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Tribulation

Born for sound and sense this is one of the most beautiful and suggestive words in the English language. It is singularly musical, picturesque, and meaningful. Derived, as it is, from the Latin, it means that operation to which our cereal food is subjected in order to separate the grain from the chaff, for in times gone by the tribulum was the flail of the Italian farmer. The word "trouble" is doubtless an abbreviated form of "tribulation." Another kindred word is "pain." We all know, alas! too well, the meaning of this less euphonious word and its intensified form "pang." But few of us reflect in using the familiar expressions "taking pains" and "taking trouble," what a world of meaning lies hidden in the idea—this, namely, that nothing of real worth can be accomplished without undergoing a certain amount of suffering and self-sacrifice.

These thoughts naturally lead up, as a prelude, to the consideration of a question which has puzzled mankind through all the ages, namely, Why does God, who is presumably All-good, All-wise, and All-powerful, permit evil and pain to exist? First, because it is necessary; and secondly, because it is salutary and remedial. If we can once admit the truth of these replies, not merely as logical hypotheses, but as absolute facts which we have verified by personal experience, the whole problem of Life will assume for us an altogether different aspect, and our daily conduct will undergo a complete change. It is to most of us a supremely difficult lesson to learn, but the few who have learnt it are so many living witnesses to its reality and power.

All the evil in the world is the result of man's disobedience to Divine Law—disobedience either willful or through ignorance, and, strange as it may appear, the penalty in both cases is the same. Is this just or reasonable? We answer: Yes, for this simple reason, that we cannot conceive of any physical law which would discriminate between disobedience caused by willfulness and disobedience caused by ignorance, and thus punish the one and not the other. A simple illustration will make this clear. Two men, A and B, live in adjoining houses. A, either willfully or through ignorance, shuts up all his windows and lives in the dark, with the result that he loses his health and dies prematurely. B keeps his windows open and lives as much as possible in the sunshine, with the result that he enjoys good health and lives to a green old age. Can anything be fairer or more just? And yet A represents a large class of people who think that God's ways are harsh and unjust because B enjoys good health while A is an invalid. Let such consider this little picture and ponder over its meaning, for it contains the Secret of Life. The sun shines all day long on A's house and on B's house, and yet B lives and A dies. Why? Surely for this reason, and this only: B lives because he wishes to live, and A dies because he wishes to die. In other words, one cooperates with God, and therefore lives; the other shuts out God, and therefore dies. Now apply this simple illustration to trouble of any kind so ever and you will find that the issues of life and death, of trouble and prosperity, are really in our own hands, and that in co-operation with God lies the secret of Life. Trouble is a necessary evil only in the sense of being a necessity of man's free will. Here again some may ask, Why then did God endow man with a free will? Because if it were not for man's free will he would not be a man at all, but one or other of three things—either an angel incapable of evil, or a devil incapable of good, or a machine incapable of either good or evil. So that man, being what he is—i.e., a being endowed with absolute choice between good and evil—is bound to admit that the laws of his being could not possibly be, in his own interest, different from what they are. God created man in His own image, an innocent and perfect creature having free permission to do exactly as he liked, and this on the distinct understanding that if he implicitly obeyed and followed God's will instead of his own, he should have and enjoy spiritual life, but that if, on the contrary, he trusted and followed his own will he would fall short of the fullness of that life exactly in proportion to his departure from that one condition of absolute obedience. There is no reason to suppose that this law of primeval man has ever been abrogated or modified. It applies in all its force in the present day, and every child that is born into the world is bound by it just as much as were our first parents. Whatever argument may be urged in favor of the supposition that, as compared with our first parents, we are at a disadvantage by reason of the inherited taint of so-called Original Sin, the same argument may be used in respect of what one might call Original Virtue; for if Sin is hereditary, so it Virtue. Add to this the fact that each age inherits the accumulated experience of all the foregoing ages, and we have an overwhelmingly strong case in favor of our advantages over those of our first parents.

The second reason why God permits evil to exist is that it may act as an incentive to goodness and as a means of bringing us into closer union with Himself. All forms of goodness are different forms of the Divine Love, and Love is the attractive power of the spiritual universe just as gravitation is of the physical. Its function and purpose is to bind things together, and thus produce unity and strength. Divine Love draws us to itself, and the same Love goes forth, through us as a medium, to our neighbor and, through our neighbor as a medium, comes back to us, and is thus twice-blest—blest in its going out and its coming in. Thus Divine Love circulates throughout the universe just as the life-blood of our heart circulates throughout our whole body. The only real evil that can happen to us is of our own making: it comes when, through the coldness of our service, we retard the circulation of the life-giving stream of the Divine Heart. As the great Gulf Stream finds its devious way from the New World to the Old, through the pathless ocean, imparting its warmth to the surrounding waters and tempering the climate of the different lands that lie in its course, so does the warmth of the Divine Love infuse life and motion and health into the hearts of men. It is for the purpose of accelerating the circulation of our spiritual life and preventing us from lapsing into stagnation and sleep that Tribulation comes to shake us up as the angel was sent of old to trouble the water of Bethesda's pool. Stagnation and separation are different degrees of death. Tribulation is God's appointed sentinel to wake us from our lethargy and remind us of forgotten duties. It is allowed to come to us "lest we forget." It comes like a warning voice to avert some threatening disaster. It comes as a gentle loving remonstrance: perhaps to check our waywardness, to rebuke us for our lack of faith, for our selfishness, our self-reliance, our neglect of our neighbors' needs. Tribulation is the spur and whip of Duty, the pruning—knife of the gardener, the cleansing fire of the refiner, the knife of the surgeon which inflicts pain to save life. Therefore repine not when it comes. Give it welcome as to one who would be your friend. But whether tribulation is to be a blessing or a curse must depend entirely upon the will of the individual upon whom it falls. One man wills it to be a blessing, and behold! it blesseth him altogether. Another thinks it a hardship that he should suffer, especially if he traces the visitation to some circumstance over which, to his knowledge, he had no control. He curses God and dies. In other words, he regards the Divine Author of his being as a harsh and capricious tyrant, instead of an all-loving and all-wise Father who can neither err nor be unkind; l and, chafing under this mistaken and unreasonable feeling, he deliberately quits his Father's home. Then, like the prodigal, he begins to "be in want," and at last—such is the beneficent law of good and evil—the very trouble that prompted him to self-destruction brings about his salvation by becoming in itself the means of winning him back from death to life. This is not mere poetry, but plain common-sense. It simply means this. Trouble, in any form—especially when it comes suddenly—produces a shock which tends and threatens for the moment to separate us from God, and this very sense of separation, when subjected to our reason, produces a reflex action of feeling which draws us nearer to God than we were before the trouble came. It is an ill wind that blows no one good, and if we do not profit by our trouble, it is due entirely to our own want of reflection.

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W. H. Gill

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