Today we frequently meet with the assertion, "All is good." Pope, in his famous essay on man, said:
and nearly all are familiar with Browning’s oft-quoted line:
In the face of these statements, the questions naturally arise: Are war and famine good? Are sickness and poverty good? Are sorrow and suffering good? These things belong to the category of the great facts of human life; are they good? Again, are sin and selfishness right? Are drunkenness and brutality right? Are crime and violence right? Are accidents by sea and land right? Are catastrophes involving hundreds of thousands of lives right? These things, like the former, are everyday facts. They are real, and cause widespread suffering; are they right?
Many persons must have questioned thus during the past years of unprecedented catastrophes in the form of volcanic eruptions, earthy quakes, floods, famines, wars, and various forms of crimes and violence.
Are these things right? If so, why are men so eager to escape them? Even those who are given to quoting, "Whatever is, is right," will, in the next breath, refer to certain "evils," and propose some method of being rid of them.
It is plain that, in the sense of adding to human happiness, these things are not right, for they conduce to human misery. Even those who deny the existence of evil in theory recognize it in practice, in their efforts to conquer it.
Nevertheless, those statements as to the Universal Good and the rightness of all things are true. It is all a matter of relativity. The recognition of evil, and the statement that all is good, are not contradictory. When the events of life are related to human happiness, then some are recognized as "good," and some as "evil"; but when they are related to the fundamental and eternal principle of Justice, then all things are seen to be good, right, in harmony with the Great Law of inviolable Equity.
Take a simple example—that of physical pain. When we are considering human happiness, bodily pain is an evil; but when we consider the principle of Life itself, and its protection and continuance, then physical pain is seen to be good, as it is a warning. Monitor urging man to the protection of his body from hurt and extinction.
And it is with mental pain as with physical—with sorrow, remorse, loneliness, and grief it is evil because it destroys happiness; but as the effect of ignorance and wrong-doing, it is just, and therefore good, as it urges men to seek the paths of wisdom and right doing.
The prophet Isaiah says:
He thus recognizes the justice of evil, that it has its place in the moral universe as the opposite of good, just as darkness has its place in the physical universe as the opposite of light.
The prophet Amos expresses the same thing when he says:
The writings of the Hebrew prophets in the Old Testament team with statement of the truth that evil is rooted in justice, not in injustice; that all the afflictions and calamities which overtake men spring from some violation, on man's part, of the moral law. So pronounced are they upon this point that they even attribute the suffering caused by purely external occurrences—such as floods, storms, earthquakes, drought, and dearth of food-to man's inward unrighteousness and his consequent departure from the Divine Order.
And, indeed, a profound acquaintance with the human heart and with human life does reveal the great truth, a truth never apparent on the surface, and therefore hidden from the shallow and unthinking, that all tragedy is the culminating point in the conflict of human passions. Where there are no violent passions there can be no tragedy, no disaster, and no catastrophe. When humanity has attained to inward harmony and peace, it will be free from all those forms of violence which now devastate the world, and scourge humankind with grief and lamentation.
Maeterlinck perceives this truth clearly, for in his Wisdom and Destiny he says:
The mere presence of the sage suffices to paralyze destiny; and of this we find proof in the fact that there exists scarce a drama wherein a true sage appears; when such is the case, the event must needs halt before reaching bloodshed and tears. Not only is there no drama wherein sage is in conflict with sage, but indeed there are very few whose action revolves round a sage. And truly; can we imagine that an event shall turn into tragedy between men who have earnestly striven to gain knowledge of self? It is rarely indeed that though it be for an instant. They are afraid of a lofty soul, for they know that events are no less afraid; and were their heroes to soar to the height the real hero would gain, their weapons would fall to the ground, and the drama itself becomes peace - the peace of enlightenment.
It is a significant fact that while Shakespeare depicted nearly every type of character, he never brought a sage into his dramas. The truth is that his tragedies could not have taken place in the presence of a sage. Their outward violence stands related as effect to the hidden cause of disordered and conflicting passions. The sage has lifted himself above such disorder and conflict, and such is the power of his harmonious and tranquil spirit that in his presence the passions of others will be calmed and subdued, and their approaching tragic issue averted.
It is a mighty truth, and one which stands clearly revealed in the mind of the sage and the prophet, that all the evils of humanity spring from the ignorance, and, therefore, from the mistakes, the wrong-doing, of humanity itself. It is, therefore, just and right. But though just and right, it is not desirable; it is evil, and needs to be transcended. It is just and right, as imprisonment is just and right for the thief, in that it teaches man, and ultimately brings him to the feet of wisdom. As physical pain is a protector of man's body, so mental pain is a protector of his mind and of his life.
From man's ignorance of the Divine Law-of the Moral Order of the universe-arise those thoughts and passions-inward conditions-which are the source of tragedy, disaster, and catastrophe. Envy, ill-will, jealousy, produce strife and quarrelling, and ultimately bring about wars in which thousands are killed and disabled, and hundreds of homes are filled with mourning. Greediness, self-indulgence, and the thirst for pleasure lead, through gluttony, indolence, and drunkenness, to disease, poverty, and plague. Covetousness, lust, and selfishness in all its forms cause men to practice deception, lying, and dishonesty, and to strive against others in the blind pursuance of their petty plans and pleasures, thus leading to deprivation, loss and ruin; and where there are excessively violent passions there is always a violent life ending in a premature and violent death.
Man, by his ignorance, his selfishness, his darkness of mind, is the marker of sorrow and the cause of catastrophe. His sufferings are indications that the Divine Law has been arrested, and is now asserting itself. The tragic darkness of his life is the outcome of that same Justice from which his joyful light proceeds. If every suicide, every ruin, every woe, even every accident, could be traced to its original cause in the moral constitution of things, its justice would be found to be without blemish.
And that which applies to individuals applies in the same way to nations. Widespread selfishness leads inevitably to widespread disaster; national corruption is followed by wholesale catastrophe, and by national disaster and ruin.
And not alone poverty, disease, and famine, but even earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods and all such external happenings, would be found, in their original cause, to be intimately related to men's moral life. That external accidents have a moral cause is plainly seen in the case of violent persons bringing about fatal accidents to themselves through folly and recklessness.
Man's body, both by chemical and gravitational affinity, is a portion of the earth, as his mind, both spiritually and ethically, is a portion of the Moral Order of the universe. His life and being are interwoven with, and are inseparable from; the very nature and constitution of things; and, being a moral entity, and therefore a reasonable agent, it is within the domain of his power to discover and work with the Divine Law instead of striving against it.
All man's pains, afflictions, disasters, calamities, are the shock resulting from running, either percipiently or blindly, giants the Moral Law, as a reckless rider or blind man is hurt when he runs up against a wall; and these sorrows are not the arbitrary visitations and punishments of an offended Deity, but are matters of cause and effect, just as the pain of burning is the effect of coming into too close contact with fire.
In these days of social, political, and theological conflicts, and with wars, famines, floods, crimes, conflagrations, and volcanic and seismic catastrophes taking place on every hand, a return to the study of the Hebrew prophets burning, as they are, with the fire of Truth on national matters and local catastrophes-would prove not only scientifically enlightening, but would help considerably towards unveiling, in the mind of man, the revelation of the beauty and order of the Cosmos and the perfect justice of human life.
The evils of life are right because of the cause which man has created; but man, having created causes which produce evil, can also create causes which produce good, and when in inward passions are tamed and subdued, the outward violence will disappear, or will be powerless to hurt mankind.
Between the inward violence of surging passions and the outward violence of Nature there is such a close correspondence as to render them, in the inner order of things, of one indivisible essence. As the prophet Amos again puts it:
The outward "adversary" is necessary to nullify the inward violence, is brought into existence by it. When a nation becomes corrupt, it is conquered and swallowed up. When cities become morally bankrupt, they fall to pieces, or are destroyed by some outward force.
More from James Allen
James Allen was a little-known philosophical writer and poet. He is best recognized for his book, As a Man Thinketh. Allen wrote about complex subjects such as faith, destiny, love, patience, and religion but had the unique ability of explaining these subjects clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. He often wrote about cause and effect, sowing and reaping, as well as overcoming sadness, sorrow, and grief. For more information on the life of James Allen, click here.