HOW very hard it is to be
A Christian! Hard for you and me,
—Not the mere task of making real
That duty up to its ideal,
Effecting thus complete and whole,
A purpose or the human soul—
For that is always hard to do;
But hard, I mean, for me and you
To realise it, more or less,
With even the moderate success
Which commonly repays our strife
To carry out the aims of life.
“This aim is greater,” you may say,
“And so more arduous every way.”
—But the importance of the fruits
Still proves to man, in all pursuits,
“Then, what if it be God’s intent
“That labour to this one result
“Shall seem unduly difficult?”
—Ah, that’s a question in the dark—
And the sole thing that I remark
Upon the difficulty, this;
We do not see it where it is,
At the beginning of the race:
As we proceed, it shifts its place,
And where we looked for palms to fall,
We find the tug’s to come,—that’s all.
At first you say, “The whole, or chief
“Of difficulties, is Belief.
“Could I believe once thoroughly,
“The rest were simple. What? Am I
“An idiot, do you think? A beast?
“Prove to me only that the least
“Command of God is God’s indeed,
“And what injunction shall I need
“To pay obedience? Death so nigh
“When time must end, eternity
“Begin,—and cannot I compute?
“Weigh loss and gain together? suit
“My actions to the balance drawn,
“And give my body to be sawn
“Asunder, hacked in pieces, tied
“To horses, stoned, burned, crucified,
“Like any martyr of the list?
“How gladly,—if I made acquist,
“Through the brief minutes’ fierce annoy,
“Of God’s eternity of joy.”
—And certainly you name the point
Whereon all turns: for could you joint
This flexile finite life once tight
Into the fixed and infinite,
You, safe inside, would spurn what’s out,
With carelessness enough, no doubt—
Would spurn mere life: but where time brings
To their next stage your reasonings,
Your eyes, late wide, begin to wink
Nor see the path so well, I think.
You say, “Faith may be, one agrees,
“A touchstone for God’s purposes,
“Even as ourselves conceive of them.
“Could He acquit us or condemn
“For holding what no hand can loose,
“Rejecting when we can’t but choose?
“As well award the victor’s wreath
“To whosoever should take breath
“Duly each minute while he lived—
“Grant Heaven, because a man contrived
“To see the sunlight every day
“He walked forth on the public way.
“You must mix some uncertainty
“With faith, if you would have faith be.
“Why, what but faith, do we abhor
“And idolize each other for—
“—Faith in our evil, or our good,
“Which is or is not understood
“Aright by those we love or those
“We hate, thence called our friends or foes?
“Your mistress saw your spirit’s grace,
“When, turning from the ugly face,
“I found belief in it too hard;
“And both of us have our reward.
“—Yet here a doubt peeps: well for us
“Weak beings, to go using thus
“A touchstone for our little ends,
“And try with faith the foes and friends;
“—But God, bethink you! I would fain
“Conceive of the Creator’s reign
“As based upon exacter laws
“Than creatures build by with applause.
“In all God’s acts—(as Plato cries
“He doth)—He should geometrise.
“Whence, I desiderate . . .
You would grow smoothly as a tree.
Soar heavenward, straightly up like fire—
God bless you—there’s your world entire
Needing no faith, if you think fit;
Go there, walk up and down in it!
The whole creation travails, groans—
Contrive your music from its moans,
Without or let or hindrance, friend!
That’s an old story, and its end
As old—you come back (be sincere)
With every question you put here
(Here where there once was, and is still,
We think, a living oracle,
Whose answers you stood carping at)
This time flung back unanswered flat,—
Besides, perhaps, as many more
As those that drove you out before,
Now added, where was little need!
Questions impossible, indeed,
To us who sate still, all and each
Persuaded that our earth had speech
Of God’s, writ down, no matter if
In cursive type or hieroglyph,—
Which one fact frees us from the yoke
Of guessing why He never spoke.
You come back in no better plight
Than when you left us,—am I right?
So the old process, I conclude,
Goes on, the reasoning’s pursued
Further. You own. “’Tis well averred,
“A scientific faith’s absurd,
“—Frustrates the very end ’twas meant
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