A THEOLOGICAL VIEW OF PAIN.
ATHOUGHTFUL little essay has just appeared, written with great simplicity and without any of that affectation of manner called with relation to the stage "tears in the voice," that
too often spoils 'books for the sorrowful,'—suggesting a new view of pain.* The view of the anonymous author, briefly expressed, is that all pain is capable of being seen and interpreted as sacrifice
for the good of others, and that, so seen and interpreted, it becomes an indispensable element in the highest possible joy, and is trans- formed in short from something deadly Into something life-giving. For example, the mother who loves her children the more for the labour, drudgery, and pain, both physical and mental, which she has borne cheerfully on their account, and indeed not felt as pain, While realizing vividly the purpose it serves in giving them life, or health, or joy, or peace, is, in our author's eyes, the true type of human sufferers. He maintains that all pleasures, even physical pleasures, are worthy and permanent in precise proportion to the amonntof previous sacrifice or toilsome self-denial which they absorb, —that Alpine or Arctic exploration owes its fascination precisely to the fortitude and constaney of self-denial which are required for the objects which they set before them, that even the enjoyment of a garden to a true gardener depends on the laborious tenderness and self-forgetfulness of minute and unrelaxing vigilanoe which are re- quired to ward off the dangers to which his flowers are exposed and secure every condition of success. Ile reminds us that as far as we can judge even the pains of martyrdom have seemed insignifi- cant to those who fully realized the divine claim on their fidelity ; that scarcely any pain, considered in itself, is so terrible, but what, with a sufficient end in view, with a sufficient glory on the horizon to fascinate the heart and the imagination, it will dwindle into a welcome sacrifice to a cause which there are plenty of men proud to serve. He says that that is true of pain which is true of those waste materials of human life which "are the source of inevitable disease if they are not put utterly away ;"—" the condition of its ceasing to be an evil, is that it shall become a good ; necessarily it is so ; its effects cannot be made null ; our only choice is, shall they work our mischief or our benefit ?" and so he maintains that the worst pain can only be annihilated by being welcomed as the minister of "an immense, an incredible joy." He compares our moral shrinking from sacrifiee as pain, to the physical shrinking of sickness from that labour and exertion which is the condition of all true physical enjoyment. In a more perfect state there will be no pain, not because there will be any- thing taken away from what we feel now and call pain, but be- cause so much will be added. That which is now painful to us be- cause we do not get beyond it and see to what it leads, will cease to be painful only by becoming associated with the divine issue. There will be no chloroform to dull the senses, but a new excite- ment, a fuller stimulus to arouse them ; and this alone will obliterate what we now call pain. We shall have in our renewed state far more, not far less, of what, through the limitation of our insight, we now call painful ; and it will only cease to be painful by addi- tion, not by subtraction, —by clearer and keener vision of the goal to which it leads, not by stupefaction of the perceptive power by which it is felt. As getting well from sickness means the recovery of the pleasure in exercise and even fatigue for good ends, so getting well from our present state of selfishness means the recovery of the joy in sacrifice for still higher ends. That which is pain to the sick is only effort to the healthy. Sacrifice which we now call painful will become delightful as we recover from our mortal lassitude.
And the author thinks that this will become trueof all pain suffered visibly for others, by mere willingness to recognize and welcome the object of that suffering,—by a mere change in the attitude of our own minds, by realizing the end instead of merely dwelling on the means. This would apply to all the pains of laborious endeavour, of the sufferings of persecution, of anxiety, of symr pathy with the pain of others. All these pains should be, like the pain of the Arctic explorer in search of a lost expedition, nothing in comparison with the noble end he had set before him, —a pain which in some true sense you might, like the Apostles, "count joy" rather than pain,—pain without which the end in view would lose its dignity, and even success its sweetness and its glow. But further, as to the other innumerable pains which do not, to our eyes, seem to be ministers of any great result,—the aimless pains which are subordinated to no one else's good, and do not even afford others the means of ministering to ours,—the solitary sufferings of either mind or body, racking headache or toothache, or worse, the sense of failing powers which
• The Mystery of Pain. A Beak for the S)rrowfol. Loudon: Smith and Eller,
you can communicate to no one, the paralysis of thought, the fever of suspense, the gnawing fear of insanity, or the gnawing
pain of seeing it seize another Without any power to resist its pro- gress,—the pain of memories you cannot share, the memory of an irredeemable ingratitude or infidelity of which you were not guilty, but could not soften, and of which you felt all the poignancy, bow shall such pains as these become joyful ? Is it not impossible to give them the aspect of means that shall be welcome in view of a disinterested end, of sacrifices for what is worthy of sacrifice, of sacrifices the intrinsic painfulness of which even heightens the purer joy which they purchase ? The author thinks not, nay, thinks that these entirely involuntary and apparently -useless pains inflicted on us when merely passive, should be the highest of all sacrificial sufferings, the sources of the purest joy. As we find, he says, that the most pain is latent in the highest and noblest of human joys,--those which there has been most conquest to attain, —we may safely argue, from the visible to the invisible Provi- dence of the world, that wherever there is a great involun- tary suffering it is really subservient to the raising of man into that state in which all pain becomes joyful sacrifice for the attainment of higher ends. Only to interpret these kinds of pain thus, you have need of faith ; you must interpret the visible by the invisible, you must believe that to restore the law of willing sacrifice as the ruling law of man's nature, is the great object and purpose of God's redemption; and that all that God does and inflicts, however invisible its immediate drift, is inflicted with that 'view; and therefore that in accepting any suffering He sends as His will, you are co-operating with him for that end. The only difference between these apparently aimless pains and those others with clear visible ends, is that the former are suffered directly for God, with full trust in His power and will to use them for His own great end,—the latter are sacrifices the meaning of which, or part of the meaning of which, He has already taught us. But so soon as we can once apprehend what the law of sacrifice means, the author regards it as a truth which must flash conviction on the mind, that every great unexplained and inexplicable pain, from our Lord's sense of desolation on the cross,—" My God, my God, why hest thou forsaken me ?"—to the most trivial and aimless pain which we are called upon to suffer alone, is really an instrument in the hauls of God for the restoration of the true law of our nature, that law of willing sacrifice which brings the highest joy. Our author utterly repudiates, however, the ascetic doctrine of the value of pain for its own sake. Its only value, he says, is in the good to others and the infinite joy to all concerned to which it leads. Pain becomes latent in exact pro- portion as it is answering its true purpose of sacrifice. Blot out its purpose, shut out its meaning, wall in the one open vista in the prospect, and it returns again to its present form of a prison of anguish, against which we beat in vain. Pain, as pain, is pure evil. Willing sacrifice is pure good ; but then in proportion as it becomes willing sacrifice it ceases to be pain.
Such is the spiritual theory of pain which this thoughtful writer gives. Its defect appears to be that it makes too little of the reality of pain, and tries to idealize it away in that feeling of higher joy attending pure self-sacrifice which is no doubt its best anodyne. But an anodyne is one thing, and the fullness of joy which excludes the need for anodynes quite another. The author of this essay is, we think, misled by his own analogy between pain and mere exertion. He says quite truly that to the sick man exertion is pain, while to the healthy the same exertion is delight- ful for a sufficient end. In the same way he argues that the pain of self-sacrifice, which makes us shrink in our moral sickness, would be an element of delight to moral health. Now that is clearly a mistaken analogy. Pain is, we take it, the mortification of some desire as happiness is the satisfaction of some desire. In either case it may be a low desire which is mortified or satisfied, a desire absolutely insignificant as compared with the whole moral nature of man ; but still, however insignificant it be, if the desire ought to exist and be vividly conscious at all, then, if denied satisfaction, the ripple of pain ought to come with it ; if satisfied, the ripple of happiness. In the analogy taken from the mother's cares and self-sacrifices for her infant, we think of the pain undergone as little more than mere effort, or exertion, for a given end ; as little more than the mere foil to the happiness of giving it life and restoring it to health. But put up the sacrifice to a higher level, —conceive a mother urging a son to risk and even sacrifice his life for truth, or justice, or country,—and can the true nobility of the action be even conceived without giving a very real and vivid signi- ficance to the element of pain it contains? The pain in this case does not stand to the noble joy of self-sacrifice, as healthy labour and exertion stands to the delight taken in the end attained by it.
The exertion ought to be entirely absorbed into and identified with the moral aim it is to answer,—but in the former case both the pain and the higher, purer, fainter joy ought to be felt, and the former ought not to be absolutely lost in the latter. In the higher cases of self-sacrifice, pain can rarely, if ever, be "latent," because it springs out of the wounding or mortification of a part of our nature, which, though not the very highest, is still a part of our permanent and spiritual self. Pain is not felt as pain simply because we are sick and are deficient in that higher life which would extinguish it. The higher the nature, in many cases, the deeper the pain. It is pain, and ought to be felt and confessed as pain, to be cut off from conscious communication with those dearest to us ; yet it is a sacrifice which must often be voluntarily made, and is not the least painful to those by whom it is made most willingly. It may be that the sense -of duty, the acquiescence in a higher Will, the suppression of every wish to thwart that higher Will, is the true anodyne ; but an anodyne implies a pain to be quieted, and if there were no such pain to be quieted the sacrifice would not be of the highest kind. Pain is not therefore a sign of moral sickness, but, in its place and due proportion, of health. All that is needful is that the pain of the lower nature should not eclipse in any perfect mind the joy of the higher. Even the Crucifixion itself would not have the power it has if Christ had not suffered, if the pain had been latent, if the glory of the end had extin- guished, as apparently in some martyrs' minds, the agony of the means. It is higher, not lower, to keep a full and vivid con- sciousness of the mortal affections that are lacerated and wounded, while accepting the joy of the fulfilled destiny and the eternal love. The kind of mind -which rushes through pain with so intense an anticipation of-the aim and purpose beyond as to escape half its corrosion,—and such minds of a very noble tTpe no doubt there are,—is not the very highest, not the mind of the Son of Man. The calm willingness to drink the cup of pain to the last -drop, and sound the full depth of every needful suffering, comes from a higher, wider, deeper kind of nature, than the power to ignore pain in the brilliance of the prospect beyond. This doc- trine of 'latent pain' comprehended in all sacrifice, is not the -complete one. Where the spring of pain is, as it often must be, in the very essence of our humanity, the highest and deepest mind will feel it most, though also least exclusively.
And the knowledge of pain, and the courage not only to endure it, but face it to study and exhaust its meaning, is, we take it, one .of the greatest sources of moral power. This is perhaps what our Lord meant by saying, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be aecomplislied." He had to plumb the deep sea of human suffering, to understand, not latent, but active pain, far more completely than any human being, not be- ,eause His nature was sick, but because it was whole. Morbid natures either turn away from pain, or are concentrated in it to the exclusion, of everything except the one racked nerve. Higher -ones suffer, and know what they auffer, without losing sight of the joy beneath the suffering. And pain, especially the highest kind -of pain, gives a strength which nothing else can give, by realizing what it is that remains when all the lower supports and props are -removed. In this way, though itself positive enough and un- translatable into any kind of equivalent happiness, pain gives a lesson in the relative strength of the various stays and rests of human nature such as only the removal of those stays and rests -could give. If pain were less positive than it is, it would be far less instructive. Arising from real and permanent cravings of
human nature which do, and which ought to, smart when denied their natural satisfaction, it only tests the more how much there still is which nature and destiny cannot take away. The ship-
wrecked swimmer who has lost bold of every plank, feels for the first time the full buoyancy of the sea ; and pain, though it is a real knowledge of real (if temporary) loss, often gives the find .clear knowledge of the buoyancy of eternal love.