Page images
PDF
EPUB

But such limitations of the Divine Power as Mr. Mill seems to contemplate, would narrow it (if I understand him rightly) far beyond this mere negation of contradictions; and if we are to admit them into our philosophy, it ought surely to be on the ground that there are marks of such limits in nature; places where the creative energy seems to have fallen short, or the obvious design has aborted. Now it is possible that some evils in nature--some forms of disease, for example—may seem to possess this character; but unquestionably the greater mass of evil bears no such marks. It is, as I have just said, woven into the very tissue of life on the planet, and seems just as much a part of the great plan as all the rest. All the terrible things in the worldthe ruthless beak, the poisoned fang, the rending claware as much an integral part of the work as the downy breast of the bird or the milk of the mother-brute. Further, there is a very curious parallel, which I do not think has received sufficient attention, between the exceptional ugliness in a Beautiful world and the exceptional evil in a Good one, which apparently alike demand some other solution than that of a limitation of the Maker's Power. The Creator has covered the earth and filled the waters with beauty. Almost every animal and shell, every tree and flower and sea-weed, the mountains, the rivers, the oceans, every phase of day and night, summer and winter,-is essentially beautiful. Our sense of Beauty seems to be, not so much a beneficent adaptation to our dwelling-place (like our sense of taste for our food), but rather a filial sympathy with our Great Father's pleasure in His own lovely creation; a pleasure which He must have enjoyed millions of years before our race existed, when all the exquisite forms of animal and vegetable life filled the ancient lands and seas of the earliest geologic epochs. Nothing but a preference for beauty, for grace of form and varied and harmonious colouring, inherent in the Author of the Cosmos, can explain how it comes to pass that Nature is on the whole so refulgent with loveliness. But even here there are exceptions. Putting aside all man's monstrosities (and the beings who could create the Black Country might be counted by a dweller in the planet Mars as the brood of Ahrimanes), there are in the animal and the vegetable kingdom objects which are, strictly speaking, as ugly as the vast majority are beautiful. The same principle which authorizes us to pronounce an antelope or a Himalayan pheasant graceful and beautiful, requires us to admit that the form of a rhinoceros is clumsy and the colours of a macaw harsh and grating. If the song of the nightingale to its mate be musical, that of a peacock is frightful; and if a firefly ranging among the roses of a southern night be a dream of beauty, a hairy and bloated tarantula spider hanging on the tree beside it causes us to shudder at its hideousness. Even amidst the flowers which seem like love-gifts from heaven to man, there are now and then to be found some evil-looking, crawling, blotched and sickly-smelling things,-not to speak of those cruel and gluttonous Dionæa, which, by the irony of fate, have been brought so specially to our notice at this moment, as if even in the study of the lilies of the field we could no more be sure of finding comfort and rest of heart. Now all these uglinesses in Nature are, I submit, real analogies to the sufferings of sentient creatures. They are few enough to be distinctly exceptional, but yet great and many enough, and bound up so completely in the chain of things, as to leave us no choice but to accept them as holding the same relation to the Author of Nature as all the rest.

What view can we take, then, of this mystery of Ugliness, since it would seem that any hypothesis which may account for it may very possibly fit that yet greater and more dreadful mystery of Suffering ? Putting it thus before us, it seems absurd to say that perhaps the Divine Power was not equal to the task of harmonizing the macaw's colour or the peacock's voice, or of reducing to proportion and grace the unwieldy rhinoceros or the revolting spider. That His power should act freely in constructing the lion and the horse, the eagle and the ibis, the lark and the butterfly, and yet should be unaccountably thwarted and trammelled when He made the animals so strangely contrasted with them, is almost ridiculous to suppose. It seems, then, as impossible to frame an hypothesis which shall fit this æsthetic anomaly of nature, as one which shall meet the moral anomaly of Pain.

Thus, in short, it appears that every one of the theories

on the origin of Evil which have been put forth from the days of the Pentateuch to the appearance of these Essays on Religion, are more or less unsatisfactory and incomplete; and we may, with only too great probability, resign the hope that we shall ever hear of a better, or that any Edipus will arise in the ages to come to resolve “the riddle of the painful earth,” and relieve us from its

direful pressure.

Two things only, I conceive, remain for us to do in the matter. The first is, to define somewhat more closely than, while oppressed by the declamations of pessimists, we are generally able to do, what it is in Nature which the human moral sense recognizes as Evil. Secondly, to convince ourselves what is the testimony to the goodness of the Creator to be set over against it, which may enable us—not by any means to honour Him on the balance, but—to give Him our heart-whole love and allegiance, and treat the mystery of Evil as we should treat the inexplicable conduct of a revered Father.

Of course no attempt to accomplish adequately either of these purposes can be made in these pages.

I shall only shortly indicate the character of the conclusions to which, in each case, I have myself arrived.

The first thing to be done, if we desire to define what we mean by Evil, is to determine what we are justified in expecting as Good, and then ask, what is there lacking of such Good in the universe as we actually behold it? There is a principle which has been often laid down

by sceptics as if it were a self-evident axiom, but which appears to me to be nothing short of a monstrous misstatement. They affirm that the existence of evil for an hour in the realm of a beneficent Deity is just as inexplicable as the final triumph of evil to all eternity; and consequently that where we find so much evil as prevails on earth, it is wholly impossible to say what extent and duration, even to infinity, may not be permitted to evil in other worlds present or future.

This argument, I contend, is wholly fallacious. It turns on two false assumptions—first, the perverse ascription to God of an omnipotence involving contradictions (e.g. that a creature could be made virtuous in a world devoid of trials); and secondly, the application of the limitations of time, proper to a weak and ignorant being such as man, to a Being who is in certain possession of the power to carry out His purposes whenever He sees fit. The justice and goodness of God must, indeed, be the same as the justice and goodness of man

-such is the cardinal postulate of all sound theology. But it does not follow that because man is bound to do justice and mercy at once, when the opportunity is presented to him (since he never knows whether it may come again), that God is similarly morally bound to rectify immediately every wrong and relieve every pang. On the contrary, it seems clear that, to an eternal and all-foreseeing Being, this principle of human ethics has no application, and that He rightly says to man,

“Tu n'as qu'un jour pour être juste
J'ai l'eternité devant Moi."

« PreviousContinue »