Concerning Tolkien’s Faith Pt 5: The Mystery of Evil

One of the things that most draws me to Tolkien is the way he deals with theodicy, or the problem of evil. What exactly is the “problem of evil”? I’d define it this way, complete with tones of horror and despair: “O God, why would you allow this to happen to us?

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Haven of the Eldar ©2013-2016 Benef

In response to this question, the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the “happy fault.” This is perhaps where the rubber of Christianity meets the road of human experience. After all, as anyone who has wondered why Crucifixion Friday is called “Good” Friday can tell you, Christians hold up the Crucifixion, that most evil of all events, as somehow also the greatest good. It is one of the mysteries at the heart of the Christian conception of reality: that out of evil, some greater good will emerge.

Manwë’s Epiphany

In Chapter 11 of The Silmarillion, Tolkien deals with the inherent tension in the problem of evil head on. In the aftermath of Melkor’s destruction of the Two Trees and Fëanor’s subsequent rebellion against Valinor, Manwë and the other Valar ponder the destruction and what good can possibly come of it. It is Manwë, known for being closest to the mind of Ilúvatar (God), who exclaims “[E]ven as Eru spoke to us shall beauty not before conceived be brought into Eä, and evil yet be good to have been.” Manwë remembers the Music. Every time Melkor tried to insert something of his own devising, Ilúvatar, the conductor, was able to create something even more beautiful by it.

Manwë sets an example for us. As we survey the devastation of evil in our lives (no matter the cause), it can be an occasion to despair or defeatism. Yet Manwë is able to remember how this played out before. He remembers the Halls of Ilúvatar, those ancient moments when Melkor sought to ruin the Music of the Ainur and somehow Ilúvatar used his work to make the Music even more beautiful. This is an act of visionary might, a spiritual reflex to cultivate within ourselves. Have I known triumphs to come from tragedy before? Do I believe that it will happen again? Do I trust God to work not just good, but even greater good, out of this?

Mandos’ Realism

Still, it’s important to note that it is not Manwë who has the final word here, but Mandos, the master of doom. To Manwë’s epiphany that evil shall “yet be good to have been,” Mandos soberly retorts “And yet remain evil.” Now it would be easy to write off Mandos as some sort of cosmic Debbie Downer here, but that would miss the point. No, Mandos is keeping Manwë (and us) grounded to the reality of evil’s immediate effects. In this, I see an important spiritual qualifier for Christians, even as they trust God to work all things for good. Though we do most certainly hope in Him who seems to have proven Himself by the reality of Christ’s Resurrection, evil and suffering yet remain something that each human being must deal with on her own terms. Each of us is given different crosses to bear, different ways in which we must suffer, and we must never presume to know what another is experiencing within themselves.

Mandos reminds us that we shouldn’t try to sugarcoat evil or suffering. Though we hope for triumph and a greater good to result, we must never lose sight of suffering’s bitter reality, of the existential horror associated with so much evil. This is the tension of the mystery, the reason comprehending it rises above the power of our intellects. In brief, we must never presume to triumph over another’s suffering for them simply because we know the ultimate outcome. It is a commendable thing to encourage hope and strength in our neighbor who suffers; it is the worst sort of pride to presume to know their pain better than they do.

The Outcome of Tragedy

The remaining chapters of The Silmarillion bear witness to the good that is to emerge from the tragedies of Valinor. One of the most immediate effects is the adorning of the sky with the Sun and the Moon. Further on, we witness the great and beautiful valor of heroes like Fingolfin, Finrod Felagund, Beren, Lúthien, and Eärendil. Glorious cities are founded, and the lines of Elves and Men are joined in ways that will lead to the births of great heroes in ages to come. While there is plenty of evil yet to occur, we learn that Melkor’s powers are slowly diminishing with every evil act he commits. There is an end to the tragedy in sight.

Like the heroes of Tolkien’s world, our lot is not to labor in the full light of the good that is to come, but nor is it to labor in darkness or despair over the evil that seems to abound. Instead, we train our hearts to hope, to recall the triumphs and eucatastrophes of the past, and so to look with expectation to the glorious new reality that is to come.

 

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The Tolkien Road – Ep. 57 – Concerning March 25th: Frodo’s Quest, the Annunciation, and the Crucifixion

Concerning March 25th: Frodo’s Quest, the Annunciation, and the Crucifixion…

Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien. On this special Good Friday episode, we take a moment to consider the place of March 25th, a date of major significance, in Tolkien’s works and philosophy.  We’ll see the role it plays within The Lord of the Rings, as well as how it ties the book to Tolkien’s Catholic faith. 

By the way, if you haven’t already, please leave The Tolkien Road a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of the podcast. Enjoy the show!

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©2013-2016 rfcunha

 

Thanks for listening to The Tolkien Road! To see a list of our previous episodes, go here.

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Well, I’m back…

Hola fellow Tolkienites…

Not that I’ve really been gone or anything, but the posting (other than podcasts) has been a bit sparse as of late. It’s been a busy last few months, but I’m planning on doing a lot more posting from here on out.
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I also wanted to mention a few things to you that may or may not getcha kinda excited…

  • The Tolkien Road Podcast: We are almost done with The Silmarillion! I can’t believe we’ve made it this far. The plan is to return to Lord of the Rings soon, and hopefully incorporate some more interviews and such.
  • Tolkien’s Requiem: I’m hoping to release an expanded and edited second edition of Tolkien’s Requiem soon. I’ll also be doing a physical release of the book, as one of the most common things I hear from y’all is “When can I get a paperback version?” Well, as soon as I stop being a lazy bum and geterdun, that’s when! Which is hopefully soon. Pray for me. 🙂
  • New Books: I should also mention that I’m working on 2 new books about things Tolkien. I sort of envision this trilogy that begins with Tolkien’s Requiem. I won’t say too much about it now, except that the one that will probably come first has to do with one of the greatest things EVAR. How’s that for vague rumors of glory and greatness!?! Anyway, stay tuned, as I’ll be posting early excerpts of it here in order to whet the ol’ appetite.
  • Music: One of the things Tolkien has awoken in me is a hidden songwriter. Well, in the next few months (hopefully by this summer is out) I am planning on releasing a short collection of some songs I’ve written and arranged. Now, these won’t be songs about hobbits and dwarves and battle-axes and dragons and wizards, at least not explicitly so (because, come on, aren’t all songs really about those things?!?). Nevertheless, they are quite Tolkien-inspired in their own way. You’ll definitely be hearing more about this soon.
  • My New Blog: Hey, guess what, I have other interests than just Tolkien! Tolkien gets his own blog/site of course, because he’s Tolkien, but I had a bunch of other things I wanted to write about as well, and I am now doing so over at Beards of Kentucky. What am I writing about? Well, I guess I’m writing about whatever I feel like writing about: what I’ve been reading, what I’ve been listening to, things I love, my outlook on life, blah blah blah. I’m just making it up as I go along, and you’re happy to come along for that ride…

Anyway, I’m honored by every single visitor, and especially the repeat visitors, to this here site. You guys rock! Say hey when you get a chance, just to let me know that you’re alive and listening. And if you see something Tolkien-related that you think is cool and worth sharing, let me know!!!

The Tolkien Road – Ep. 56 – The Silmarillion – Ch. 23 – Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin

Concerning “Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin”, Chapter 23 of The Silmarillion…

Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien.  On this episode, we continue our discussion of The Silmarillion with Chapter 23, “Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin”, wherein Tuor the son of Huor comes to Gondolin with a dire warning from Ulmo. There’s a whole lot to discuss!  By the way, if you haven’t already, please leave The Tolkien Road a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of the podcast. Enjoy the show!

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©2013-2016 rfcunha

Topics of discussion…

  • Haiku – 4:00
  • Tuor’s Background – 15:30
  • Ulmo & Tuor – 21:00
  • Turgon Won’t Heed Ulmo’s Warning – 30:00
  • Tuor, Idril & Maeglin’s Plot – 39:00
  • Tuor, Idril, and Eärendil – 42:00
  • Morgoth Attacks; Glorfindel’s Heroics – 52:00
  • Tuor & Idril Flee to Arvernien – 1:00:00
  • Ulmo & the Valar – 1:02:30
  • Tuor & Idril Into the West? – 1:06:30

By the way, check out the summary of this chapter I did for the Beginner’s Guide.

Thanks for listening to The Tolkien Road! To see a list of our previous episodes, go here.

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The Tolkien Road – Ep. 55 – The Silmarillion – Ch. 22 – Of the Ruin of Doriath

Concerning “Of the Ruin of Doriath”, Chapter 22 of The Silmarillion…

Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien.  On this episode, we continue our discussion of The Silmarillion with Chapter 22, “Of the Ruin of Doriath”, wherein Húrin is released from his 28-year bondage and doom comes to Thingol’s kingdom. There’s a whole lot to discuss!  By the way, if you haven’t already, please leave The Tolkien Road a rating and feedback on iTunes. We’d love to know what you think of the podcast. Enjoy the show!

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©2013-2016 rfcunha

Topics of discussion…

  • Haiku – 5:00
  • Húrin, Gondolin, and the Eagles – 11:45
  • Húrin and Morwen – 22:00
  • Nargothrond, Mîm, and the Nauglamir – 36:00
  • Thingol’s Downfall – 43:00
  • Melian’s Exodus – 51:00
  • Beren, Lúthien, and Díor – 55:00
  • The Sons of Fëanor and the Sack of Doriath – 1:02:30

By the way, check out the summary of this chapter I did for the Beginner’s Guide.

Thanks for listening to The Tolkien Road! To see a list of our previous episodes, go here.

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The Tolkien Road – Ep. 54 – The Silmarillion – Ch. 21 – Of Túrin Turambar – Pt2

Continuing with “Of Túrin Turambar”, Chapter 21 of The Silmarillion…

Hey there fellow travelers! Welcome to The Tolkien Road, a long walk through the works and philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien. On this episode, we continue discussing Chapter 21 of The Silmarillion, “Of Túrin Turambar.” It’s a pretty tragic tale, only slightly less depressing than the current election cycle. LOL! If you liked that bit of topical humor then leave us a rating and feedback on iTunes! Heck, even if you didn’t, leave us a rating anyway. It’s easy to do, only takes a moment, and is the best way to show your appreciation for what we’re doing here. Enjoy the show!

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©2013-2016 rfcunha

Topics of discussion…

  • Túrin & Finduilas – 11:00
  • Ulmo’s Warning & Túrin’s Hubris – 20:00
  • The Sack of Nargothrond – 28:00
  • Slaying of the Easterlings & Finduilas’ Death – 32:00
  • Morwen & Nienor – 37:30
  • Túrin and Níenel – 47:00
  • Túrin Slays Glaurung – 52:00
  • Nienor’s Death – 1:02:00
  • Reckonings and the Black Blade Broken – 1:09:00
  • Tragedy – 1:19:00

By the way, here’s a link to the two-part summary of this chapter I did for Beginner’s Guide: (Part 1 | Part 2).

Thanks for listening to The Tolkien Road! To see a list of our previous episodes, go here.

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