Those Who Stood In Darkness

J. L. RUTLEDGE March 15 1921

Those Who Stood In Darkness

J. L. RUTLEDGE March 15 1921

Those Who Stood In Darkness

J. L. RUTLEDGE

HE STOOD behind the firing line, well back in the comparative safety of the big gun emplacements. Back at least of the mud and blood and squalor of the trenches. He had no dream of glory to spur him on, no impelling enthusiasm to guide him. He was softly bred, used to ease and comfort, and all the things that were lacking here. He was here because aome moral compulsion had sent him, and being here he was doing his work as well as he knew how without grumbling and without enthusiasm. Then one day a big shell found its way back and there was no further need for enthusiasm, no further need even for a certain grim determination to ‘stick it.’ It was all settled in a moment. Perhaps in that moment he achieved something that was beyond the comprehension of the easy comfort of his former life. But back in that small Canadian city the mother who mourned vS for him could not grasp this consolation.

He had not wanted to go. Circumstances had compelled it. God had permitted it. Therefore in her heart she cursed God.

Many people still standing in tl?e shadow of a treat loss, and looking out over a world that seems perhaps no better for all the sacrifice, are prone to question more deeply than they have •ver done before. They see a world torn by lissensions, where there are only wraths and hatreds and misunderstandings; where sorrow, the aching sorrow of bereavement, of hopes deferred and ideals shattered, is the daily companion. They see a never ending panorama of !oss—a loss of all those simpler, kindlier and more beautiful things that were the heritage of )ther days. It is perhaps little to be wondered that some of these at least, startled into facing these facts of life by the sudden onslaught of the •fact of death, should look up with the shadow >f a great question darkening their faces.

fT WAS such a one, who in the bitterness of 1 her heart at the death of a dearly loved son made the striking statement, “God must be *ery proud of usthat we still trustinHim at all.”

He too was not one of those who went out gaily toa great «dventure. To his mother he confessed that the idea of war was abhorrent to him, yet there came a time when the moral suasion was too powerful for a sensitive mind to resist; when his mother, abhorring the idea more than he, snowing the struggle within him, advised him to go. But vhen the word came that he had been killed, she did not Píame the idea of patriotism that had called him, she did not even lay the blame on that shadow of something that men call honor, that had made him go. She laid all the blame at the feet of the Almighty. She did not grudge him to his Country, but she did grudge him to God.

In the light of these two striking instances, what has been the spiritual effect of war upon the faith of a people? ft is easy to ask such a question but immeasurably harder to answer. There are so many answers, so many manifestations of changing beliefs, that may mean one thing or the other; so many different viewpoints, so much difference in the capacity for suffering, so much difference too in the way people react from suffering that to set a finger on any group of circumstances and say the answer lies here or there is beyond thinking. Yet there have been certain changes, that no one can deny. Whether we have been able to lay JUT finger on them or not, we know that they are there. We see them as a shadow upon many faces, or as a gleam of nope in many eyes.

DERHAPS no single class of people could come so near to * understanding as the ministers of the Gospel, because no me else eame so intimately in touch with the problems of suffering that developed out of the Great War. In a goodly number of such men approached on this subject, there was only one who stated that in all his experience of the offering caused by the war he had known no single instance where the sufferers’ trust in a kindly over-ruling Providence had been shaken. For the most part all those approached had come in touch with someone who was ready to “curse God and die.” But always with this admission has come the confident statement that those whose faith had faltered were not those whose faith was at any time a leading factor in their lives.

Of course it would be an easy and trite thing to challenge this statement, to say that the speaker is being both judge and advocate, and yet one is inclined, taking all the evidence in the case into account, to agree with this finding. For if there is this element of those whose faith has faltered, there is also this other cloud of witnesses who have held triumphantly to a simple and unswerving faith. An

Anglican pastor who all through the bitter days of war opened his church at the noon-day service, bears a testimony to this fact that there were many women who all through these years came to that service. Ore day they would come in gay dresses and with smiling eyes and the next in sombre black and eyes dimmed with tears, but they always came, an evidence surely of the tangiblehess of their enduring faith.

“In the case of some people,” writes one minister, “but in my experience a very limited number, theeffect was to dry up the

An Easter Message.

The years but newly passed, that have dimmed to so many the tragic memory of the years of war, have brought no change to those who stand in darkness. To such these years between have meant only a long struggle to find some ground on which to base their wholly changed mode of life and thought.

They who have dreamed brave dreams of the future as their sons should fashion it, have awakened to find that for them there is no future.

What are the problems that have faced such as these robbed of their earthly hopes and brought face to face with the Infinite? What are their problems and what have they felt?

To such questions there can be but indefinite answers. Some hint of them is given in the experiences outlined here.

springs of faith, which in my opinion, were, in all the cases with which I was acquainted, of a rather doubtful and limited character.”

Still another finds in this faltering faith a tacit sign that we have failed our dead. “They call upon us to be true in life,” he said, “as they were true in death.” And he sees us shrink before our failure to live up to that high measure of devotion set by those who gaily and gallantly had gone their way West.

In that mystical latest play of Barrie’s, “Mary Rose,” there is a veiled hint that is worth pondering. Do we wish the dead to return? If they did would we or they be happy in our renewed companionship, would it be possible to pick up again the old graciousness of easy companionship? Could we live up to them or would the dead be hurt by our self-indulgence, by our materialism, by our hardness, by our levity, by our injustice? How much of such a feeling lies behind the shaken faith? How much of the shaken faith in God reflects a shaken faith in our better selves? Perhaps we are prisoners of a great fatality who do not even see our prison bars.

BUT this is only one side of the picture, and if the evidence at hand, small though it be, is of any moment, a very limited side. There is still another phase that may or may not suggest a deepening of spiritual conviction.

"I have been surprised to find,” says one, “so few cases of faltering belief as a result of the tragedies of the war. My experience is rather of the softening influence of such experiences which, after the first stunning shock, rather

predisposed people to turn to any reasonable evidence of belief in the future life. Hence the vogue of Spiritualism just now—about which 1 prefer to keep an open mind.”

Certainly there have been many cases where the heart? of people have turned to spiritualism as a possible answer at least to the questions they long to ask. and whether you take the stinging words of Kipling:

Oh the road to Endor is the oldest, road ' And the craziest road of all,

And straight it. leads to the witch’s door As it did in the days of Saul.

And nothing is changed of the sorrows in store To those who go down on the road to Endor,

or whether you join hands with Sir Oliver Lodge’s “Raymond,” in a profound belief, and a glad acceptance, or whether you again see in the trend toward this viewpoint, as one of those consulted does, “an evidence of the lightness of faith, a traditional acceptance of beliefs and creed? hardly to be called belief,” the fact still remains that this tendency is one of the manifestations that has followed in the wake of war. May it not be too that whether right or wrong this eager seeking after something does suggest some deepening of a spiritual consciousness?

DUT of all those who have lived and suffered in these ■*-' days of war, there still remain those whose confidence In the abiding truth of their beliefs is an ever present thing.

“I have known many,” writes one, “as you have surmised, who have passed through that Gethsemane, but invariably they have regarded their sons or friends as having paid the price in the cause for freedom, which has related them in some quite real way to the Christ, and they have been inclined to regard their dear sons’ sacrifice as a» least bearing an analogy to that made by Jesus.”

There are those, too, who have come through this ex perience, not in quite as simple a faith. They have com« through hardly, casting aside many of those old things that seemed to becloud the clear issue before them.

“Many people,” says one observer, “have been severely shaken, and there has been much doubt and many misgivings on certain cardinal principles, but these are the inevitable result of a huge cataclysm such as the late war. My own conviction grows stronger that as a result of the war we are coming into a fuller and more reasonable faith. Certain traditional beliefs have gone for ever and we may bid them farewell without a tear! Religion has become more humane, dogma has been discredited, and ecclesiasticism no longer frightens people—our whole thought and conception of Christianity has been broadened, deepened, heightened. I have more men attending my church than before the war and I find a seriousness of life among the more thoughtful classes which promises great things. Men have ceased to identify religion with systems, creeds, ceremonies or any external ordinances, or they have discovered that Christianity is ‘a way of life.’ I believe this interpretation to be in closest sympathy with the thought of Jesus and I therefore rejoice over the changes.”

There is no question that this has been the experienc« of very many of those who have come into definite touch with those who have suffered most through the war There exists unquestionably a great leavening of that faith which, like that of the Man of Uz, no catastrophe caD weaken. Yet for all this people are inclined to look darkly at the prospect for the future. They see the one side of the picture and not the other. They see a world wherein the ideals of kindliness and fellowship seem lo be dead, where self-interest and greed is the guiding rule, yet the seeing eye even in the darkness is catching glimpses of better things, of at least an eagerness for something better. “1 seem to see among our people and others.” says Sir Philip Gibbs, “a thirst for a spiritual call that will give them a new faith in life and reconcile them to the stresses and sacrifices still to be endured.”

Through it all is something enduring, the hope, the grim tenacious hold on the best thing we know in life. Surely no peoples of any ago have passed through such a dark valley of the shadow. Surely, too, there is no disrespect or irreverence in the simple statement based on a full and poignant knowledge of our great suffering, “God should be proud of us that we still trust in Him.”