It is sometimes forgotten that in the third degree, conferred here tonight, there is not just one but there are two primary things which the eye of human reason cannot penetrate. The first you know and the symbol of our hope is the lion's paw in darkness visible. But because of our preoccupation with this theme we are inclined to miss the problem of evil which is at the root of our drama, at once a force which strikes massively at the good, an ignorance which not only -cannot but will not see, a violence that is as senseless as it is vicious, a protest and rebellion directed purely by and for self-interest. We are also inclined to overlook that those involved were "of that superior class of workmen appointed to preside over the rest". Not one of us has any justification to start feeling self-righteous.
In most lodges the chart of the third degree is on the reverse side of the mosaic pavement. This is a convenience but it is not without significance as they are symbols of two different aspects of the problems before us.
The existence of evil is, for not a few sincere thinking people, a reason for a rejection of the existence of a God-who-cares. Bertrand Russell, for example, rebels bitterly against a God who even permits the sins of the fathers being borne by the children unto the third and fourth generation. Russell sees only too well, that often to him that hath is given,, and that often from him who hath not is taken away even that which he hath. Being completely unable to reconcile these facts as he sees them with a "perfect" God, Russell says he is an atheist. In various degrees and from different angles those who today hold that God is dead are deeply troubled by the same kind of thing.
Each thinking man has tried at some time to consider evil rationally. The Book of Job, probably chronologically the oldest part of the Old Testament, is concerned almost exclusively with this. The end comes when Job hears the Voice out of the "Whirlwind proclaim, in some of the most magnificent poetry ever written, the omnipotence of God. Here, in translation, are just some of the first words that Job heard.
Gird up now thy loins like a man;
For I will demand of thee, ---
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Declare, if thou hast understanding.
Who determined the measures thereof, if thou knowest?
Or who stretched the line upon it?
Whereupon were the foundations thereof fastened?
Or who laid the cornerstone thereof;
When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Is it any wonder that Job simply admits that there is no answer except acceptance, because God is so much greater than he is.
Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer thee?
I lay ray hand upon my mouth
I know that thou canst do all things
And. that no purpose of thine can be restrained
Therefore have I uttered that which I understood not,
Things too wonderful for me which I know not.
Now if you consider Job's conclusion still the only sensible answer, I shall not argue strenuously with you and I certainly shall not quarrel with you. But those of you who know me well, or who have followed my suggestions on Masonic-things-to-live-by during my official visits, will not be surprised that I should prefer a different approach to this great unsolved problem.
What alternatives are there then to Job's answer that a reasonable man can consider?
It has often been suggested that good only exists as a contrast with evil and hence if we are to have "good" we must have "evil" as well. Thus Haldane has held that "Our evidence for the existence of God is derived from the recognition in ourselves of the striving after truth, beauty and goodness and it is only in the presence of what appears to be error, evil and ugliness that the divine striving manifests itself." With this view I would disagree vigourously. ัhen I read the magnificent words of the Voice out of the Whirlwind, you were not comparing it with error or evil or ugliness. Truth and beauty manifest by themselves. So does goodness manifest by itself. If the mere play of atoms can produce the life of Gandhi, or the life of Schweitzer,P39 to say nothing of the life of Jesus, my reason is merely a mirage. It is also a mirage if the good in their lives was merely a contrast to existing evil rather than an intensely positive concern for all humanity. If you reject, as I do, this good-evil contrast explanation, there are several other ways to go. Some of these involve concepts of religious controversy and it would be improper to even list them here. There is, however, one approach which I think is not divisive and which I personally greatly prefer.
Come with me to a theatre. The scene is the interior of a church, in use as a prison by the Germans during the last war. It is within sound of gunfire. A small group of English prisoners is being confined there enroute they know not where. Four double bunks stand between the choir stalls. A pile of straw and empty paillasses are on the chancel steps. The play is "A Sleep of Prisoners" by Christopher Fry. The nature of the setting, their predicament leads to talk as to the nature of good and man's proper course.
To the part question, part protest, part pure words of yearning
... But good's unguarded
As defenceless as a naked man
Pte. Meadows makes immortal answer
Imperishably, Good has no fear;
Good is itself, whatever comes
It grows, and makes, and bravely
Persuades beyond all tilt of wrong;
Stronger than anger, wiser than strategy
Enough to subdue cities and men.
If we believe it with the long courage of truth
and, then, inspired, he goes on
The human heart can go to the lengths of God
Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to rest us till we take
The longest stride of soul men ever took.
Affairs are now soul size,
The enterprise Is exploration into God.
There you have it. Is not this the enterprise of all men of good will? Is not this our Masonic quest for the lost word?
And so tonight, for the second time in our consideration of Masonic-things-to-live-by, I give you nothing. I ask you rather to join me in accepting the challenge of the ages which for us is the challenge of the future. The enterprise, my brethren, is exploration into God.