So much it seemed necessary to say by way of a general vindication of the collocation 'Unknowable God.' We have seen with what qualification the term 'unknowable' is here applied; a qualification, however, which does not disturb the essential purport of the term, which consists in the denial of the possibility of definite conceptual meaning. And it has also become clear that what is being contended for is perhaps more suggestively designated by the expression 'Supra-rational God' rather than 'Unknowable God.' We may now resume the main thread of our discourse and endeavour to see, if possible, how the conception of the Supra-rational God actually functions in resolving the paradox of religion which has been engaging us. I propose to sketch the general answer in preliminary fashion by outlining the sort of defence which, on this basis, the religious man might actually make if confronted with, and challenged to reconcile, the two aspects of his experience which are in prima facie contradiction.
'You argue,' so his answer might run, 'that it is contradictory for me to believe that this universe in which we live is throughout the manifestation of a God who is Perfect, while I believe at the same time that there is much imperfection which it is my duty to remove. And so it would be a contradiction if I supposed for a moment that the Perfection which belongs to God is of the same type as the inadequate perfections of which alone we finite beings have cognisance. If I supposed God to be perfect on the basis of human analogies of perfection, then it would be the merest foolishness to unite with that the assertion of the existence of imperfection. But I do not commit this absurdity - for so it will seem to all who possess authentic religious experience - of imagining God's Perfection to be measurable by human standards. To attempt to conceive the Infinite under categories drawn from the finite can result in nothing but a gratuitous distortion of the Divine Nature. When I call God "Perfect" (as I do), what I mean is not that He is to be conceived after the manner of an ideal extension of the kind of "perfect" with which we are acquainted in our spatio-temporal existence: but simply this, that in Him, as I believe, all the aspirations of the human heart after perfection meet with their full and final consummation. The final satisfaction of our human aspirations must, when we think it out, have a character different in principle from all finite "goods," which, however fully developed in imagination or in fact, are incapable of reaching the all-sufficing harmony which our spirits lust after. The Divine Being, therefore, I conceive to transcend in principle all finite imaginings, to be supra-rational or "beyond knowledge," but to merit the title Perfection in the sense that He is the ultimate goal after which the soul of man everlastingly yearns. And on this view of God, no contradiction remains in my assertion of the existence of what we finite beings call "imperfection." For the imperfection that is asserted is not the contradictory of the Perfection which is God. It is contradictory only of the human analogues of perfection'.
Now this defence, which does not seem to me to do much more than make explicit the logic that is implicit in the minds of many simple religious men, is, I think, intelligible enough so far as it goes. But it is, of course, very far from bringing us a full release from our difficulties. A critic may very well rejoin in this wise: 'Let us agree with you that what we commonly regard as imperfection is contradictory only of human analogues of perfection, not of the Perfection that characterises God. On that hypothesis we may grant your consistency in affirming at once the Perfection of God (or Reality) and the existence of imperfection. But since imperfection, as we now understand it, is not in contradiction with God's Perfection, not in contradiction with what you have yourself described as "the consummation of all the aspirations of the human heart," but is in fact an actual expression of Divine Perfection, have you not now quite as serious a difficulty on your hands? For if this is what you believe, how can you legitimately experience any impulsion to remove this so-called imperfection, which you know to be the expression of Divine Perfection? In a word, if the All is Perfection, then everything already is as it ought to be, and there is no possible way of preserving significance for our infinite strivings'.
The difficulty is serious. And even when we see the fallacy it is not easy to lay it bare in words. But the fallacy is there. And the clue to it is the use of the word 'already.' It is of crucial importance to see that the assurance of religious experience as to the Perfection of Ultimate Reality is intrinsically void of temporal reference, and is utterly distorted if given a meaning in the temporal order. What is felt as Perfect is Reality in its Eternal Being, in its time-transcending (though not time-less) character. This is obvious in the case of a religious consciousness that explicitly recognises the Supra-rational nature of Divine Perfection. But even where such a recognition is not explicit, the same thing is true. That of which religion qua religion is conscious, that which confers upon it its supreme assurance, is always taken to be the deeper reality that lies at the heart of appearances, including within itself (although we know not how or why) the temporal order itself. Religious Faith or Religious Intuition claims, if it claims anything, to be insight into the Eternal. And the Eternal, we must always remember, is not the 'everlasting' or the 'permanent' - which is just an indefinitely prolongated temporal - but essentially that which transcends and is other than Time. Now it follows - and if this is not grasped the paradox of religion must seem forever sheer self-contradiction - that the attempt to give to this assurance of the Eternal Perfection a concrete significance in the temporal order (within which the moral life proceeds) is absolutely meaningless. The two orders are for human consciousness not merely different, but utterly disparate. We have no notion whatever of how the temporal order connects with Eternity. It is not so much false, as just meaningless, to say that the Supra-rational Perfection already exists, and to repudiate moral endeavour in consequence. It is a proposition of which the affirmation and the denial are equally beside the point. When we carry on our thinking in terms of the temporal order (as the conditions of human life require that we should, even if we be vouchsafed also the insight of faith into the Eternal) nothing but dire confusion can result from the effort to give a meaning within this order to an assurance which is rooted in intuition of the Eternal. The religious man himself makes no mistake. We do not find that intensity of Faith breeds a relaxation of moral effort. And what explanation can there be of this save that in the moment of religious experience we are so profoundly aware of the 'otherness' of nature of the Eternal Reality whose Perfection we apprehend, that we are not even tempted towards the impropriety of a temporal translation of our assurance?