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- Religious Reality - 6/25 -


movement of modern times--it has always faced facts, and in particular has never regarded pain and sin, disease and sorrow and death, as anything but the stubborn realities which in point of fact they are. If we ask, indeed, how and why it was that evil, whether physical or moral, originally came into the world, the Gospel returns no answer, or an answer which, at best, merely echoes the ancient mythology of Jewish traditional belief--"By the envy of the Devil sin entered into the world, and death by sin": an answer which indeed denies emphatically that evil had its origin in GOD, and declares its essential root to lie in opposition to His will, but without attempting any explanation of the difficulty of conceiving how opposition to the will of GOD is possible.

The Gospel is concerned with issues that are practical rather than strictly theoretical: and the really practical problem with regard to evil is not how it is to be explained but how it is to be overcome. If we ask how evil first arose, the only honest answer is that we do not know: though we can see how the possibility, at least, of moral evil (as distinct from mere physical pain) is implicit of necessity in the existence of moral freedom. The question is sometimes asked, "If GOD is omnipotent, why does He permit evil?" But the doctrine of Divine omnipotence is misconceived when it is interpreted to mean that GOD is able to accomplish things inherently self-contradictory. GOD is omnipotent only in the sense that He is supreme over all things, and able to do all possible things. He is not able to do impossible things: and to make man free, and yet to prevent him from doing evil if he so chooses, is a thing impossible even to GOD. Man is left free to crucify his Maker, and he has availed himself of his freedom by crucifying both his Maker and his fellow-man.

If we ask, "Why does not GOD prevent war? Why does He permit murder and cruelty and rapine?" the answer is that He could only prevent these things by dint of over-riding the will of man by force: and moreover that it is not the method of GOD to do for man what man is perfectly well able to do for himself. For wars would cease if men universally desired not to fight.

We are really raising a much more difficult question if we ask, "Why does GOD allow cancer?" And to this, it may be, there is no completely satisfactory answer to be given: though it is possible to see that cancer and other diseases have a biological function, and also to recognize that the endurance of pain in some cases (though not in all) ennobles and deepens character. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews does not hesitate to say of Christ Himself that He "learned obedience by the things which He suffered."

In general it must be said that Christianity does not afford any complete theoretical solution of the problem of evil: what it does is to provide a point of view which sets evil in a new light, and which is adequate for the purposes of practical life. It teaches us that physical suffering, so far as it is inevitable, is to be endured and turned to spiritual profit, as a thing which is capable of bearing fruit in the deepening and discipline of character: and that moral evil is to be overcome, by the power of the grace of GOD in Christ.

If we ask, "Why should the innocent suffer?" the Christian answer is contained in the Cross. "Christ also suffered, being guiltless": and although, if Christ were regarded simply as a man and nothing more, this fact would merely intensify the problem, the matter assumes a different complexion if Christ be regarded as the revelation of GOD. For if so, then suffering enters into the experience of GOD Himself, and so far from GOD being indifferent to the sorrow and misery of the world, He shares it, and is victorious through it. "In all their affliction, He was afflicted." GOD is Himself a Sufferer, the supreme Sufferer of all, and finds through suffering the instrument of His triumph. But if this be true, then all suffering everywhere is set in a new and a transfiguring light, for it assumes the character of a challenge to become partaker in the sufferings and triumph of the Christ. "Can ye drink of the Cup that I drink of?"

So interpreted, suffering ceases to be a ground of petulance or of complaint. It is discovered to have a value. It is judged to be worth while. And it is possible to find in such a faith the grounds of a conviction that behind and beneath all suffering is the love which redeems it and the purpose which shall one day justify it, and that in very truth no sparrow falls to the ground without the Heavenly Father's knowledge and care.

CHAPTER VI

SIN AND REDEMPTION

The Gospel affirms that men are called to be sons of GOD; to be perfect, as the heavenly Father is perfect. The correlative of this ideal view of man as he is meant to be is a sombre view of man as he actually is. "If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of GOD."

Sin is essentially a falling short, a missing of the mark, a failure to correspond with the purpose and the will of GOD. It need not necessarily involve--though of course it does in many instances involve--the deliberate transgression of a moral law which the conscience of the individual sinner recognizes as such. There are sins of omission as well as of commission, sins of ignorance as well as of deliberate intent. The fact that the conscience of a given individual does not accuse him, that he is not aware of himself as a sinner before GOD, is no evidence of his moral perfection, but rather the reverse. Jesus Christ, who possessed the surest as well as the sanest moral judgment the world has ever known, held deliberately that the open and acknowledged sinner, just because he was aware of his condition, was in a more hopeful spiritual state than the man who through ignorance of his own shortcomings believed himself to be righteous. The Pharisee, who compared himself with others to his own advantage, was condemned in the sight of GOD. The Publican, who would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, but judging himself and his deeds by the standard of GOD'S holiness acknowledged himself a sinner, went away justified rather than the other. It is probably true that the ordinary man to-day is not worrying about his sins: but if so, the fact proves nothing except the secularity of his ideals and the shallowness of his sense of spiritual issues. It means, in short, that he has not taken seriously the standard of Christ. For the measure of a man's sin is simply the measure of the contrast between his character and the character of Christ.

It is likely enough that many of us will never discover that we are sinners until we have deliberately tried and failed to follow Christ. The moment we do try seriously to follow Him, we become conscious of the presence within ourselves of "that horrid impediment which the Churches call sin." We discover that we are spiritually impotent: that there is that in us which is both selfish and self-complacent: that there is a "law of sin in our members" which is in conflict with the "law of the Spirit of life": and that "we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves." We are at the mercy of our own character, which has been wrongly moulded and formed amiss by the sins and follies, the self-indulgences and the moral slackness of our own past behaviour. We are, indeed, "tied and bound by the chain of our sins."

To have realized so much is to have reached the necessary starting- point of any fruitful consideration of the Christian Gospel of redemption. The appeal of the Cross of Christ is to the human consciousness of sin; and the first effect of a true appreciation of the meaning of the Cross is to deepen in us the realization of what sin really is. The crucifixion of Christ was not the result of any peculiarly unexampled wickedness on the part of individuals. It was simply the natural and inevitable result of the moral collision between His ideals and those of society at large. The chief actors in the drama were men of like passions with ourselves, who were actuated by very ordinary human motives. It is indeed easy for men to say, "If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets": but in so saying they are merely being witnesses unto themselves that they are the children of them which killed the prophets. Are we indeed so far removed beyond the reach of the moral weakness which yields against its own better judgment to the clamorous demands of public opinion, as to be in a position to cast stones at Pilate? Are we so exempt from the temptation to turn a dishonest penny, or to throw over a friend who has disappointed us, as to recognize no echo of ourselves in Judas? Have we never with the Sanhedrin allowed vested interests to warp our judgment, or resented a too searching criticism of our own character and proceedings, or sophisticated our consciences into a belief that we were offering GOD service when as a matter of fact we were merely giving expression to the religious and social prejudices of our class? Have we never, like the crowds who joined in the hue- and-cry, followed a multitude to do evil? There appears in the midst of a society of ordinary, average men--men such as ourselves--a Man ideally good: and He is put to death as a blasphemer. That is the awful tragedy of the Crucifixion. What does it mean? It means that a new and lurid light is thrown upon the ordinary impulses of our mind. It means that we see sin to be exceeding sinful. That is the first salutary fruit of a resolute contemplation of the Cross.

The Cross shows us, in a word, what we are doing when we sin: consciously or unconsciously, we are crucifying that which is good. If we are able to go further, and by faith to discover in the character and bearing of the Son, crucified upon the Cross, the revelation of the heart of the Eternal Father, there dawns upon our minds a still more startling truth: consciously or unconsciously, we are crucifying GOD. Assuming, that is to say, that GOD is such as Christianity declares Him to be, holy, righteous, ideal and perfect Love, caring intensely for every one of His creatures and having a plan and a purpose for each one, then every failure of ours to correspond with the purpose of His love, every falling short of His ideal for us, every acknowledged slackness and moral failure in our lives, much more every wilful and deliberate transgression of the moral law, is simply the addition of yet a further stab to the wounds wherewith Love is wounded in the house of His friends. "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do"--the words of the Crucified are the revelation of what is in fact the eternal attitude of GOD: they are the expression of a love that is wounded, cut to the heart and crucified, by the lovelessness, the ingratitude, the tragedy of human sin, but which nevertheless, in spite of the pain, is willing to forgive.

But the Cross is no mere passivity. It is more than simply a revelation of Divine suffering, of the eternal patience of the love of GOD. It is the expression of GOD in action: a deed of Divine self- sacrifice: a voluntary taking upon Himself by man's Eternal Lover of the burden of man's misery and sin. There is a profound truth in the saying of S. Paul, that the Son of GOD "loved me, and gave Himself for me": as also in S. Peter's words about the Christ "who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the Tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness." There is no need to import into the phrases of the New Testament writers the crude transactional notions of later theology, no need to drag in ideas about penalties and punishments. The sole and sufficient penalty of sin is simply the state of being a sinner [Footnote: Sin, of course, may involve


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