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THE MYSTERY OF PAIN.
The question of the origin of evil, whether in its form of sin or of suffering, is one which has ever exercised the minds of the more thoughtful of mankind; and the apparent difficulty of explaining its existence, together with the existence of an all-wise, all-powerful, and allrighteous Creator, has given rise to those doubts of the goodness or power of the Creator, which have afforded an excuse to many for resorting to a cold materialism as an explanation of the difficulty, and have given some appearance of reason to the supposition that the First Cause of all things may be only a blind force or energy, instead of a righteous and intelligent Being.
Such an idea, however, is painful to those who, weary with the sin and suffering that are in the world, have nothing to support them but their hope in a just and righteous God, and in a future in which justice shall reign, and sin and suffering no longer triumph. Believing this on other grounds, they are content to leave the question of the origin of evil as an inexplicable difficulty, which in this world cannot be removed.
Nevertheless, all such difficulties weaken, if they do not overthrow, confidence in God; and in times of doubt, depression, and temptation, and especially in these days when the foundations of faith are attacked on all sides, this difficulty of the origin of evil assumes a very impor
tant aspect, one which, forcing itself upon the mind, imperiously demands consideration.
The Agnostic and Positive philosophy of the day asserts that God is unknowable, and that this is the ultimate discovery of human wisdom which the human mind has gradually attained to; and as an illustration and evidence of the gradual attainment of this idea, reference is made to the Hebrew Scriptures, in which the progressive development of the more spiritual ideas of God may be traced; but God, it is argued, in proportion as such ideas are realized, must be further and further removed from human comprehension.
That God is unknowable as regards the essence of His Being, His form of existence, and His mode of action, is evident. That which is infinite cannot be comprehended by that which is finite. We cannot grasp the idea of infinite space, or of time without beginning or end; but we are nevertheless certain of their infinity, because the contrary ideas, such as that of space outside the limits of which there is no space, and of time before which there was no time, are unthinkable. In like manner we may be certain of the existence of an Eternal Energy, or First Cause of all things, in whom all things live and move and have their being, although the nature of His Being must always be beyond the conception of finite intelligence. * To this both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures bear witness. •Canst thou by searching find out God ? canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection ? It is high as heaven ; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know ?' (Job xi. 7, 8). So likewise the Apostle Paul speaks of God as Him ‘who only hath immortality, dwelling in light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen or can see' (1 Tim. vi. 16).
But this limitation of our knowledge with regard to * See · Agnosticism,' Appendix A, where this subject is more fully considered.
the infinite does not prevent our knowing God in His relations to man and created things. For just as we may learn much of the power and character of a person whom we have never seen, by certain effects of his actions which we do see, so we may know God by the manifestations of His power, wisdom, and righteousness in the works of creation. It is also natural to expect that such knowledge would be of gradual attainment, a knowledge requiring not only search and experience on the part of man, but dependent also on the manner and degree in which God may manifest Himself. Such a gradual revelation of God is just what may be observed in the pages of the Old Testament; where He is at first chiefly recognised as the Creator, and the Almighty who demands the obedience of man as the duty of the creature to the Creator, of weakness to power; then as a God of righteousness and justice, whose commands must be obeyed, not only from fear, but because they are righteous; and, finally, as a God of mercy, which latter characteristic, gradually developing, receives its full expression in the New Testament, where God is revealed, not only as a God of righteousness, wisdom, and power, but as a God of love.*
But to say that this more spiritual aspect of God makes Him less knowable is absurd. It is the highest and truest knowledge of Him. Just as a person known only by appearance, and by merely physical characteristics, can hardly be said to be known at all; and not until we become personally acquainted with his mind and character do we know him in reality.
Apart, however, from any revelation of God in the Scriptures, we may know Him by His works; and the doctrines of materialism, and the idea of a blind force as the . First Cause of all things,' become simply unreason
* See Appendix D, .The Progressive Revelation of God.'
and foolishness to those who are at all acquainted with the infinite wisdom, skill, and adaptation displayed in the works of nature. Those who with unprejudiced minds have weighed facts and arguments, such as are advanced, for instance, by the Duke of Argyll in The Reign of Law' and 'The Unity of Nature,' are convinced, beyond all possibility of doubt, that behind and beyond the things which are seen, there is, not merely an eternal energy, but a Mind of perfect wisdom. And the evidence of intention, contrivance, and purpose, or, in other words, of mind, is so overpowering, that arguments and theories advanced in opposition to it appear to be only childish, irrelevant, and wearisome. Modern science has, in fact, thrown such light on the works of nature, that at no period of man's history have the words of the Apostle had such force as now, viz., that the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made, even His eternal power and Godhead,' so that they who deny this in the face of this evidence would seem to be without excuse' (Rom. i. 20).
It has indeed been the fashion to treat the conception of God, deduced from the evidence of design and intention, as 'anthropomorphism,' or the conception of God as being in all things like man. Certainly, if we conclude that design and intention are the evidence of mind, such as we recognise in ourselves, and that from the evidence of design and intention in nature the Author of nature must be a mind of infinite wisdom, the charge is true. God is like man in this respect; or, rather, we recognise that the mind of man must be similarly constituted to that of the Creator. But where is the unreasonableness of this conclusion ? Is it not rather folly and unreason to deny it? The evidence is conclusive that the cause of all we see in nature is a mind of vast wisdom; and the mind of man, although infinitely less in power and wisdom, is yet the image or reflection of the mind of God, and therefore capable of recognising the wisdom of the works of God.*
This capacity of man for recognising the Creator as an Almighty Mind has been associated and confused with quite another sort of anthropomorphism, namely, that which characterized the mythology of paganism, the gods of which were supposed to possess the parts and passions of human beings. But there was no reason or justification for this pagan conception. To attribute to the Creator passions, such as anger, revenge, or envy, is to attribute to an Infinite Being that which is only characteristic of finite beings; while to conceive of God animated by sexual desires is to still further degrade the idea of Him to the level of the animal nature which man possesses in common with the beasts. Nevertheless, by mixing up the true idea of God-as a Being of whom the higher element of man's nature is an image or reflection—with these lower and degraded ideas, it is implied by certain modern philosophers that both views are equally false.
This conclusion is further supported by an appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures, which speak of the Almighty as if He was actuated by the passions of anger and jealousy, and was subject to changes of mind consequent on unforeseen changes of circumstances. But even a child does not require to be told that many of these expressions are metaphors, by which the will and intention of God are revealed to man in language drawn from human experience; just as all spiritual things and the operations of mind are expressed in language drawn from material things, and from the analogous operations of the body. The language of many a human writer is not less boldly parabolic and metaphorical than that of
* See Appendix B, ‘Evidence of Design in Creation.'