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The Mystery Of Suffering
by [?]

Here is a story which has much occupied my thoughts lately. A man in middle life, with a widowed sister and her children depending on him, living by professional exertions, is suddenly attacked by a painful, horrible, and fatal complaint. He goes through a terrible operation, and then struggles back to his work again, with the utmost courage and gallantry. Again the complaint returns, and the operation is repeated. After this he returns again to his work, but at last, after enduring untold agonies, he is forced to retire into an invalid life, after a few months of which he dies in terrible suffering, and leaves his sister and the children nearly penniless.

The man was a quiet, simple-minded person, fond of his work, fond of his home, conventional and not remarkable except for the simply heroic quality he displayed, smiling and joking up to the moment of the administering of anaesthetics for his operations, and bearing his sufferings with perfect patience and fortitude, never saying an impatient word, grateful for the smallest services.

His sister, a simple, active woman, with much tender affection and considerable shrewdness, finding that the fear of incurring needless expense distressed her brother, devoted herself to the ghastly and terrible task of nursing him through his illnesses. The children behaved with the same straightforward affection and goodness. None of the circle ever complained, ever said a word which would lead one to suppose that they had any feeling of resentment or cowardice. They simply received the blows of fate humbly, resignedly, and cheerfully, and made the best of the situation.

Now, let us look this sad story in the face, and see if we can derive any hope or comfort from it. In the first place, there was nothing in the man’s life which would lead one to suppose that he deserved or needed this special chastening, this crucifixion of the body. He was by instinct humble, laborious, unselfish, and good, all of which qualities came out in his illness. Neither was there anything in the life or character of the sister which seemed to need this stern and severe trial. The household had lived a very quiet, active, useful life, models of good citizens–religious, contented, drawing great happiness from very simple resources.

One’s belief in the goodness, the justice, the patience of the Father and Maker of men forbids one to believe that he can ever be wantonly cruel, unjust, or unloving. Yet it is impossible to see the mercy or justice of his actions in this case. And the misery is that, if it could be proved that in one single case, however small, God’s goodness had, so to speak, broken down; if there were evidence of neglect or carelessness or indifference, in the case of one single child of his, one single sentient thing that he has created, it would be impossible to believe in his omnipotence any more. Either one would feel that he was unjust and cruel, or that there was some evil power at work in the world which he could not overcome.

For there is nothing remedial in this suffering. The man’s useful, gentle life is over, the sister is broken down, unhappy, a second time made desolate; the children’s education has suffered, their home is made miserable. The only thing that one can see, that is in any degree a compensation, is the extraordinary kindness displayed by friends, relations, and employers in making things easy for the afflicted household. And then, too, there is the heroic quality of soul displayed by the sufferer himself and his sister–a heroism which is ennobling to think of, and yet humiliating too, because it seems to be so far out of one’s own reach.

This is a very dark abyss of the world into which we are looking. The case is an extreme one perhaps, but similar things happen every day, in this sad and wonderful and bewildering world. Of course, one may take refuge in a gloomy acquiescence, saying that such things seem to be part of the world as it is made, and we cannot explain them, while we dumbly hope that we may be spared such woes. But that is a dark and despairing attitude, and, for one, I cannot live at all, unless I feel that God is indeed more upon our side than that. I cannot live at all, I say. And yet I must live; I must endure the Will of God in whatever form it is laid upon me–in joy or in pain, in contentment or sick despair. Why am I at one with the Will of God when it gives me strength, and hope, and delight? Why am I so averse to it when it brings me languor, and sorrow, and despair? That I cannot tell; and that is the enigma which has confronted men from generation to generation.

But I still believe that there is a Will of God; and, more than that, I can still believe that a day comes for all of us, however far off it may be, when we shall understand; when these tragedies, that now blacken and darken the very air of Heaven for us, will sink into their places in a scheme so august, so magnificent, so joyful, that we shall laugh for wonder and delight; when we shall think not more sorrowfully over these sufferings, these agonies, than we think now of the sad days in our childhood when we sat with a passion of tears over a broken toy or a dead bird, feeling that we could not be comforted. We smile as we remember such things–we smile at our blindness, our limitations. We smile to reflect at the great range and panorama of the world that has opened upon us since, and of which, in our childish grief, we were so ignorant. Under what conditions the glory will be revealed to us I cannot guess. But I do not doubt that it will be revealed; for we forget sorrow, but we do not forget joy.