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The Mystery of Evil

Everyone in some degree is dissatisfied with the world. Such a thing as absolute content is unknown. Stopford Brooke in his "Freedom in the Church of England" very rightly said, "The very definition of Humanity is imperfection laboring to become perfection." We are as dissatisfied with our fellows as we are with conditions. And yet in the light of the Creator's Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence have we any right to assume that the Human Race collectively or individually is a failure? It would be a daring assumption. Our vision is so limited that it is not reasonable to pronounce judgment as to failure or success on the partial evidence which our experience supplies. The conclusion of the Materialist that in this world we have the sum total of things is the real basis of the melancholy, cynicism and despair which possess so many who brood over the phenomena of life, and which George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and other writers of our own ply share with the ancient voluptuary who discovered that "all was vanity and vexation of spirit" and "there was no profit under the sun." There is much to baffle us in the mystery of suffering and evil, nevertheless we need not convert the mystery into an impeachment of creative goodness, wisdom and power. On the contrary, we may venture to step from the known to the unknown; and inasmuch as all suffering is disciplinary or corrective we may infer that if our knowledge were more extensive, we should discover that where pain appears excessive or wanton it has ends as beneficent as any we already recognize. Even mere physical pain may have spiritual issues that amply compensate for endurance.

As St. Paul addressing the Corinthians so beautifully states: "Though the outward man perish, yet the inward is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

Dr. David S. Cairns in a recent article in the Contemporary Review says:—"To be able to pass through the dense folds of the seen and temporal world and to discern and live by the knowledge of the unseen and eternal is surely the culmination of evolution."

It is the culmination of evolution because it is the attainment of spiritual vision, and spiritual vision brings with it tranquility under all external circumstances and the peace that passeth all understanding.

The criticisms, opinions, and denials of undeveloped and unenlightened souls merit little if any attention but alas! impressionable minds are often led astray by such in their search for truth, consequently in the face of life’s manifold mysteries, pains and tragedies, they lose that heroic faith which leads to open vision and without which we are of little use to each other in the struggle towards the Light. One must admit that to the average mind there is something very battling and disconcerting about the mystery of evil. It is correctly asserted that pain is an indication of wrong-doing and a spur to amendment, that if we are ailing it is because we have violated physical order, and the remedy lies in our restoration to obedience.

Much suffering is accounted for by our ignorance or willfulness and in the light of the truth we are shown how to secure relief; but how much suffering remains where neither knowledge nor obedience is available!

There is the long chronicle of accidents, with ensuing years of helplessness and agony which no foresight could avert; and a host of diseases, such as cancer, tuberculosis, to which submission is the only prescription. Then there is mental suffering from which none escape, and which is of every degree of poignancy and duration. Bright youthful souls (as we know only too well through this world war) are drawn almost insensibly into evil, and from thence to degradation, swift or deliberate, terminating in early wreck, or possibly in old age blasted and hardened. Who has not witnessed such tragedies?

And then quite apart from the miseries of private experience, who, on reading the horrors and unspeakable outrages recorded day by day in our newspapers, is not tempted at times to cry with Cowper?—

"O for a lodge in some vast wilderness
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
Where rumor of oppression and deceit,
Of unsuccessful or successful war,
Might never reach me more! My ear is pained,
My soul is sick, with every day's report
Of wrong and outrage with which earth is filled."

Can we despite all this ghastliness and horror, believe in a God Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent and Merciful. Yes, most decidedly, for evil is thrown into obscurity in any comprehensive view of the Universe, and must be held as small when compared with the broad beneficence of Nature.

All things, all happenings are governed by Law, that is why Browning sang:—

"God’s in His Heaven
All’s right with the world."

And Tennyson:—

"O yet we trust that somehow good,
Will be the final goal of ill."

Suffering is necessary until it has accomplished its task. Sin begets sorrow and suffering, and by suffering we discover our sins and are afflicted (even through many lives), until we hate and forsake them, and are educated from animals into Sons of God. Life is a discipline, a training ground for higher spiritual conditions of being. Few of us would do our duty as we ought, if not whipped up to it; and we never know what is in us, and what we are fit for, until we are thrown into some intolerable predicament. We are too prone to call that which causes us most discomfiture, evil e’en though it may be working for our highest good:

"There shall never be one lost good!
What was, shall live as before;
The evil is null, is naught, is silence, implying sound;
What was good shall be good, with, for evil so much good more;
On the earth the broken arcs; in the heaven a perfect round."

When we have arrived at a right idea of God, we shall like Browning, be able to relegate evil to its proper place in the Divine economy. We shall as it were develop our spiritual muscles by the strenuous exercises of our moral faculties and so eliminate the bad effects of past errors. "Do the Will and ye shall know." There is no other path to Divine Wisdom. Now we see as in a glass darkly. We only know in part, but as we advance the light becomes brighter and brighter. I am persuaded that God wants souls of just as many patterns as there are men, women and children in this wide world, and that His love and wisdom will stand perfectly vindicated in their incarnation and experience however grievous they may for a time appear.

All doubts, difficulties, fears and weaknesses disappear where there is true Union with God. Therefore:—

"With peaceful mind thy race of duty run;
God nothing does, or suffers to be done,
But what thou would’st thyself, if thou could'st see
Through all events of things as well as He."

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Arthur E. Massey

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