Charles Darwin and his wife Emma were a bit of an odd couple in a spiritual sense. Spiritually speaking, Charles withered like a plant while his wife Emma grew like a tall and vibrant tree. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in their views on suffering. 

In 1866 Charles wrote the following about suffering: “It has always appeared to me more satisfactory to look at the immense amount of pain and suffering in this world as the inevitable result of natural sequence of events, i.e., general laws, rather than from the direct intervention of God.” This quote evidences that Darwin fell prey to the atheist trap of thinking that if God is all knowing, all good, and all powerful, then why is there so much suffering in the world? 

Interestingly the correct answer to the question of suffering was right in front of him. His wife Emma held the answer. Here is what she said about suffering: “I find the only relief to my own mind is to take it as from God’s hand, and to try to believe that all suffering and illness is meant to help us to exalt our minds and to look forward with hope to a future state.” She is saying that suffering is a refiner's fire that proves us worthy of exaltation by testing our diligence. How different were their views!

Their spiritual differences were also manifested in their choice of literature. Emma enjoyed reading uplifting Christian writings. Darwin, on the other hand, enjoyed books with agnostic leanings. On one occasion in 1869 while the young American writer Henry James visited their home for lunch, he observed Emma reading Fervent Prayer while Darwin read The Index. The Index was “a newspaper produced by a group of disaffected American Unitarians and philosophical unbelievers” who rejected the “authority of the Bible, Church, or Christ.” Darwin was a regular contributor to the newspaper and shared its humanist doctrines with his family, occasionally becoming “indignant with anyone who doubted their complete accuracy.” Poor Emma. 

Darwin's spiritual emptiness was difficult for Emma. Before marrying Charles, Emma spoke openly about her concern with the spiritual void that existed between them. To her disappointment, that spiritual void still existed later on in life. Because of his resolute agnosticism she was unable to share her religious beliefs of faith, hope, and peace with Charles.

Emma remained steadfast in the faith through good and bad times while her husband wavered. She tried to build up her children’s faith while her husband challenged it. Science heaps praise upon Charles. I am heaping praise upon Emma. If the most important work we do is within the walls of our own homes, then she deserves credit for raising her children in righteousness and teaching them to honor and fear God – the most important accomplishment in any era.

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