Now, if anything at all can be known to be wrong, it seems to me to be unshakably certain that it would be wrong to make any sentient being suffer eternally for any offence whatever.
Is God obligated to do all within his power to maximize the quality of life for each individual in our world? Let us consider the following principle: (P1) A necessary condition for the actualization of any possible world containing sentient, self-determining beings is that God do all he can within the legitimate constraints inherent in this world to maximize the quality of life for such beings. Since many, if not most, versions of the problem of evil are based on the contention that a perfectly good God would do more to rid our world of pain and suffering, all parties agree that P1 is a very important principle, perhaps the most important of its type. It might be argued initially that P1 stipulates an impossible task for God. Just as there can be no ‘best’ actualizable world, someone might maintain, there can be no maximal state of existence for any given individual since for every state of existence we might identify as such, there would, in principle, always be another state of existence with even higher quality that God could (or attempt to) produce.
If you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not good independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God.
Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan, the Fascist, and Mr. Winston Churchill? Really I am not much impressed with the people who say: “Look at me: I am such a splendid product that there must have been design in the universe.” I am not very impressed by the splendor of those people. Therefore I think that this argument of design is really a very poor argument indeed. Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is merely a flash in the pan; it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending — something dead, cold, and lifeless.
Thus from the dawn of recorded history the scourge of God has humbled the proud of heart and laid low those who hardened themselves against Him. Ponder this well, my friends, and fall on your knees. If today the plague is in your midst, that is because the hour has struck for taking thought. The just man need have no fear, but the evildoer has good cause to tremble. For plague is the flail of God and the world His threshing-floor, and implacably He will thresh out His harvest until the wheat is separated from the chaff. There will be more chaff than wheat, few chosen of the many called. Yet this calamity was not willed by God. Too long this world of ours has connived at evil, too long has it counted on the divine mercy, on God’s forgiveness. Repentance was enough, men thought; nothing was forbidden. You fondly imagine it was enough to visit God on Sundays, and thus you make free of your weekdays, You believed some brief formalities, some bendings of the knee, would recompense Him well enough for your criminal indifference. But God is not mocked. These brief encounters could not sate the fierce hunger of His love… To some the sermon simply brought home the fact that they had been sentenced, for an unknown crime, to an indeterminate period of punishment.
It is only when we think abstractly that we have such a high opinion of man. Of men in the concrete, most of us think the vast majority very bad. Civilized states spend more that half their revenue on killing each other’s citizens. Consider the long history of the activities inspired by moral fervor: human sacrifices, persecution of heretics, witch-hunts, pogroms leading up to wholesale extermination by poison gases… Are these abominations, and the ethical doctrines by which they are prompted, really evidence of an intelligent Creator? And can we really wish that the men who practiced them should live forever? The world in which we live can be understood as a result of muddle and accident; but if it is the outcome of deliberate purpose, the purpose must have been that of a fiend. For my part, I find accident a less painful and more plausible hypothesis.
Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things — our powers, our desires, our food — are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.
I think that everything which is really good and beautiful — of inner moral, spiritual and sublime beauty in men and their works — comes from God, and that which is bad and wrong in men and in their works is not of God, and God does not approve of it. But I always think that the best way to know God is to love many things. Love a friend, a wife, something — whatever you like — you will be on the way to knowing more about Him.
It is God who makes real men and who can enrich our lives with moments and periods of higher feeling. Has the sea made itself, has an oak tree?
As we have seen, prayer, celebration of the religious offices, alms, consoling the afflicted, the cultivation of a little piece of ground, fraternity, frugality, self-sacrifice, confidence, study, and work, filled up each day of his life. Filled up is exactly the word, and in fact, the bishop’s day was full to the brim with good thoughts, good words, and good actions. Nevertheless it was not complete if cold or rainy weather prevented his passing an hour or two in the evening, when the two women had retired, in his garden before going to sleep. It seemed as if it were a sort of rite with him, to prepare himself for sleep by meditating in presence of the great spectacle of the starry firmament. Sometimes at a late hour of the night, if the two women were awake, they would hear him slowly promenading the walks. He was there alone with himself, collected, tranquil, adoring, comparing the serenity of his heart with the serenity of the skies, moved in the darkness by the visible splendors of the constellations, and the invisible splendor of God, opening his soul to the thoughts which fall from the unknown. In such moments, offering up his heart at the hour when the flowers of night inhale their perfume, lighted like a lamp in the center of the starry night, expanding his soul in ecstasy in the midst of the universal radiance of creation, he could not himself perhaps have told what was passing in his own mind; he felt something depart from him, and something descend upon him, mysterious interchanges of the depths of the soul with the depths of the universe. He would sit upon a wooden bench leaning against a broken trellis and look at the stars through the irregular outlines of his fruit trees. This quarter of an acre of ground, so poorly cultivated, so cumbered with shed and ruins, was dear to him, and satisfied him. What more was needed by this old man who divided the leisure hours of his life, where had so little leisure, between gardening in the daytime, and contemplation at night? Was not this narrow enclosure, with the sky for a background, enough to enable him to adore God in his most beautiful as well as in his most sublime works? Indeed, is not that all, and what more can be desired? A little garden to walk, and immensity to reflect upon. At his feet something to cultivate and gather; above his head something to study and meditate upon: a few flowers on the earth, and all the stars in the sky.
The prima facie evidence for a God may not be enough to decide the question; but it should at least decide man to entertain the question. To think upon how slight a variation either in man or in external nature, the whole difference between physical enjoyment and the most acute and most appalling of physical agony may turn; to think how delicate the balance is, and yet how surely and steadfastly it is maintained, so as that the vast majority of creatures are not only upheld in comfort but often may be seen disporting themselves in the redundance of gaiety; to think of the pleasurable sensations wherewith every hour is enlivened, and how much the most frequent and familiar occasions of life are mixed up with happiness; to think of the food, and the recreation, and the study, and the society, and the business, each having an appropriate relish of its own, so as in fact to season with enjoyment the great bulk of our existence in the world; to think that, instead of living in the midst of grievous and incessant annoyance to all our faculties, we should have awoke upon a world that so harmonized with the various senses of man, and both gave forth such music to his ear, and to his eye such manifold loveliness; to think of all these palpable and most precious adaptations, and yet to care not, whether in this wide universe there exists a being who has had any hand in them; to riot and regale oneself to the uttermost in the midst of all this profusion, and yet to send not one wishful inquiry after that Benevolence which for aught we know may have laid it at our feet — this, however shaded from our view the object of the question may be, is, from its very commencement, a clear outrage against its ethical proprieties. If that veil of dim transparency, which hides the Deity from our immediate perceptions, were lifted up; and we should then spurn from us the manifested God — this were direct and glaring impiety. But anterior to the lifting of that veil, there may be impiety. It is impiety to be so immersed as we are, in the busy objects and gratifications of life; and yet to care not whether there be a great and a good spirit by whose kindness it is that life is upholden. It needs not that this great spirit should reveal Himself in characters that force our attention to Him, ere the guilt of our impiety has begun. But ours is the guilt of impiety, in not lifting our attention towards God, in not seeking after Him if haply we may find Him.
The word Sabbath, means REST, that is, cessation from labour, but the stupid Blue Laws of Connecticut make a labour of rest, for they oblige a person to sit still from sunrise to sunset on a Sabbath day, which is hard work. Fanaticism made those laws, and hyprocrisy pretends to reverence them, for where such laws prevail hypocrisy will prevail also. ¶ One of those laws says, “No person shall run on a Sabbath-day, nor walk in his garden, nor elsewhere, but reverently to and from meeting.” These fanatical hypocrites forgot that God dwells not in temples made with hands, and that the earth is full of his glory. One of the finest scenes and subjects of religious contemplation is to walk into the woods and fields, and survey the works of the God of the Creation. The wide expanse of heaven, the earth covered with verdure, the lofty forest, the waving corn, the magnificent roll of mighty rivers, and the murmuring melody of the cheerful brooks, are scenes that inspire the mind with gratitude and delight. But this the gloomy Calvinist of Connecticut gratitude and delight. But this the gloomy Calvinist of Connecticut must not behold on a Sabbath-day. Entombed within the walls of his dwelling, he shuts from his view the Temple of Creation. The sun shines no joy to him. The gladdening voice of nature calls on him in vain. He is deaf, dumb, and blind to every thing around that God has made. Such is the Sabbath-day of Connecticut. ¶ From whence could come this miserable notion of devotion? It comes from the gloominess of the Calvinistic creed. If men love darkness rather than light, because their works are evil, the ulcerated mind of a Calvinist, who sees God only in terror, and sits brooding over the scenes of hell and damnation, can have no joy in beholding the glories of the Creation. Nothing in that mighty and wondrous system accords with his principles or his devotion. He sees nothing there that tells him that God created millions on purpose to be damned, and that the children of a span long are born to burn forever in hell. The Creation preaches a different doctrine to this. We there see that the care and goodness of God is extended impartially over all the creatures he has made. The worm of the earth shares his protection equally with the elephant of the desert. The grass that springs beneath our feet grows by his bounty as well as the cedars of Lebanon. Every thing in the Creation reproaches the Calvinist with unjust ideas of God, and disowns the hardness and ingratitude of his principles. Therefore he shuns the sight of them on a Sabbath-day.
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and — Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”
The universal propensity to believe in invisible, intelligent power, if not an original instinct, being at least a general attendant of human nature, may be considered as a kind of mark or stamp, which the divine workman has set upon his work; and nothing surely can more dignify mankind, than to be thus selected from all other parts of the creation, and to bear the image or impression of the universal Creator. But consult this image, as it appears in the popular religions of the world. How is the deity disfigured in our representations of him! What caprice, absurdity, and immorality are attributed to him! How much is he degraded even below the character, which we should naturally, in common life, ascribe to a man of sense and virtue!
Thus there is a difference between having an opinion that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes; but a man can’t have the latter, unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind. So there is a difference between believing that a person is beautiful, and having a sense of his beauty. The former may be obtained by hearsay, but the latter only by seeing the countenance. There is a wide difference between mere speculative, rational judging anything to be excellent, and having a sense of its sweetness, and beauty. The former rests only in the head, speculation only is concerned in it; but the heart is concerned in the latter. When the heart is sensible of the loveliness of a thing, that the idea of it is sweet and pleasant to his soul; which is a far different thing from having a rational opinion that is excellent.
In saying, therefore, that things are not good according to any standard of goodness, but simply by the will of God, it seems to me that one destroys, without realizing it, all the love of God and all his glory; for why praise him for what he has done, if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing the contrary? Where will be his justice and his wisdom if he has only a certain despotic power, if arbitrary will takes the place of reasonableness, and if in accord with the definition of tyrants, justice consists in that which is pleasing to the most powerful?
When it is said that what God wishes is just, and that what He does not wish is unjust, we must not understand that if God wished anything improper it would be just, simply because he wished it. For if God wishes to lie, we must not conclude that it is right to lie, but rather that he is not God. For no will can ever wish to lie, unless truth in it is impaired, nay, unless the will itself be impaired by forsaking truth. When, then, it is said: “If God wishes to lie,” the meaning is simply this: “If the nature of God is such as that he wishes to lie;” and, therefore, it does not follow that falsehood is right, except it be understood in the same manner as when we speak of two impossible things: “If this be true, then that follows; because neither this nor that is true;” as if a man should say: “Supposing water to be dry, and fire to be moist;” for neither is the case. Therefore, with regard to these things, to speak the whole truth: If God desires a thing, it is right that he should desire that which involves no unfitness. For if God chooses that it should rain, it is right that it should rain; and if he desires that any man should die, then is it right that he should die. Wherefore, if it be not fitting for God to do anything unjustly, or out of course, it does not belong to his liberty or compassion or will to let the sinner go unpunished who makes no return to God of what the sinner has
We do no injustice or dishonor to God, but give him thanks with all the heart, praising and proclaiming the ineffable height of his compassion. For the more astonishing a thing it is and beyond expectation, that he has restored us from so great and deserved ills in which we were, to so great and unmerited blessings which we had forfeited; by so much the more has he shown his more exceeding love and tenderness towards us. For did they but carefully consider how fitly in this way human redemption is secured, they would not ridicule our simplicity, but would rather join with us in praising the wise beneficence of God. For, as death came upon the human race by the disobedience of man, it was fitting that by man’s obedience life should be restored. And, as sin, the cause of our condemnation, had its origin from a woman, so ought the author of our righteousness and salvation to be born of a woman. And so also was it proper that the devil, who, being man’s tempter, had conquered him in eating of the tree, should be vanquished by man in the suffering of the tree which man bore. Many other things also, if we carefully examine them, give a certain indescribable beauty to our redemption as thus procured.