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- Thomas Wingfold, Curate V3 - 5/31 -
in saying as much."
"Perhaps it might be an indiscretion to acknowledge as much however," said the curate with a smile.
"You are right. I have not been long in the place," returned Faber, "and you had no opportunity of testing me. But I am indifferent honest as well as you, though I don't go you in everything."
"People would have me believe you don't go with me in anything."
"They say as much--do they?" returned Faber with some annoyance. "I thought I had been careful not to trespass on your preserves."
"As for preserves, I don't know of any," answered the curate. "There is no true bird in the grounds that won't manage somehow to escape the snare of the fowler."
"Well," said the doctor, "I know nothing about God and all that kind of thing, but, though I don't think I'm a coward exactly either, I know I should like to have your pluck."
"I haven't got any pluck," said the curate.
"Tell that to the marines," said Faber. "I daren't go and say what I think or don't think, even in the bedroom of my least orthodox patient--at least, if I do, I instantly repent it--while you go on saying what you really believe Sunday after Sunday!--How you can believe it, I don't know, and it's no business of mine."
"Oh yes, it is!" returned Wingfold. "But as to the pluck, it may be a man's duty to say in the pulpit what he would be just as wrong to say by a sick-bed."
"That has nothing to do with the pluck! That's all I care about."
"It has everything to do with what you take for pluck. My pluck is only Don Worm."
"I don't know what you mean by that."
"It's Benedick's name, in Much Ado about Nothing, for the conscience. MY pluck is nothing but my conscience."
"It's a damned fine thing to have anyhow, whatever name you put upon it!" said Faber.
"Excuse me if I find your epithet more amusing than apt," said Wingfold, laughing.
"You are quite right," said Faber. "I apologize."
"As to the pluck again," Wingfold resumed, "--if you think of this one fact--that my whole desire is to believe in God, and that the only thing I can be sure of sometimes is that, if there be a God, none but an honest man will ever find him, you will not then say there is much pluck in my speaking the truth?"
"I don't see that that makes it a hair easier, in the face of such a set of gaping noodles as--"
"I beg your pardon:--there is more lack of conscience than of brains in the Abbey of a Sunday, I fear."
"Well, all I have to say is, I can't for the life of me see what you want to believe in a God for! It seems to me the world would go rather better without any such fancy. Look here now: there is young Spenser--out there at Harwood--a patient of mine. His wife died yesterday--one of the loveliest young creatures you ever saw. The poor fellow is as bad about it as fellow can be. Well, he's one of your sort, and said to me the other day, just as you would have him, 'It's the will of God,' he said, 'and we must hold our peace.'--'Don't talk to me about God,' I said, for I couldn't stand it. 'Do you mean to tell me that, if there was a God, he would have taken such a lovely creature as that away from her husband and her helpless infant, at the age of two and twenty? I scorn to believe it.'"
"What did he say to that?"
"He turned as white as death, and said never a word."
"Ah, you forgot that you were taking from him his only hope of seeing her again!"
"I certainly did not think of that," said Faber.
"Even then," resumed Wingfold, "I should not say you were wrong, if you were prepared to add that you had searched every possible region of existence, and had found no God; or that you had tried every theory man had invented, or even that you were able to invent yourself, and had found none of them consistent with the being of a God. I do not say that then you would be right in your judgment, for another man, of equal weight, might have had a different experience. I only say, I would not then blame you. But you must allow it a very serious thing to assert as a conviction, without such grounds as the assertor has pretty fully satisfied himself concerning, what COULD only drive the sting of death ten times deeper."
The doctor was silent.
"I doubt not you spoke in a burst of indignation; but it seems to me the indignation of a man unaccustomed to ponder the things concerning which he expresses such a positive conviction."
"You are wrong there," returned Faber; "for I was brought up in the straitest sect of the Pharisees, and know what I am saying."
"The straitest sect of the Pharisees can hardly be the school in which to gather any such idea of a God as one could wish to be a reality."
"They profess to know."
"Is that any argument of weight, they and their opinions being what they are?--If there be a God, do you imagine he would choose any strait sect under the sun to be his interpreters?"
"But the question is not of the idea of a God, but of the existence of any, seeing, if he exists, he must be such as the human heart could never accept as God, inasmuch as he at least permits, if not himself enacts cruelty. My argument to poor Spenser remains--however unwise or indeed cruel it may have been."
"I grant it a certain amount of force--as much exactly as had gone to satisfy the children whom I heard the other day agreeing that Dr. Faber was a very cruel man, for he pulled out nurse's tooth, and gave poor little baby such a nasty, nasty powder!"
"Is that a fair parallel? I must look at it."
"I think it is. What you do is often unpleasant, sometimes most painful, but it does not follow that you are a cruel man, and a hurter instead of a healer of men."
"I think there is a fault in the analogy," said Faber. "For here am I nothing but a slave to laws already existing, and compelled to work according to them. It is not my fault therefore that the remedies I have to use are unpleasant. But if there be a God, he has the matter in his own hands."
"There is weight and justice in your argument, which may well make the analogy appear at first sight false. But is there no theory possible that should make it perfect?"
"I do not see how there should be any. For, if you say God is under any such compulsion as I am under, then surely the house is divided against itself, and God is not God any more."
"For my part," said the curate, "I think I COULD believe in a God who did but his imperfect best: in one all power, and not all goodness, I could not believe. But suppose that the design of God involved the perfecting of men as the CHILDREN OF GOD--'I said ye are gods,'--that he would have them partakers of his own blessedness in kind--be as himself;--suppose his grand idea could not be contented with creatures perfect ONLY by his gift, so far as that should reach, and having no willing causal share in the perfection, that is, partaking not at all of God's individuality and free-will and choice of good; then suppose that suffering were the only way through which the individual could be set, in separate and self-individuality, so far apart from God, that it might WILL, and so become a partaker of his singleness and freedom;--and suppose that this suffering must be and had been initiated by God's taking his share, and that the infinitely greater share;--suppose next, that God saw the germ of a pure affection, say in your friend and his wife, but saw also that it was a germ so imperfect and weak that it could not encounter the coming frosts and winds of the world without loss and decay, while, if they were parted now for a few years, it would grow and strengthen and expand, to the certainty of an infinitely higher and deeper and keener love through the endless ages to follow--so that by suffering should come, in place of contented decline, abortion, and death, a troubled birth of joyous result in health and immortality;--suppose all this, and what then?"
Faber was silent a moment, then answered,
"Your theory has but one fault: it is too good to be true."
"My theory leaves plenty of difficulty, but has no such fault as that. Why, what sort of a God would content you, Mr. Faber? The one idea is too bad, the other too good to be true. Must you expand and pare until you get one exactly to the measure of yourself ere you can accept it as thinkable or possible? Why, a less God than that would not rest your soul a week. The only possibility of believing in a God seems to me to lie in finding an idea of a God large enough, grand enough, pure enough, lovely enough to be fit to believe in."
"And have you found such--may I ask?"
"I think I am finding such."
"In the man of the New Testament. I have thought a little more about these things, I fancy, than you have, Mr. Faber. I may come to be sure of something; I don't see how a man can ever be sure of NOTHING."
"Don't suppose me quite dumbfoundered, though I can't answer you off hand," said Mr. Faber, as they reached his door.--"Come in with me,
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