At the turn of the 20th century, Augustus H Strong (1836-1921) was the premiere Baptist theologian among northern Baptists, and he remains one of my favorites to read. This morning I was reading his discussion of whether or not this is the best of all possible worlds, and I came across a number of quotes that he had collected (Systematic Theology, 406). How one answers this question, Strong opines, often determines whether he is an optimist or a pessimist. He then gives several remarkable quotations. A sampling:
When Henry Ward Beecher was asked whether or not life was worth living, he replied, “Depends very much upon the liver. Optimism and pessimism are largely matters of digestion.”
A student gave his reasons for rejecting the best-possible-worlds notion: “I would kill off all the bed-bugs, mosquitoes and fleas, and make oranges and bananas grow farther north.”
Strong has several quotes relating to mosquitoes. He says, “A lady who was bitten by a mosquito asked whether it would be proper to speak of the creature as ‘a depraved little insect.’ She was told that this would be improper, because depravity always implies a previous state of innocence, whereas the mosquito has always been as bad as he now is.”
Dr. Lyman Beecher, however, seems to have held the contrary view. “When he had captured the mosquito who had bitten him, he crushed the insect saying: ‘There! I’ll show you that there is a God in Israel!’ He identified the mosquito with all the corporate evil of the world.”
Who knew that Victorian theologians had such a sense of humor?