Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910 Appendix W: Little Bessie Would Assist Providence byPaine, Albert Bigelow
(See Chapter cclxxxii)
[It is dull, and I need wholesome excitements and distractions; so I will
go lightly excursioning along the primrose path of theology.]
Little Bessie was nearly three years old. She was a good child, and not
shallow, not frivolous, but meditative and thoughtful, and much given to
thinking out the reasons of things and trying to make them harmonize with
results. One day she said:
"Mama, why is there so much pain and sorrow and suffering? What is it
It was an easy question, and mama had no difficulty in answering it:
"It is for our good, my child. In His wisdom and mercy the Lord sends us
these afflictions to discipline us and make us better."
"Is it He that sends them?"
"Does He send all of them, mama?"
"Yes, dear, all of them. None of them comes by accident; He alone sends
them, and always out of love for us, and to make us better."
"Isn't it strange?"
"Strange? Why, no, I have never thought of it in that way. I have not
heard any one call it strange before. It has always seemed natural and
right to me, and wise and most kindly and merciful."
"Who first thought of it like that, mama? Was it you?"
"Oh no, child, I was taught it."
"Who taught you so, mama?"
"Why, really, I don't know--I can't remember. My mother, I suppose; or
the preacher. But it's a thing that everybody knows."
"Well, anyway, it does seem strange. Did He give Billy Norris the
"Why, to discipline him and make him good."
"But he died, mama, and so it couldn't make him good."
"Well, then, I suppose it was for some other reason. We know it was a
good reason, whatever it was."
"What do you think it was, mama?"
"Oh, you ask so many questions! I think it was to discipline his
"Well, then, it wasn't fair, mama. Why should his life be taken away for
their sake, when he wasn't doing anything?"
"Oh, I don't know! I only know it was for a good and wise and merciful
"What reason, mama?"
"I think--I think-well, it was a judgment; it was to punish them for some
sin they had committed."
"But he was the one that was punished, mama. Was that right?"
"Certainly, certainly. He does nothing that isn't right and wise and
merciful. You can't understand these things now, dear, but when you are
grown up you will understand them, and then you will see that they are
just and wise."
After a pause:
"Did He make the roof fall in on the stranger that was trying to save the
crippled old woman from the fire, mama?"
"Yes, my child. Wait! Don't ask me why, because I don't know. I only
know it was to discipline some one, or be a judgment upon somebody, or to
show His power."
"That drunken man that stuck a pitchfork into Mrs. Welch's baby when--"
"Never mind about it, you needn't go into particulars; it was to
discipline the child--that much is certain, anyway."
"Mama, Mr. Burgess said in his sermon that billions of little creatures
are sent into us to give us cholera, and typhoid, and lockjaw, and more
than a thousand other sicknesses and--mama, does He send them?"
"Oh, certainly, child, certainly. Of course."
"Oh, to discipline us! Haven't I told you so, over and over again?"
"It's awful cruel, mama! And silly! and if I----"
"Hush, oh, hush! Do you want to bring the lightning?"
"You know the lightning did come last week, mama, and struck the new
church, and burnt it down. Was it to discipline the church?"
(Wearily.) "Oh, I suppose so."
"But it killed a hog that wasn't doing anything. Was it to discipline
the hog, mama?"
"Dear child, don't you want to run out and play a while? If you would
"Mama, only think! Mr. Hollister says there isn't a bird, or fish, or
reptile, or any other animal that hasn't got an enemy that Providence has
sent to bite it and chase it and pester it and kill it and suck its blood
and discipline it and make it good and religious. Is that true, mother--
because if it is true why did Mr. Hollister laugh at it?"
"That Hollister is a scandalous person, and I don't want you to listen to
anything he says."
"Why, mama, he is very interesting, and I think he tries to be good. He
says the wasps catch spiders and cram them down into their nests in the
ground--alive, mama!--and there they live and suffer days and days and
days, and the hungry little wasps chewing their legs and gnawing into
their bellies all the time, to make them good and religious and praise
God for His infinite mercies. I think Mr. Hollister is just lovely, and
ever so kind; for when I asked him if he would treat a spider like that
he said he hoped to be damned if he would; and then he----Dear mama, have
you fainted! I will run and bring help! Now this comes of staying in
town this hot weather."