“We are not to do evil, that good may come,”


is a line from the Elizabeth Gaskell book ‘Ruth’. I finished it yesterday and this is the line that sticks with me.

The novel is about a young orphan girl, Ruth (working as a dressmaker’s apprentice).

ballroom photo
Photo by State Library of Queensland, Australia

She meets a wealthy aristocratic young man, Mr Bellingham, at a ball where she must mend rips and tears in the dresses of the the young ladies who attend. Her employer, Mrs Mason, is a tough, strict lady, and when Mrs Mason sees Ruth walking with Mr Bellingham she tells the young girl never to return. Cast-off like a cast-off, Ruth allows herself to be persuaded to go away with Mr Bellingham and is, consequently, ruined.

When Bellingham falls ill in a Welsh Inn and his mother arrives to take him home, Ruth is once more cast-off – and pregnant, but this time a Dissident Minister and his sister, Mr and Miss Benson, take pity on her and persuade her to return with them, under the guise of new widow.

Mr Benson is concerned not just with the law of the land, but also with what Jesus would do, and is persuaded by his sister to let the townsfolk believe Ruth is a widowed relation of theirs and thus the deception begins. Once the truth is out, the effects are, at first, devastating for Ruth and her son, Leonard, and the Minister wonders if they should have spoken the truth from the outset.

When politics comes to the town, and one man suggests using the weaknesses of other men to forward their own purposes, Benson says: “We are not to do evil, that good may come,”.

This stuck with me, and reminded me of that saying “You’ve got to be cruel to be kind.” I’ve never liked this saying and believe there is always a way of doing things that does not have to be cruel.

When we shrug and tell ourselves, “you’ve got to be cruel to be kind”, we are justifying the means.

Yet there is the question of the greater good. Should we agree to the bombing of a city to kill lots of militants when we know innocents will be killed?

Can cruel means ever be justified?

“We are not to do evil, that good may come,”.

Can good results ever come from evil deeds?

It’s all to easy to think the end justifies the means sometimes, but does it?

Certainly got me thinking.

Louise

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