Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “‘It Is God’s Way’”
Date of publication: 21 September 1901
Volume number: 69
Issue number: 3
|“‘It Is God’s Way.’” Outlook 21 Sept. 1901 v69n3: pp. 159-61.|
|McKinley assassination (public response); William McKinley (mourning); sin (impact on human behavior); society (impact on Czolgosz).|
“It Is God’s Way”
A nation is not an abstraction, a creation of
the imagination, a figure of speech; it is a distinct entity; a living, striving,
passionate soul with many members but with one life. It is the merging in this
country of nearly eighty million individualities into an august and awful personality,
which may be stirred as the sea is stirred to depths beyond the reach of the
plummet or calmed as the sea is calmed in a sublime and vast repose. It feels,
thinks, acts, and suffers on a colossal scale; all its experiences are magnified
a  million fold as its deeds have behind
them a power in which uncalculated individual powers are concentrated. As is
its strength, so is its capacity for suffering.
In the hour of its greatest outward prosperity, when the vaults of its treasury are filled to repletion, and its energies are moving forward with gigantic strides, a bullet has suddenly struck to the heart of the Nation, and men look about them as if awakened out of a dream. The horror of it is so great, the method of it so dastardly, the aim of it so foreign to our history, our traditions, and our principles, that the crime and its consequences seem alike incredible. There is an instinctive feeling that the creature whose father came here through the open-hearted hospitality of a country which trusts all men, and commits its most sacred possessions into their keeping, and who has taken advantage of this deep faith in man to strike one of the most humane and kindly men who ever held the place of ruler, ought to be swept from the face of the earth. But sorrow is so much deeper than wrath that a crime which is the embodiment of the spirit of lawlessness will not be condoned by a lawless punishment. The Nation’s grief cannot be expressed by rage, and its majestic sorrow must not be stained by any retributive act of violence. It is a time for quietness of spirit; for resolute self-control as well as resolute courage. Hysteria and vengeance have no place in such an hour; it is of the nature of a great sorrow to calm and restrain and soften; they who truly mourn do not congregate in mobs and destroy in a blind rage.
Nothing in Mr. McKinley’s singularly harmonious life was more characteristic or noble than his words in the horror of the confused moment when he sank back in the arms of those about him, “Let no one hurt him.” In that brief phrase was summed up not only the spiritual strength but the reverence for law which are the possession of the peoples who speak our language in all parts of the world. The individual perishes, but the social order, which alone makes a free and noble unfolding of the human spirit possible, survives. It is the greatest quality we have secured from centuries of freedom.
A great sorrow brings something deeper than self-control to a nation; it brings a fresh sense of the presence and power of God. “It is God’s way; His will be done,” were the words in which the dying President, speaking in the supreme crisis of his personal life, expressed the deepest truth of the awful experience. Murder is not committed by the will of God, and the abhorrence of assassination which fills the heart of the civilized world at this moment must be but a faint reflection of the divine abhorrence of so cruel and brutal a deed. Nevertheless, God’s way with the world—that ordering of society which permits men to fashion themselves and makes them free agents instead of making them puppets—leaves room and time for the fruitage of sin of every kind. Such deeds appall and bewilder us for the moment, but they do not shake our faith, if that faith has any depth of foundation. Behind such a deed as that which has plunged the whole world into mourning there are ancient and deep-seated causes which suddenly disclose their hidden mischief in the noonday of a period of golden prosperity upon a man whom no one could know without loving.
As there is a vast accumulation of honesty, frugality, temperance, and chastity in the world which has become a kind of capitalized character, so there is a vast accumulation of wrong-doing which, alike in those who practice and those who suffer it, has become a kind of capitalized moral and mental disease. So long as there is sin in the world, so long there will be death; death not only of the unrighteous but of the just, the good, the pure, and the gentle. Sin breeds disease in the man who commits it and in the atmosphere in which he lives; oppression, cruelty, brutality, indifference to the sufferings of others, gradually create conditions which distort the minds as they deform the bodies of those who suffer. Responsible as the Anarchist who struck the President is and will be held to be, it may be that the seeds of his crime were sown in his nature by other hands in other generations, and that wrong-doing in Poland bore its bitter fruit in the slaying of a ruler who loved the oppressed and outcast. For God has bound us together, and we are of one blood in spite of ancient divisions; and the seed of evil sown in one continent often bears its bitterest fruit in another.
So long as men do wrong, so long as  there are evil passions and evil speaking in society, so long as men offend the laws of God by sins against themselves or others, so long there will be murder done and the innocent will suffer with and for the guilty. The only full and final protection against the moral and mental insanity which makes Anarchism possible is the complete cleansing of society to the very bottom.
“It is God’s way” to have the wheat and the tares growing together until the harvest; it is God’s way to remind nations in the hour of greatest prosperity that there are deeper and more important interests than those of commerce, and that wealth and comfort and ease and power are at the mercy of sin and disease. The awful reality of sin has once more revealed itself; it has claimed another good and noble victim; it has come like a skeleton into another feast of plenty; it has struck the heart of a Nation in the day of its strength and gladness. Let the Nation think upon these things, and with unbroken courage but with clearer vision face the awful conditions with which it must deal.