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Let us now consider the nature of that difficulty which rendered it impossible for God to create beings perfectly righteous. Only such beings would be free from that suffering which the unrighteous inflict on themselves and on each other; and on them the infliction of other suffering would be unjust and unmeaning.
If, however, God created beings who were not perfectly righteous, how are we to avoid the conclusion that God Himself was the Author of moral evil—that is, the Author of sin ? But the root of this difficulty, and, in fact, the barrier to any right consideration of it, seems to lie in a false view of God. The reverence of pious minds for the omnipotence of the Creator, as if that was His chief and distinguishing characteristic, has led them to overlook His equally important attribute of perfect righteousness, and the one attribute cannot contradict the other.
We believe that God is infinite in power and wisdom, and nothing is impossible to Him; yet to say that therefore He can do anything, must be false if the statement involves self-contradiction; as, for instance, if we were to say, that He could, if He chose, destroy Himself, which would be as absurd as the conception of an animal devouring itself! Yet it is by such verbal fallacies that many bewilder their minds. God could do unrighteousness if He chose, but He cannot choose to do so. All things are possible, but this is impossible, because it is a
self-contradiction. For if He is perfectly righteous, it is impossible for Him to be unrighteous. Righteousness and truth are His very essence, and to do anything contrary to them would be to deny Himself. It would be self-contradiction. If, then, it is true that two and two make four, it is impossible for God to make that truth a lie. In other words, He cannot alter the principles of truth, and the nature of things, which have their very origin in Himself, and are therefore eternal as He is eternal.
Similarly, He cannot create a being perfectly righteous as He is righteous, inasmuch as by the condition of the case such a being is finite, and therefore imperfect. God, it is said, made man upright, that is to say, righteous; but the righteousness of such a being, while as yet unacquainted with the very meaning of good and evil, could only consist of an inclination for righteousness as long as he was not tempted by unrighteousness. But righteousness in its highest sense means a choice of good instead of evil, a love of the one and a hatred of the other; and no created being can choose the one and reject the other until they are offered for his choice. The conception therefore of a created being, perfectly righteous from the first, as God is righteous, involves a self-contradiction, for it supposes such a being to be finite, and at the same time infinite in knowledge and wisdom.
The knowledge of good and evil and of all wisdom must, in the very nature of things, be gradual and progressive in every finite intelligence. It is necessary to know that two and two make four before it can be understood that four and four make eight; the idea of 'four' must precede that of eight.' So likewise these numbers must have some manifestation by being connected with things before the idea of them can be received. There must be two somethings, and four somethings, before the idea of two and four is possible. Without this connection the words are only sounds without meaning. So likewise good and evil must be manifested and experienced before any real idea of them can exist.
For these reasons all knowledge must be progressive, and no perfection or facility of expression on the part of God, or clearness of perception on the part of a created being, could enable the latter to receive the knowledge of things from God apart from the manifestation and experience of those things. Previous to such manifestation they have, for him, no existence.
This will appear more evident if we examine some of the characteristics of a moral being. Take for instance that of love in its moral sense. What is love ? Mutual love is the mutual attraction which two beings have for each other, because each is recognised by the other as good in its relations to himself. But this goodness cannot be recognised until its contrary is experienced. The very word implies its contrary, viz., eril, and thus attraction between two beings, or their desire for each other, is their recognition that separation is evil. Each, in fact, has for the other something, the want of which is recognised to be evil, and the want must be experienced before the desire for its supply can be felt. Love is thus the principle of reciprocity, and has its type in the psychical attraction felt between the sexes, in the appetites of the body, in the attraction in the vegetable kingdom towards light, air, and moisture, and even in the inorganic kingdom, in chemical and magnetic attraction between different forms of matter.
We can conceive such attraction existing between the Creator and the creature, the one, whose characteristic is Love, loving the creature dependent on Him and desiring the love of the creature in return, and the other, dependent for everything on the Creator, loving Him whose love is manifested in the supply of all his wants. Nevertheless, until his need of and dependence on the Creator has been experienced by separation, the love or attraction called forth by that sense of evil and want cannot exist.
Could not God, however, have shown the creature his dependence on Him by suffering him to want, and then supplying his need? But what would be the result of such an arbitrary infliction of evil on an innocent creature? It is love that begets love, and such an act would be no manifestation of love. Would the child thank its parent for first starving it and then feeding it, or first punishing it and then removing the punishment ? The want must therefore be the result of the creature's own act before the supply of that want can call forth gratitude or love. For God to inflict undeserved evil would be an immoral act, contrary to the essential law of right and justice, and therefore contrary to Himself. Besides which, it would require not one, but a thousand such inflictions of evil, before the depth of the creature's need of and dependence on God could have been manifested.
As with love, so with trust and faith. They imply the recognition of evil without such trust and faith. So also with pity, compassion, generosity, truth, justice, longsuffering, humility, etc., which together constitute the righteousness of a moral being in its relations to God and other moral beings, but all of which can have no existence or meaning previous to the knowledge of, and therefore existence of, evil.
Evil must therefore exist, or be manifested in some way or other, before such a thing as a moral being can exist. Evil is a necessary consequence of all moral imperfection; therefore it is a necessity of creation.
But evil is a necessity of creation in another sense, and from a different point of view, as has been shown by Mr. Birks.*
Beings created with the capacity of becoming moral beings must necessarily be created free agents; that is, with a power of choice absolutely unrestrained by physical instincts or external coercion. Had man in the presence of temptation been forcibly restrained by God, not only would his abstention have been a physical necessity, and therefore no act of his own will, but the restraint would only have appeared to him an arbitrary act on the part of God; for until the evil consequent on giving way to the temptation had been manifested, that evil would have been a thing without meaning to his mind. For a creature therefore to become a moral being he must be a free agent, unrestrained in his actions save by moral arguments, which, until evil had been manifested in some way or other, must be almost entirely without force or meaning.
That this was not absolutely the case with man is true, as is implied by the warning that he should surely die if he disobeyed the commands of God. But in the case of the first created angels evil had as yet no existence, and therefore no meaning to them. Yet, on the other hand, as messengers of God, perfect in their state, and without a flaw in their happiness, what possible temptation could there be for them to rebel against God ?
Mr. Birks, in his chapter on the nature of evil, has pointed out that there is such a thing as 'the evil of defect,' as in the case of the vegetable world, each form of which, although good and beautiful, and perfect so far as it goes, is yet 'limited in its power to realize its own • law, unconscious and void of intelligence, and herein may be called evil. This defect is shown in abortive growths, where the process of vegetation has been unable to surmount the opposing powers around them, as in the seeds which on stony ground have no depth of earth and 'wither under the scorching sunbeams, or those which are