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§ IV.—CHAPTER III.

SPECIAL EXAMINATION OF DIFFICULTIES PHYSICAL PAIN AND DEATH.

WE have already seen what are the first difficulties which meet us in the course of our theistic induction. In the region of sentient existence, which brings us into the presence of Divine Goodness, we meet, in immediate connection with the phenomena of pleasure, the phenomena of pain; and death we find ceaselessly alternating with life. In examining these difficulties, we shall regard them in their widest manifestation throughout the sphere of animal being. Any special reference that they may have to man will be sufficiently considered under those higher forms of evil that peculiarly belong to him.

The first thing to be said of physical pain is what we have already urged.156156   See p. 191-193. The issue of the sensitive frame, according to its regular and harmonious action, is pleasure. In health and vigour—or, in other words, when not interfered with—it gives forth pleasure. There is no part of the system whose 306direct appointed action is pain. Pain, in short, is not the production of the sentient organism in the same sense as pleasure is. It is something which attacks the organism, or is superinduced upon it; not something which springs directly and necessarily out of it. It is the exception—pleasure is the rule.

This is a truly important consideration, which no amount of ingenious sophistry can altogether turn aside. Its importance may be recognised from the reflection, that if the sensitive organism had been quite differently constituted, so that its natural evolution, its very growth and ordinary action, had been painful, and pleasure been merely its accident, as pain now is—we do not see, in such a case, how the Divine wisdom and benevolence could have been vindicated. Imperfection and malevolence would then certainly have appeared the more appropriate inference from nature. Or even had the relation of the two facts, although not exactly inverted, been altered, so that pain asserted itself to be as much a fact in sensitive life as pleasure—to arise as immediately out of its constitution—the theistic inference would have been thereby so obscured as to have become powerless for conviction or consolation. The fact that, according to undeniable design, and equally undeniable reality, pleasure is the normal expression of sensation, while pain is merely its liability, is, therefore, of the greatest significance for our subject, and on no account to be lost sight of.

But, it will be said, could not this liability have been averted? Could not God have so constituted the sensitive 307organism that it should never have issued in pain—that its free harmonious action should not only have been pleasure, but that it should never have been interfered with? Might not the sensitive instrument have been so constructed that it should not only send forth, as it does, the music of happiness, but that the discord of pain should never have proceeded from it? Would not the power, wisdom, and goodness of God have been thus unimpeachably conspicuous? Now, of course, it is undeniable that, if God had so willed, there would have been no pain in the world; but we are by no means so sure of the conclusion implied in this. A very different conclusion, indeed, seems quite as likely. For is it not the very same condition on which pain is contingent that yields pleasure in so much abundance? Is it not the very same nervous susceptibility which gives forth, as its normal play, the sense of enjoyment—that gives forth, as its abnormal play, the sense of pain? Is it not the very same medium which overflows with gladness that may be even invaded to madness? Supposing the organism had been made incapable of pain, how do we know that it would have retained its capacity of pleasure? Supposing it had been so constituted as not to have absolutely excluded the force of disease, how do we know that it could have owned the spring or felt the joy of health? We put the question thus, because we really do not know, and cannot know. We may, perhaps, imagine the possibility of a susceptibility to pleasure, without a corresponding susceptibility to pain; but, so far as we can see, they are inseparable. A wholly different constitution, placed in wholly 308different circumstances, might have possessed the one without the other. But this is an utterly idle question for us to entertain; for, after all (for aught we can tell), such a constitution, in such circumstances, might not have been nearly so good as the present. We cannot say it would. Respecting a matter altogether beyond the sphere of our knowledge, we have no means of reaching a conclusion. Every such conjecture, therefore, is entirely out of place. Looking at the fact of things, the only conclusion we can form on the subject is, that susceptibility to pleasure and susceptibility to pain are correlative and proportional. The more highly refined and exalted the organism, and the more exquisite its issues of pleasure, the more exquisite also is its liability to suffering. Yet, as we formerly saw, and as is highly significant in the actual arrangements of creation, the higher and more richly susceptible the organisms, the more carefully defended are they. The more life becomes intensified in nobler creations, the more carefully is its freight of happiness secured against spoliation, if, when it is spoiled, there be a more utter and painful waste.

Upon the whole, then, it seems that physical pain, while a mere liability of the nervous tissue, whose regular and healthful action is pleasure, is yet apparently an inherent liability of the same,—so that, without the contingency of pain, we could not have had the fact of pleasure; and, apart from this fact, we would have been without the inference of the Divine goodness; for this inference only rests on the presence of happiness in the creation as its foundation. It is only within the sphere of sensitive 309enjoyment that the light of creative love dawns upon us; and if it be within this sphere also that a slight darkness first tinges our inductive horizon, it is yet surely better to have the light with the faint darkness than no light at all.

We may further advert, even in this lower sphere, to the strange relation of affinity between pleasure and pain. So inlaid is the former in the sensitive organism as its appropriate condition, that while that organism cannot resist the contact of the latter, it yet often turns it into a mean of higher pleasure. The temporary suffering is transmuted into a sweeter joy. There is, in truth, a general character of balance and alternation in the sensitive frame. Its life is a continual fluctuation; and if the nervous chords were never painfully affected, we do not know how they might lose in tone and freshness. Or, if this be saying too much, it is yet undeniable that sensitive enjoyment is dependent upon an interchange of affection more and less pleasurable—a succession of more easy and less easy experiences; and, under this capacity of reaction, even the invading pain, as we have said, becomes the means of higher pleasure; and the Divine wisdom and goodness are beheld asserting themselves by the very presence of apparent disorder and evil.

The fact of death, in the general animal kingdom, will be found still more readily than that of pain to yield a consistent theistic interpretation. As the goodness of God is only manifest in the display of happy sentient existence, it is obvious that this goodness will be more manifest the more it is beheld communicating life and happiness. The more multiplied and diversified sentient being, the more abundant the evidence 310of Divine beneficence. Every fresh life, every new birth of breathing and beautiful organisation, is a renewed testimony to the Divine fulness and love.

It is clear, then, that if there had been no such thing as death in the animal creation, this enjoyment could only have been imparted within a comparatively very limited extent. Animal fecundity must have been restrained within comparatively infinitesimal bounds, and animal life consequently have been deficient in the copiousness, variety, and beauty of happiness which it now exhibits. There could have been in such a case no succession of races, no giving place of inferior to higher and more complex organisms, and therefore no such extended display of Divine wisdom as geology reveals. Numerous creatures, who have lived their brief day of joy, could never have been. In the absence, then, of the apparent exception to the Divine wisdom and goodness, we could not have had the same abundant manifestations of these attributes, which seems very much tantamount to a satisfactory proof that the apparent is not a real exception. That which seems at first to form an obstacle in the way of the theistic inference, is found to issue in a wider and more extended basis for it. As we look at the mere fact of death by itself, it seems for a moment as if there were a flaw in the all-wise and beneficent arrangements of the world; but, as we look a little more steadily, we see how, in the animal as in the vegetable kingdom, life springs from death; how the extinction of one generation, or it may be race, is the rise of others, with equal and perhaps more exalted powers of enjoyment. Death, in this simply organic view, is so far 311from approving itself an irregularity, or in any true sense an evil, that it is the obvious condition of organic growth and progress altogether. It is the simple mode by which life continues and advances through its endless phases, taking to itself from every apparent pause a richer strength, and rising from every apparent fall into finer and nobler forms. The Divine wisdom, therefore, may be said to be illustrated instead of obscured by its contemplation, and the Divine beneficence to shine with a fuller and brighter light in its presence.

If we add to these considerations the fact that throughout the brute creation death is, in whatever form, a destiny towards which it blindly tends, and which, for the most part, overtakes it with a swift decision, which gives but a minimum of pain, we will have still greater reason to rest in such a conclusion. Even in the article of death, the brute does not know that it is dying, or at least has no contemplative realisation of the fact, which is what gives all its bitterness to death in man’s special case. The life which has sported itself in joyful hours, or days, or years, expires in the brief pang of a moment. Here, as everywhere, the measure of pain is found to be strictly economised, while the measure of life and its enjoyments is poured forth with a profuse hand.

Similar considerations serve to obviate the special difficulty which has been felt to arise from the system of prey in the animal creation. If that system had not existed, it is plain that an immense restraint comparatively must have been laid on animal fecundity and enjoyment. If some animals 312had not been destined to live on others, many animals could never have lived at all. Merely vegetable produce could not have sustained animal life in anything like its present fulness and diversity. A change in this one respect would have implied a change in the whole existing relations of the vegetable and animal kingdoms, which we have no reason to suppose would have been a better arrangement, while even such a change could not have obviated the destruction of certain animals by others. For the very movements of the larger animals carry with them death to insect myriads. The ox crushes them with its feet as it pastures, and in many forms devours them within the folds of the green leaf. While there is something, therefore, in the system of prey, in certain of its manifestations, regarded by themselves, which seems to shock our sense of the Divine goodness, when we enlarge our view we perceive that these manifestations are only to some extent special modes of a general law of destruction, which in other forms we do not feel to be harsh and repellent; and that, even if they repelled us more than they do, they are yet the condition of that extended and overflowing presence of life which we everywhere behold. The question, indeed, essentially comes to be of this kind, whether the display of goodness would have been less affected by the comparatively limited presence of life, than by the special amount of pain involved in the system of prey? The question is one that may be fairly left to the settlement which nature has given of it.

And all this receives confirmation from special features in the system of prey which it is well not to overlook; from 313the fact, for example, that the predatory animal kills before it devours, and especially from the fact that it commonly seizes by instinct on the most vital part, where death is most suddenly and easily inflicted.

We may then fairly conclude, upon the whole, that the circumstance of organic extinction does not in any degree affect the inference of the Divine wisdom and goodness. It is rather a means towards their further and grander display. There is, as it were, a partial hiding of the Divine character in the shadow of death thrown upon the picture, but it is only for the purpose of opening up behind the partial shadow a more extended and brighter display of that character, a more abundant and richer manifestation of it.

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