I have several times anticipated the question, whether the Creator could not have accomplished all his proposed ends of benevolence, without subjecting us to those preliminary sufferings which form so considerable a part of our present allotment? "Was it not", we are frequently asked, "equally possible for him to have made us perfectly happy at once? And if so, must he not be wanting in goodness not to have done so?" It is not for us to say what the Almighty could or could not have done, in this case. It seems probable, however, that with every degree of imperfection in being, there must necessarily be a corresponding degree of imperfection in happiness. Himself alone is infinitely perfect in nature, and, consequently, himself alone is infinitely perfect in felicity. If he could have made us as perfect, he could also have made us as happy, as himself. But, then, we could have known no progression in happiness. We could not have passed from this state to a better, from that to a better still, and so on, ad infinitum, as seems to be our destination under the present order of things. This is one view of the case which tolerably well solves the enigma of the existence of suffering, under the government of infinite love. But there is still another.
We frequently hear the remark, that all our happiness is COMPARATIVE, or that it arises from CONTRAST -- that we could not enjoy food if we never experienced hunger -- nor drink, if we never knew thirst -- nor rest, if we were strangers to fatigue, etc. This is a mistake, however. ALL our pleasure is not relative, although MUCH unquestionably is, but our senses are so contrived as to be media of POSITIVE enjoyment to us. It is not essential to our appreciating the fragrance of the rose or violet, that we previously respire the sulfurated hydrogen arising from fetid house drains. The infant, it may be presumed, without previous experience, enjoys the food with which nature has so kindly furnished the mother for its sustenance. No, ALL our happiness does not result from contrast, yet, who can doubt that it is incalculably INCREASED thereby? A man who is born to affluence -- whose whole existence has been spent in all the enjoyments which wealth could supply -- who has never known the fatigues of labor, nor the gnawings of want -- has but small zest for the pleasures which offer themselves ready culled to his hand. But he becomes sick of satiety, and a prey to that stagnation of soul proceeding from the want of an object to engage its energies. But conceive a poor man, accustomed from his birth to severe drudgery, and the coarsest fare. Or conceive the pampered son of wealth first supposed. Let him be cast by accident upon an inhospitable coast. He must needs traverse a savage desert ere he can reach the abodes of civilized life -- days and nights of want and suffering elapse during his toilsome journey -- hunger, and thirst, and weariness, and burning heat, and dangers innumerable. He reaches the goal at length, is kindly received, furnished with all the luxuries of tropical existence -- delightful groves overshadow him -- breezes laden with aromatic incense fan his frame -- the melody of birds regale his ear -- and all that appetite -- all that fancy can crave, is subject to his wish. Is argument needed to convince you that our traveler enjoys these luxuries with a more intense delight than he ever experienced before he tasted of adversity?
That our enjoyment is incalculably enhanced by contrast, then, is past denial, and we hence obtain an idea of the probable use of our present suffering. The bliss of eternity may be the more exquisite for the tears of time, and the happiness of each succeeding stage of our existence may be heightened by the deficiencies of the stage preceding it. For, I am far from thinking that we shall arrive at once, on our reaching heaven, at the acme of felicity, but we shall be progressing toward it, to eternity. From this reasoning, it seems probable that the bliss of an infant spirit (which has had little or no experience of suffering) is not so great on its first arrival in the abodes of bliss, as is that of the adult who has reached the haven after long struggling against the winds and tides of time.
By those who suppose our first parents to have been placed in a condition of perfect happiness before their fall, their case may seem a refutation of this theory concerning the utility of suffering, but I do not admit the premises. If the first pair had been completely happy ere they sinned, they could not have been tempted as they were. The very manner of the temptation proves their felicity to have been incomplete. Their appetite coveted the interdicted fruit. This implied wand, which they were forbidden to gratify, and ungratified want (however unreasonable that want in itself) is one of the ordinary elements of misery. They desired, too, to BE AS GODS, KNOWING GOOD AND EVIL, which clearly implied a discontent with the lot assigned them. They aspired to a higher sphere, and this is the essence of ambition. They experienced also a hunger of intellect, a desire to KNOW GOOD AND EVIL, and this knowledge they supposed the tree would impart. It is therefore exceedingly clear that they were not absolutely happy, although more happy, undoubtedly, than subsequent to their fall.
"What can we reason, but from what we know?" the poet asks. From all that we can know at present the probabilities seem decidedly against the supposition, that it is possible for Jehovah to create sentient creatures, who, from the commencement of their existence, shall be in possession of absolute and unmixed felicity. It seems a fair presumption, that, were it possible, his infinite goodness would have so created and circumstanced them, that to all eternity, all creatures should be utter strangers to want, or pain. Benevolence cannot approve of misery for its OWN sake, although for the END'S sake it may. If misery be not absolutely indispensable to the end, it cannot approve it at all. The plain reason is, that it must always prefer to effect the BEST ENDS by the BEST MEANS.
Behold, then, fellow mortals, the use of the sufferings of which you at present complain! Let your souls be bowed in adoration and love before the throne of your Almighty Father, who permiteth no evil to come upon you but such as he sees will turn out for your greatest good in the end.
Give not place to impatience, then, nor to profitless repining under affliction. Call not his wisdom, nor his justice, nor his love, into question, as though the sorrows or disappointments you experience were supernumerary. Not one of them is such. Each hath its own assigned weight and bearing on the great and glorious issue.
And you, afflicted fellow pilgrim through a world of sin, who have been oft and deeply stricken with the shafts of sorrow, most welcome are you to share in the comfort with which this doctrine is fought. And if you find the remedy herein for which your heart is seeking, I give you joy of your discovery, and shall feel most thankful if my instrumentality have led to it.
For myself, if the reader will pardon the egotism, I will say, that the light of this theory is the most placid and cheering which can be brought to shine upon the pathway of my life. In it my heart can most cheerfully bask when the darkness of disappointment is settling upon all its earthly hopes. Courage! Courage, my soul! Thou art clad with a panoply which makes thee invulnerable to the shafts of despair. Thou mayest sow in tears awhile, but anon thou shalt reap a plentiful harvest of joy.