<< THE DIVINE MERCY IN SUFFERING AND EVIL >>
"But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.''—Matthew X. 30.
"He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and
sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."—Matthew v. 45.
IN the first of these passages the Lord declares the universality of His providential care ; and in the second, that His care extends to the evil as well as to the good, to the just as well as to the unjust. By the sun and rain are meant His love and wisdom. He here assures us, therefore, that He exercises the same love towards the evil that He does towards the good, and that He employs His Divine wisdom just as fully for the benefit of the unjust as He does for the good of the just.
This is not the common opinion, and it is not apparently in accordance with many passages of the Word, in which the Lord declares His hostility to the wicked. But there is no real contradiction between Divine declarations. Some express the real truth ; others the apparent truth. Persons who oppose us in any course we are pursuing seem to be our enemies. Our children often think we are hostile to them because we do not grant all their requests, or because we oppose them in what seems to them to be good. The real truth is that the Lord's providence is over all men, at all times, in all states, in temptation and sorrow as well as in prosperity and joy, and is continually exercised for their good. It does not seem so to us, because the Lord knows that often what we think to be for our good is hurtful to us. Opposition to that seeming good, but real evil, is, therefore, a favor to us. The Lord regards every human being with infinite love, and He deals with every human being with infinite wisdom. He does all for every one, in every part of His universe, that infinite wisdom and infinite power can do ; for the evil as well as the good, for the ignorant heathen as well as the most intelligent Christian, for the sick as fully as for the strong, for the lowest spirit in hell as well as for the highest angel in heaven. But what He can do for each one depends upon his state, upon what he really needs. Therefore the Divine life is received by no two in the same manner.
This principle is clearly exhibited in human life. What we can do for another, supposing we have the power, depends upon what he needs. If he is rich, we cannot help him by giving him money. If he is well, medicine will do him no good. If he has an abundance of provisions, it will not help him to give him bread. If he is wiser than we, our advice is of no service. But if he is poor, or sick, or ignorant, we may help him in those particulars. If he is perverse, we may help him to overcome his perversity. If he is starving for natural or spiritual food, we can feed him.
But what the Lord can do for us is not only limited by our necessities, but by our willingness to be helped. In all the Lord's dealings with man we must recognize the immutable truth of man's freedom, and that the Lord always respects his freedom. It is not the Lord's power, nor the Lord's disposition, nor the abundance or scarcity of means, nor the capacity of man's nature that is the limit of the good the Lord can do for him. It is man's freedom. How much good can he be led, in freedom, to receive? Man's freedom in this respect is like a vessel. It is the capacity of a vessel and not the ocean that limits the amount we can put into it. We often wonder and sometimes complain because the Lord does not give us a more abundant and richer good. When we see the apparently vast inequalities in human life, and the immense amount of suffering and sorrow, we are surprised that the Lord does not interpose in behalf of the destitute and the afflicted, more fully equalize human blessings, and bestow His bounty with a more liberal hand. But there is no withholding of His blessing. He gives to every being the largest measure of the highest good he can be induced to receive. We do not wonder that the sun does not clothe a white and burning bank of sand or a stagnant pool of water with wheat and vines. The heat and light of the sun fall upon all places of the same aspect alike, and enter and vivify what there is to receive them. So it is with the Divine love. Let us, then, settle it as an immutable truth that the Lord always gives us all the good He can lead us in freedom to receive.
It is my own fault if I suffer. The Lord did not send this affliction upon me. I brought it upon myself He tried to prevent it, but could not without doing me a greater injury than the one I have received. And He is even now trying to bring out of this suffering all the good He can. But that we may see this truth in a clearer light let us consider more particularly the manner in which the Lord sends His blessings to us and leads us to good. The Lord never provides evil or punishment or suffering for any one. But He permits them, and He permits them for our good. The Lord has arranged everything in the universe for the happiness of man, and He has organized man himself to receive delight from everything. So long, therefore, as man lives in the order of the Divine providence he receives nothing but good. For example, the Lord has arranged a certain order for man's physical life, concerning food, raiment, sleep, and exercise. This order is perfect. It is from the Lord's will. If man lives according to it he receives only good. It is the same with his moral, intellectual, and spiritual hfe. But if man violates this order he takes himself out from its harmonies, and so far cuts himself off from the will of the Lord. The Lord can no more reach him in that way. He separates himself from good and comes under another law, the law of truth which condemns him. The order which was provided to bring the soul good and only good now acts against it and condemns it, because the soul does not move with it. You have seen a complicated piece of machinery driven by a powerful engine. Every part of the machine was arranged according to a certain order, to accomplish a certain end. Suppose this order and every part of the machine to be perfect. Every wheel and spring and lever plays in harmony, and the end, which is the good sought, is accomplished. But if some wheel gets out of place or some spring breaks, the order is destroyed. The whole force that propelled the machine now serves to break it up and destroy it. The force of the engine that acted only for good now crushes, now acts for evil. So when man violates the order of infinite wisdom embodied in his soul, that order acts against him, and man suffers according to the extent of the violation. Now, the Lord did not provide this suffering ; it is not from His will, but He permits it, and He permits it for man's good in the state in which he then is.
But when we say He permits evil we must not understand the permission in the sense that He concurs in it, or that He led man into it, or sent it upon him in any sense. All the laws of the Divine order are good, and when man by disobedience departs from the Divine order it is he who casts himself into punishments and torments. The case is the same as with the parent and child. A wise parent wills only the good of his child, and shows him how to attain the good. But if the child will not obey in all things ; if he desires to do things which the parent knows are not for his good, he may still permit him to have his own way if he believes that forcible restraint would do the child more harm than to follow his own inclinations. He knows, perhaps, that he will never be satisfied until he has tasted the bitter fruits of his own choice. Such cases come within the experience of all parents. Now, the parent does not provide the false and evil course for his child. He does not provide the sufferings which are caused by it. He does not will it, but he permits it, because to restrain the child by force would be a greater evil.
In the same way the Lord permits us to disobey His laws. He tells us the consequences ; but we do not believe Him, and we cannot be made to believe Him until we have tried it for ourselves. He permits us to plunge into evils and falsities, and to bring their inevitable punishments upon ourselves, because the evil is not so great as would result from forcibly restraining us. Thus He permits it for a relatively greater good, or because it is the least evil under the circumstances.
But the Lord does not leave us in our sins. He uses the suffering as a warning to go no farther astray. Every pain we suffer is a voice of warning, a cry that we are in danger. When I put my hand too near the fire the smarting cries out to me, '' You are violating a law of your physical life!" When I labor too long and too severely, the weariness and pain declare in unmistakable language that I am in danger of overtaxing my strength. When I violate a moral or spiritual law, conscience lifts her voice and inflicts her pangs. The Lord permits these things for our good, but He did not provide them for the smart and pain. The Lord did not provide fire to burn us, but to warm us, to cook our food, and to serve a great variety of useful purposes. The Lord did not weave a fine texture of nerves throughout the whole human body for the purpose of filling it with pain. He formed them to be the medium of communicating a delight from everything we touch. He did not create the conscience to sting and madden us, but to be a light to guide us and an approving voice to comfort and sustain us in the right. He did not make the head to ache and the whole human body to be racked with pains, to be eaten up with ulcers, and withered with palsies. He formed it to be the beautiful home of the soul while it tarries in the world, the free and happy instrument with which it communicates with the material universe and gains the materials for the development of its own form and life. And yet He permits the body to become a most foul, repulsive, and hideous thing.
But it is important to a true knowledge of the Divine character for us to keep in mind that the Lord does not permit those things for the sake of punishment. He permits the punishment for the sake of preventing evil and of leading men back to good. All those passages in the Word which represent the Lord as hating the evil, burning with fury towards them, and inflicting upon them the most terrible punishments, express not genuine, but apparent truths. They state things as they appear to man, not as they are when viewed from the Lord. You will observe, however, that this view gives no license to man to commit evil. On the contrary, it shows that evil and suffering are inseparably connected. The Lord Himself cannot prevent the suffering. '' The soul that sinneth, it shall die." But it shows the Divine character to be very different from that which is often attributed to the Lord. It shows how suffering and sin in the world are perfectly consistent with His infinite love and wisdom. There is another reason why the Lord permits man to act out his evils in freedom, and that is that he may see them in their infernal deformity and put them away. Man must exercise the same freedom in putting away his evils that he does in committing them, for all his real actions are voluntary. The natural man is full of evils, which must be put away before he can be regenerated.
But an evil cannot be resisted until it is seen, and it cannot be seen until it appears. We ought not to commit evil, however, that it may appear. We ought to see it in its first motions in our thoughts, and there repress and shun it. But most persons, will not examine themselves with candor, by the light of Divine truth. We are loath to confess even to ourselves that we are sinners ; and many persons will not do it until their evils come out into act, and in all their frightful deformity boldly confront them. And even then they shut their eyes against them until they are compelled, by seeing their fatal consequences, to avoid them. Thus the Lord's providence is over us at all times, and He makes the best use of our evils for our good. What He cannot prevent without a greater injury to us He permits, and permits that He may make the commission itself of the evil an aid in removing it. He is merciful even where it is impossible to remove the evil, as is the case with all who are evil at heart, after they have passed into the spiritual world. The punishments they inflict upon one another are permitted for the purpose of repressing their evils from fear, and thus preventing those who commit the sin from sinking into still greater evils, and thus incurring a severer punishment. Thus the Lord is ever seeking our good, and never fails to do the best for us that infinite wisdom can effect. He does not cease to love us and work for us when we are in evil. He does not leave us to ourselves when we wander from Him, but, like the good shepherd. He leaves the ninety and nine that are safe and goes after the one that is lost.
We must not infer, however, that It is no matter what we do, if whatever happens is best for us. We must remember that it is best under the circumstances, taking all things into consideration. For example, suppose you are disappointed in the attainment of some good upon which you had set your heart, or you are afflicted by some terrible bereavement. The Lord is doing the best He can for you. The evils you suffer are to prevent greater evils. Still, it is not as well for you as it would have been if you had lived a better and more orderly life. You are sick, perhaps, and suffer much pain. Your sickness is not sent upon you by the Lord. It has come from the violation of some physical law, and, though your suffering is best under the circumstances, your condition might have been better if you had not disobeyed the laws of your physical life. It is best for the wicked in the spiritual world to be restrained from greater sin and greater misery by punishment ; but it would have been far better for them if they had repented and shunned their evils as sins against God in this world ; for then they would be angels in heaven, and they would be entering into the enjoyment of all heavenly delights.
There is also one important principle of compensation for our natural sufferings which no finite mind can ever fully estimate. A natural evil may be permitted and used by the Divine Providence to effect a spiritual good. Man has a twofold nature, and suffering and disappointment in one degree or plane of his mind may be overruled for his greater good in another. We see some persons who seem to be always in affliction. Nothing that they touch seems to prosper. They never succeed in business ; if they run for office they are sure to be defeated ; if they engage in an enterprise they fail ; they always meet with what we call accidents, and everything seems to go wrong. Now, out of this apparent misfortune there may be educed a much greater spiritual and eternal good than could have been gained by the greatest temporal prosperity. What, therefore, seems to us misfortune may really be the greatest good fortune. The man who suffers these things may get more real good out of them than his neighbor, who succeeds in everything he puts his hand to, can get from his prosperity. A natural loss may contribute to a great spiritual gain. In this way there are compensations for natural evils, whose value we can never estimate, and which may immeasurably outweigh the ills. One thing is certain r the Lord permits them for a good end, and with our co-operation He will bring good out of them, all the good that is possible to infinite wisdom and power.
What a cheerful view does this truth give us of life ! With what a merciful and loving tenderness does it invest our Heavenly Father ! How the disappointed hopes, the ignorance, the failures, the bereavements, the sufferings and sorrows of poor, erring humanity, change their repulsive aspect ! How is all that we have called unfortunate, and mourned over in our own lives, brightened and changed into new forms of beauty and good by it ! Let us try to bring home the blessed truth to our own souls as an undoubted reality. Our very hairs are numbered.
The Lord does not turn away His face from us because we turn our faces from Him. If we are spiritually naked and hungry, sick and in prison. He will no more leave us than a devoted parent would leave a beloved child when he was sick and in affliction. If possible, the Lord then regards us with more tenderness than at other times ; and, though He cannot communicate to us any good but what He can lead us voluntarily to receive, He watches over us every moment of our lives, and seizes upon the slightest opportunity, and makes the most of every possible occasion to soften the hardness of our nature, to bend our wills towards a true order, to lead us back into harmony with Him. Why are we so slow and reluctant to believe in His mercy and loving-kindness ? Why are we so prone to doubt His care for us, and to make our natural prosperity the measure of His good-will towards us ? When we suffer, why will we accuse the Lord of unkindness or want of care, when the only reason the Lord does not give us a greater measure of good is our unwillingness to receive it ? Why do we not commit our way unto Him, and trust Him, and let Him lead us in the paths of righteousness, beside the still waters, and restore our souls to their true order, harmony, and peace ? Oh, you who go trembling with many a fear, whose souls are chafed and worried and stung with many an anxious care, whose hearts are heavy with many a burden of grief, why will you not accept the blessed invitation, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, . . . for I am meek and lowly in heart ; and ye shall find rest unto your souls '' ? Come, the Lord will take you by the hand. He will help you at every step. He will strengthen your weakness of will and act. He will lead you as gently as love itself He will reward every right effort. Come up from the corruption of the grave and the coldness and darkness of death into the light and order and peace of heaven.
Come, all things are ready. Come, and begin to live.
Author: Chauncey Giles, From Progress in Spiritual Knowledge, 1895