Many of the most serious clergy are searching for "the significance of suffering in the evolutionary plan." On the other hand, many religious "healers" take the view that suffering is contrary to God's will and therefore must be eradicated. One is reminded of Dr. Whitehead's condemnation of this religious attitude as being "a research after comfort."
Admitting an evolutionary plan and observing that relief from pain is noticeable after a state of forgiveness has been brought about in the patient, the enlightened ask: "Is suffering to be regarded as always an unfortunate experience? Does it not tend to take the patient's mind along channels where the senses play a less active part in his life, giving his mind freedom for reflection?" But the healers, to effect a cure, would appear to depend upon an emotional uplifting, and sometimes a complete denial of any disease.
According to this the clergy who are not practical healers are the more daring thinkers, leading their flocks toward a more philosophical religious life than that of faith alone. A plan of evolution would admit reincarnation, with the glaring evidence that man and not God is the cause of suffering and pain.
Let us consider in contrast the religious practices of olden times and even yet among the most advanced thinkers of the East. The cause of suffering was the all-important question to be undertaken by the disciple on his evolutionary pilgrimage. It was his religious duty to seek inwardly while living a life of right speech, right action, and right discrimination, and engaging in an honorable means of livelihood. These virtues fitted the mind for right reflection; man worked out his own salvation. This working it out implies a progressive quest that prepares the disciple to anticipate the effect in the cause, and thus recognize in the thought that inharmony or "sin" which would result — often in a future life — in sorrow and pain.
We know in our hearts that man's Higher Self is a silent and stable companion most remote when the emotions are disturbed and when man is reaching outwardly for control.
"But thou when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret . . . For your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye, Our Father which art in heaven . . . " etc. (Matt. vi. 6-9). The "Lord's Prayer" is a rebuke against those who do not distinguish between their personal wants and their spiritual needs.
What things ye have need of implies that we are getting what is coming to us, else God is not compassionate. Before ye ask him indicates that God or the Supreme Being has knowledge of the patient's debts that are still outstanding from this and former lives and which are being expiated at the patient's present inconvenience.
Great sages of the past have hesitated to rush in and "cure" a patient who did not understand that to "Go and sin no more" was an injunction for those who took reincarnation for granted and were ready to embark upon an evolutionary pilgrimage that would bring illumination for the intellect and love for the heart.
(From Sunrise magazine, March 1952; copyright © 1952 Theosophical University Press)