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Even human parents are authorized to inflict pain, surgical or penal, which they reasonably believe to be calculated to benefit their children; and it is obvious that the rights of the Divine Father, whose resources of compensation are infinite, must extend in this direction far beyond the bounds of the earthly horizon. All this line of argument, then, as against the Divine Justice, I consider to be wholly invalid. The point at which the human sense of justice as regards the relations of the Creator to the creature (a sense which I humbly believe God himself has planted in us and authorized us to exercise) actually pronounces itself, is far different. We feel that it would be unjust to create a being the sum of whose existence should be evil, who endured on the whole more misery than he enjoyed happiness. And this, I maintain, holds good even if the moral ill-deserts of that being should appear to merit overwhelming retributive punishment. The cruellest of all injustices would be to create a being, so constituted and placed in such conditions, as that it should in any way come about that he should sink, not only into such misery, but such sin as should finally turn the scale and make his whole existence a curse. Evil cannot be fitly predicated of any amount of suffering within these bounds, as if it were inconsistent with the Divine Justice; and all that the Goodness of God leads us to expect is, that no suffering, small or great, should ever be meaningless and unnecessary, but that it should either have been inevitable as the condition of larger good, and in the maintenance of that eternal order in whose fixed warp the woof of our freedom alone can play; or else corrective and purgatorial, at once Just and in the highest sense Merciful.
Taking our stand at this point, what is there that we must define as Evil in the world? The outlook is threefold, and the answers correspondingly various. Has God been just and good to us? Has He been so to other men ? Has He been so to the brutes ? Most frequently men confound all these questions; and the answer which they find for the first determines that which they adopt for the second and the third, and thus the optimism of the prosperous and the pessimism of the disappointed may be readily explained, But though the dealings of God with each of us as known to ourselves alone may, and indeed do, serve us as presumptive evidence of the character of His dealings with others, it is plain it can be only on condition that we read them in their true moral significance. Mr. Morley has expressed somewhere his unmitigated disgust at those who are ready to proclaim that God is very good because their lot happens to be a fortunate one, regardless of the misery of their fellows. But it is surely no less disgusting to find others denounce Him as cruel and unjust because (albeit He has treated them with infinite forbearance) He has left them to suffer some of the consequences of their errors; or because, in bestowing ninety-nine precious gifts, He has withheld the hundredth for which they crave. Here we come to one of many illustrations of the fact that the spiritual element in us alone enables us to judge truly of spiritual things. Spiritual men without exception testify that to their experience God has been tenfold better than their deserts—more kind, more long-suffering, more infinitely Father-like and merciful. Enduring every kind of loss, pain or disappointment, their testimony is always the same; and, however much their faith is tortured by the evils they witness around them, it has never so much as occurred to them to think that God might have been better to themselves personally than He has actually been. It is reserved for quite another order of minds to express indignation and a sense of injustice as regards their own destinies, and to argue that God has not (as Marcus Aurelius said) “done well for me and for the world;" that He ought to have given them their heart's desire—health, wealth or success; and that they have a right to complain of His dealings. What is the secret of this difference? It is, very simply, that the spiritual man has learned somewhat of what God is, and, correspondingly, of what he is himself; the One so good and holy, that the very thought of Injustice cannot be directed towards Him after the experience of His forgiving love; the other so sinful, so vacillating, so ungrateful, that his never-ending wonder is how God continues to him the least of His mercies. Very possibly among the chief of God's kindnesses he may reckon some acute suffering of body or mind which has driven him back from the ways of worldliness and sin, and restored him to his better self. Thus, then, to the question, "Has God been good and just to us individually ?” it will be found, I think, that different answers will generally be given by religious and irreligious men. The first never think themselves to have deserved so much good as they have received; the second rarely think themselves to have deserved so much evil.
On first noticing this fact, the natural corollary seems to be that, in the life of every man, could we read it similarly from the inside, we should likewise trace the same contrast. But the rule cannot hold good as regards the tens of thousands who have never known anything deserving the name of a religion; whose natures have been crushed, warped, stunted from childhood, or trampled down in manhood or womanhood into the mire of vice and shame, instead of being lifted into spirituality; nor yet of the millions of innocent children who have suffered and died in infancy. Some difference will appear in the incidence of the preponderance of evil in the moral or in the physical life, according as we regard Happiness as the end and aim of existence, or believe that end to consist in Virtue and eternal union with God. But in either case (as I have argued at length in the succeeding Essay) it is certain that the mass of mankind neither attain to such degree of Happiness nor of Virtue as that we can pronounce it to be positively “good,” or to any which excludes very considerable evil.
Even here, however, regarding this great amount of evil in human life, we must guard ourselves against exaggeration, and especially against the fallacy of treating it as if it ever, or anywhere, outbalanced good. Where evil passions should actually preponderate over innocent or virtuous propensities, society must fall asunder, and human affairs come to a standstill. And where Want and Pain should prevail over satisfied appetite and ease, mortal life must terminate. In these days we need to be reminded again of the once familiar observation, that “it is a happy world after all;" that all our senses normally convey pleasure, not pain; and that the exercise of the faculties of heart and brain and limbs are all (under their proper conditions) delightful. We remark on a case of destitution, or on a friend's bodily suffering or bereavement; but we could not find tongue to tell of all those around us who have sufficient food and clothing, who are free from pain, and who enjoy the sweet happiness of home affections. Many of us live for months and years without pain ; but few live a day without pleasure, if it be only the pleasure of food and sleep and of intercourse with their kind.
And, again, it ought to be borne in mind, as setting limits to our notions of Evil, that it has diminished in a perceptible degree in successive ages. Perhaps this lessening is not so great as we once fondly imagined, and that the progress of mankind is far from being achieved without drawbacks; still it would appear there are decidedly more, and higher, pleasures now enjoyed,