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tended by infinite wickedness, bloodshed, and misery, to maintain himself at this point against the greed and ambition of his fellow-men. He makes a point of killing and otherwise persecuting all those who first try to get him to move on; and when he has moved a step farther he foolishly confers post-mortem deification on his victims. He exactly repeats the process with all who want to move a step yet farther.”
This was written by a teacher of science, for a periodical called The Nineteenth Century. If it had been uttered by a Hebrew prophet, in the sixth century before Christ, it could not give a darker picture of human nature.
Modern philosophy is permeated with the flavour of pessimism,—the bitter tincture drawn from the twisted, tangled roots of sorrowful perversity which underlie the life of man.
Modern literature is haunted by the persistent spectre of evil, which “will not down.” A novel by Zola, or Turgenieff, or Thomas Hardy, is little more than a commentary on Jeremiah's text, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” 1
Gloomy as such a view of life is, unmitigated by any real explanation of its mysterious ailment, unillumined by any hope of its cure, there is still something wholesome and medicinal in it. It is better to know the saddest truth than to be blinded by the merriest lie. The sober, stern-browed pessimism which looks the darkness in the face is sounder and more heroic than the frivolous, fat-witted optimism which turns its back, and shuts its eyes, and laughs.
1 Jer. 17:9.
Man, indeed, is framed to live and rise by hope. But a hope which begins by denying the facts is a false hope whose path leads upward-a few steps——to the edge of a precipice of deeper despair.
The Bridge-Builders in Rudyard Kipling's story would have been fools if they had tried to accomplish their work by ignoring the steady downward thrust of gravitation, or shutting their eyes to the destructive rage of the Ganges-flood.
No less foolish is the man who tries to build a life, or a theory of life, in forgetfulness of the steady downward thrust of human nature, or in denial of the reality and universality of the evil that is in the world.
Hidden, dormant it may be; unrealized it may be in the fulness of its possibilities and powers. The river sleeps in the smoothness of its flow. The force that draws all foreheads downward to the dust is checked and countervailed by other forces. But evil is always there, a potency of disaster and destruction. All the ills that have been wrought in the world come from that secret source. In form they are manifold. In origin and essence they are one.
THE UNANSWERABLE QUESTION How came evil into being ?
This is the question which man has always asked, and to which he has never found a perfect answer.
He cannot help asking it, because curiosity, in the nobler sense of the word, is the mainspring of his mind. He cannot find the perfect answer, because his reason is limited and conditioned, and because his intellectual power itself has developed under the shadow, and within the sphere, of the very malign presence which he seeks to account for.
A spirit whose life was beyond the influence of evil might be able to understand and solve the problem of its origin. But even so, it would hardly be possible for such a spirit to communicate this knowledge to other spirits who were born and lived within the domain of evil.
And yet, that man should ask this question, and continue to ask it after thousands of years
of baffled thought and disappointed search, is in itself a hopeful and illuminating fact. It is a question which implies a faith not to be eradicated, a courage not to be conquered. It speaks of a conviction that evil is not eternal, but temporal; not sovereign, but subordinate; not native to the universe, but a foreigner and an intruder. It testifies to man's knowledge that evil is not the whole, but a part; not the straight line, but the deflection; not a necessary element in the perfect harmony of being, but a false note which breaks the chord.
If man should ask, “How came good into being ?” he would be in the region of despair. While he continues to ask, “How came evil into being ?” he is in the region of hope.
All the answers to this question which have been attempted, may be classified under three forms. The first amounts to a denial of the existence of evil. The second destroys the reality of the distinction between evil and good. The third confesses that the primal origin of evil is a mystery, and bids us seek a knowledge of its reality and its mode of manifestation in the world.
All theories which are based upon the idea of the essential nothingness of evil, amount to a practical denial of its existence. Traces of such theories may be found even in Christian writers. A theologian as orthodox as Thomas Aquinas has said, “God created everything that exists; but sin is nothing ; so God was not the author of it.” In Robert Browning's poem of “Abt Vogler," the idea is put into a single verse. '“ The evil is naught, is null, is silence implying sound.” Darkness is but the absence of light. Evil is but the negation of good.
The rock upon which all these negative theories go to pieces is the practical conviction that evil is just as real to us in our experience, just as solid, just as operative, as good is. The desire which seeks a wrong pleasure is no less vivid than that which seeks a right pleasure. The will which determines a wicked action is just as strong as that which determines a righteous action. The end sought is no more negative in one case than it is in the other. If evil is a nothing, it is a strangely active, positive, and potent nothing, with all the qualities of a something. The theories which attempt to account for its origin by tracing it to a mere negation or absence of good, raise a harder question than that which they attempt to answer. Instead of asking how evil came into