God's Deeper Good
Job 23:10
But he knows the way that I take: when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.

During the week that has passed since our service of last Sunday morning, more than one friend of mine has spoken to me about the teaching which was given from this pulpit. One of them half jocularly addressed me in this fashion: "Did I truly understand you to say that you could wish for your friends' adversity rather than prosperity? Because, if so, I cannot say that that is what I should wish for you, or, indeed, for any of human kind; and were I endowed with omnipotence I certainly should not employ what you call 'God's evil' as an experience for the righteous." My friend's statement contains a good deal of what is common or popular feeling in respect to that insoluble subject, the mystery of evil; but as his particular statement contains so much that the ordinary right living man feels to be a just statement of his perplexity in regard to God's dealings with him, I must return to that subject this morning. To begin with, I must say that my general statement that for my friends I could wish adversity rather than prosperity ought, perhaps, to be differently phrased. Then I am sure there would be no difference of opinion between me and anyone present. I would rather state it thus, — For my friend I could rather wish the fruit of adversity when adversity achieves its highest in the human soul. Let me put to you a rhetorical question, the answer to which will be in your mind and heart as I put it. Suppose you had to live your life over again, there is not one of you who would wish to live through just the same set of experiences as you have already had. You could wish that the dark days and the times of deep sorrow might not come again, but I am perfectly sure that you would wish you might have the results of those experiences, without the history. Then I think we are agreed to say that the best we could wish for our friend is that which we actually know from experience comes only hand in hand with adversity, that adversity succeeds in achieving the highest, though we might not wish for him the pain of the adversity itself. If I were endowed with omnipotence, my friend, your pathway would always be fair; and yet if adversity were the necessary price to pay, and if I knew it must be paid for making you the noble man you are, then I would let adversity come upon you with all its might. But the objection of my friend strikes deeper. It amounts to this — God's ways are inexplicable. It is the righteous and not simply the guilty that have to suffer as the world is now organised. We could understand His dealing if the inevitable sequence of wrong-doing were pain, but we fail to understand it when the righteous man suffers equally and indiscriminately with the guilty. Moreover, is it not often that God's sternness causes moral harm rather than moral good? I understand the feeling that is behind an utterance of that kind. It means this — If I were God I would make the world differently. There, I think, I have stated our friend's real meaning with perfect frankness. Now, allow me to say that when we talk about evil as an intruder, we are, in nine cases out of ten, obscuring the issue which is really present to our mind. Good has not yet come. Evil is relative, negative, primitive. Our experience of what is evil is our conception of an absent good, and the fact that we can see a thing is evil is in some way a promise of a coming good. Let us leave it there. Your generous impulse to say if you had the power evil would be excluded from the world, is really some sort of prophecy of what God intends to do. Now, there has never been given a good and sufficient answer to this urgent question of the human heart. It is the old, old theme, the theme from the Book of Job from which I have taken my text this morning. But I venture to think, though no complete answer has ever come, the answer is that submission to the will of God introduces us to a harmonious experience. Observe the theme of the book from whence our wondrous text is taken. Job, the central character, appears as a righteous man who is yet a sufferer; but he is not a sufferer for any worthy cause for which a man might be glad to suffer, nor apparently is he a sufferer giving any striking testimony on behalf of a noble cause. Many such testimonies have been given, and have robbed martyrdom of its agony. But Job is made a sufferer without seeing why, and is it any wonder that he feels that his suffering cannot be a punishment for his offences? He asserts his own righteousness, not in any arrogant fashion, and not as though God had no fault to find with him. He says, "This sternness in God's dealing with me cannot be the fruit of my own wrongly lived life." His friends defend God and say that Job is being righteously chastised; and the writer of the book, one of the oldest books in the Bible, has it before him to show that the righteous man, though afflicted, is more righteous than those who defend God's judgments upon him. Job's reply and its wonderful insight are expressed in the words of the text, "He knoweth the way that I take," what does human judgment matter to me? He knoweth the way that I have been living, uprightly, in the fear of God, dealing honourably with men. Then Job says that he had lived righteously, and his pain was in no sense his own desert. "He knoweth the way that I am taking with my life; when He hath tried me, my innocence shall shine out." I am not sure whether we are entitled to read into the text that Job's faith rose to a higher altitude there and affirmed that "as the outcome of what God hath done I shall be a better man, a deeper nature, nobler, stronger, wiser." Perhaps he did not mean that, but it is at least open to that interpretation to my that he did. "When He hath tried me, not only will my innocence shine out as gold and show that God is not punishing me, but rather fashioning me; not only will mine innocence shine out, but my nobleness will be beaten out and gained and won." Now we will never get any nearer to the solution of the problem of what we have called "God's evil," and which I now call "God's deeper good," than that. Here I pause to read to you an experience, the experience of a young man, it is true, but not, I venture to think, a crude one. Humanity at its highest, I mean its highest point of spiritual knowledge, has never got higher than this, which is from Mr. John Morley's Life of Gladstone, and the passage from which I quote is one of Arthur Hallam's letters written to his friend Mr. Gladstone when both were at Oxford. Mr. Morley, commenting on it lower down, says that of course it is a young man's way of looking at an old problem, but you will admit that he got very near the solution of the problem. "The great truth which, when we are rightly impressed with it, will liberate mankind, is, that no man has a right to isolate himself, because every man is a particle of a marvellous whole; that when he suffers, since it is for the good of that whole, he, the particle, has no right to complain, and in the long run, that which is the good of all will abundantly manifest itself to be the good of each. Other belief consists not with theism. This is its centre. Let me quote to this purpose the words of my favourite poet. It will do us good to hear his voice, though but for a moment." Then he quotes from Wordsworth's "Excursion" the lines well known probably to everyone as well as to myself —

"One adequate support

For the calamities of mortal life

Exists — one only: an assured belief

That the procession of our fate, howe'er

Sad or disturbed, is ordered by a Being

Of infinite benevolence and power,

Whose everlasting purposes embrace

All accidents, converting them to good."

I know not whether Mr. Morley could himself subscribe to that, but from words of his own, used later in the book, I almost feel that he could. He is speaking of Mr. Gladstone's view, I think, of the work of Napoleon, and comparing it with that of worthier servants of destiny. He says, "Our work is to use the part given us to use, to use the parts that go to make up the life, and to use them with a feeling of the whole." Now that is the point that I wish to emphasise most expressly in your hearing. We do not live for ourselves. I am quite of those who think that if God's only purpose in the disciplining of mankind were to produce noble character we might be fairly entitled to say to Him, "Then you might have produced it in some other way." God could. It is not beyond His power. God could make a noble man without sending him through the furnace. But if it be true that we are only a little corner in the life of the universe, living not our own, but the life of the whole, and if it be true that we are living, not simply for ourselves but for God, it adds a dignity to our conception of our destiny. And, though I preach confidently in this way an optimism, I trust I do not preach it superficially or crudely. I do not preach an optimism because I ignore the dangers and the possibilities of a pessimism, nor because I possess no acquaintance with the darker side of life, but the optimism of the Christ is mine. Did Jesus ever act or speak as though He would ignore the seamy side of existence? We lesser beings, following feebly and haltingly in the steps of Jesus Christ, must try to see with His eyes even from our Calvary when it comes, and it is not Calvary all the time, and to believe, nay to be sure that in our Father's hands are all our ways. God will care for the least as for the greatest. We are not only instruments in His hands, every one of us is also an end. I would add to this one or two reflections with which I close.

1. The first is that if you could see things as they really are, there would be no trouble, nor care, nor fear left in your experience. It is just because you cannot see that these things seem to dominate your life. Faith is eminently reasonable in that it lifts the soul to an altitude whence it can take a calm and wide view of existence as a whole. Faith is an approximation to seeing things as they are. Life to many of us seems like a dream. In a dream we take a distorted view of realities which in our waking life do enter into our experience, but not as we dream them. It is the limitation that makes the mystery, the limitation in greatest part it is which is the failure.

2. Then I would say also this — pain is not an end in itself. That is the mistake of asceticism. When it is misapprehended it crushes men and does them harm. Pain is simply a means to an end, and its culmination must be joy if God is just. Pain is not the end, it is only the beginning, it is the creaking of the door as it is opened into heaven. We are helping God, do not let us forget that for a moment, and our consciousness of helping Him begets a harmony here and now. We are not left unto ourselves all the time. Some of our best service is done by suffering. But lest I leave you with a morbid impression in your mind, I would remind you of this, that struggle and discipline and battle and defeat sometimes do not take interest from life at all, they add zest to it. We ought to be thankful that God gives us the opportunity of playing the hero, of being a man; and we feel somehow — although we cannot make it clear in syllogistic fashion, for there is something higher than logic — day by day, in the small things as well as in the great things of life, we feel somehow that the universe is rightly organised, and victory is made possible in Godlike fashion for the children of God. Now, before I close I want to make you feel that what I am saying is real — I know it is, but I never could demonstrate this, and never will be able to do it. When we get down to the deeper good we find it is always purchased, as the highest Christian experience is and always has been, by the willing acceptance of the Cross. Let every man say as he thinks of God's dealings with him today, "'He knoweth the way that I take,' and mean to take. I cannot see, yet I will be true. He knoweth all the time. He shall find me pure gold. I will be true to the best He has shown me, I will not fail my Heavenly Friend. 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.' And He will not destroy, 'for the Lord is mindful of His own.'"

(R. J. Campbell, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.

WEB: But he knows the way that I take. When he has tried me, I shall come forth like gold.

Confidence in God Under Affliction
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