Sunday 1 April 2012

Why doesn't Eru just eradicate the evil of Middle Earth?


The short answer is that Middle Earth has been tainted and permeated by the evil of Morgoth, such that everything is involved.

To gain domination over Arda, Morgoth had let most of his being pass into the physical constituents of the Earth – hence all things that were born on Earth and live on and by it, beasts or plants or incarnate spirits, were liable to be ‘stained’.

(From Morgoth's Ring - volume XI of the History of Middle Earth)

To eradicate evil would, therefore, entail eradicating everything - including all the elves, men, dwarves and ents; all the land itself.

Yet destruction of Middle Earth and all in it would itself be a great evil.

The situation seems insoluble...


And this is Tolkien's fictional and sub-created 'explanation' of the necessity for the incarnation of Christ, His death and resurrection; because it is necessary for everything - humans and the earth itself - first to die, then to be remade perfect; and this is the only possible cure for evil.

Paradise, complete Good-ness, necessarily lies on the other side of death and destruction - as described in the Revelation of St John (upon which Tolkien had meditated deeply while translating Pearl by the Gawain poet).



GFC said...

Morgoth's Ring is an elaboration of the parable of the Tares, then.

Jason Fisher said...

Eru does not simply eradicate evil in Middle-earth by fiat for the same reason he permitted it to come into being in the first place. He could have prevented it, but he permitted Melkor to "mar" the design by interjecting evil.

In point of fact, the design isn't really marred at all ("no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite"). Rather, I would say the design has not yet come to its full fruition, but it is on its way. Evil is only evil from the perspective of men and elves, possibly the Valar; from the perspective of Eru, it is merely part of the ultimate design.

The reason for it is something we could debate, but I think the idea of evil is to encourage the growth and maturation of elves and men. Through struggle and strife, they have the potential to become greater than without it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GFC - I don't get it... Would you care to explain?

@JF - I'm not sure about what you say... Eru only 'permitted' in the sense that he created Melkor (and the other Valar, and maia, and Elves, and Men, Ents and - second try - Dwarves) with free will.

When Melkor fell, chose Pride, he then set about destroying The Good. Melkor was not *totally* evil, of course (since that would result in instant self-negation, or rather total evil is meaningless since evil is not the opposite of Good but its negation), but Melkor certainly was evil overall!

Once Melkor had fallen, he was able to do immense evil to the created world; and the evil he did really was evil.

So much so that it could only be gotten rid of by ending and remaking the world and (some of) the creatures in it. Some types of virtue are possible in a corrupted world that are impossible in a perfect world; but at a lower level. (Tolkien is (almost) always hierarchical.)

It would have been better if Melkor had not fallen.

In the pre-Christian world of Arda (leaving aside The debate of Finrod and Andreth) Nothing can be done to repair Morgoth's evil; it accumulates. The accumulation can be slowed, or reversed *locally* but in the end it will stain everything.

Morgoth's fall can be made-up-for in the long run, at the cost of vast suffering en route; but only if the Christian elements are allowed into the Silmarillion mythology (they were excluded by Christopher) - i.e the material from The debate of Finrod and Andreth, and the final prophecy of Mandos regarding the 'end times'.

Troels said...

I was wondering why this didn't, for me, feel quite right, and I think it has to do with my impression that the causality is the other way around: that Melkor was capable of setting up the situation with Arda Marred precisely because Il├║vatar would not simple ‘eradicate the evil’ that he allowed.

As Tolkien says in Letters no. 153:
Free Will is derivative, and is only operative within provided circumstances; but in order that it may exist, it is necessary that the Author should guarantee it, whatever betides: sc. when it is 'against His Will', as we say, at any rate as it appears on a finite view. He does not stop or make 'unreal' sinful acts and their consequences. So in this myth, it is 'feigned' (legitimately whether that is a feature of the real world or not) that He gave special 'sub-creative' powers to certain of His highest created beings: that is a guarantee that what they devised and made should be given the reality of Creation.

This, I think, explains what I mean by the reverse causality: it is, as I understand it, the guarantee against the eradication of evil that allows Melkor to corrupt Arda, rather than the corruption that guarantees against the eradication.

Jonathan McIntosh promises in a blog-post to write about St. Thomas' 'justification of evil for the sake of the greater good' (note 4 to Rational vs. Radical Evil) - presumably he also thinks that this is relevant for his on-going investigation into 'Tolkien's metaphysics of evil', and so it may also pertain to this discussion here.

Bruce Charlton said...


But - according to the second prophecy of Mandos

Eru will, in the end, remake the world. I was trying to suggest why he does not do this straightway. The idea came from the reason for the reluctance of the Valar to come to Middle Earth to defeat Morgoth - they knew that doing so would involve considerable destruction of the actual landscape of Middle Earth (which it did), and feared that the conflict might destroy it altogether.

And that was simply a matter of capturing Morgoth. To eradicate evil altogether would entail vastly more destruction.