagues in the office. From being a friend and companion whom he used to tease and cheer up, she had suddenly become his step-mother! It took some time before Jim had made all the mental and emotional readjustments required by the new situation. We too need time to sit back so that we can digest the implications of an inverted creator image.

I can think of no better way of doing this than by introducing some ancient spiritual masters, the Taoists, who believed in an internal creator. If we take the trouble to see the world as they saw it, we will begin to understand the implications of our new approach to God. If God is the source of all we are, as the inner well of being and energy within us, we will discover a new focus. Could it be that the noise of hard work, production and organization prevents us from finding God? Could it be that silence reveals him?


1. Works of Philo Judaeus, transl. C.D. Yonge, George Bell and Sons, London 1890, pp. 182-3.

Next? Go to:

Turtle-Shells and Deep Water

The Way in to GOD

Creator in us

Inner Judge

Beyond thought



This course is based upon the book God Within Us by John Wijngaards and published by Collins, Fount Paperbacks, London, 1988..

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