Tolkien Solves The Problem of Evil

Friday , 1, May 2015 8 Comments

Tolkien Solves the Problem of Evil

“Thus it came to pass that of the Ainur some abode still with Illúvatar beyond the confines of the World; but others, and among them many of the greatest and most fair, took the leave of Illúvatar and descended into it. But this condition Illúvatar made, or it is the necessity of their love, that their power should thenceforward be contained and bounded in the World, to be within it for ever, until it is complete, so that they are its life and it is theirs. And therefore they are named the Valar, the Powers of the World.” -The Silmarillion, Ainulindalë


“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  -Ephesians 6:2

The logical problem of evil hinges primarily on three of God’s divine attributes: his omnipotence, his moral perfection, and his omniscience.

If God is all-powerful, he could prevent all the evil and suffering in the world.

If God is omniscient (or, as an open theist might say, an infinitely intelligent Chess Master), he would know about evil, and would know how to stop or destroy it.

And if God is perfectly good, he would want to stop evil from occurring.

Now, philosophers and theologians have offered plenty of credible solutions to the problem of evil. There’s the free will defense, but that says nothing about natural evil. Then there’s the credible if emotionally unsatisfying “God’s game, God’s rules” solution proposed by the esteemed creator of Castalia House.

However, I think Tolkien has provided us with a more interesting alternative: the idea of a magical talisman. A trope common in fantasy and mythology, but seems to have escaped the musings of the philosophers (so far as I can tell).

Here’s how it works.

In the Silmarillion, all evil can be sourced to the discord that Morgoth introduced into the music and his Marring of the world. Therefore, all evil has its source in a single supernatural being.

Per the quoted passage above, the life and power of this supernatural being is tied to Arda in such a way that to destroy Morgoth would be to destroy the world. In the same fashion that Sauron’s ring was tied to its maker, the world is so connected with Morgoth that the the world is Morgoth ring. Evil can never be defeated until the world is shattered and renewed.

Thus, it would seem that a good God cannot annihilate evil without simultaneously annihilating the creatures and the world that he so loves.


Unless God somehow entered into this world, and become tied up with in such a fashion that through his death evil was destroyed, and in the raising of his life the world would be made new…

“ [T]hey say that the One will himself enter into Arda, and heal Men and all the Marring from the beginning to the end’.” — The Marring of Men (The Debate of Finrod and Andreth)

  • Andrew says:

    Sounds like the parable Jesus told about the wheat and the tares. Matthew 13:24-30

    Though, could not a skeptic then question God’s omnipotence? Is he not capable of protecting the ones he loves while removing evil?

  • Eh. You’ve simply eliminated God’s omnipotence, in that “a good God cannot annihilate evil without simultaneously annihilating the creatures and the world that he so loves.” Can’t? Why? You’re postulating an artificial, non-self-imposed limit on God’s power.

    The free will defense still seems to be the simplest and most rational, summed up as follows:

    – God loves his creations and wishes his creations to love him genuinely.
    – Love is only genuine if freely chosen, e.g., placing a chip in someone’s head to cause him or her to “love” creates false love.
    – A genuine choice to love God requires the option to “not love” and to rebel, to choose evil. God allows this choice in order to ensure the love is genuine.
    – Choices by contingent beings, from Satan to Adam on down, cause cascades of evil to propagate throughout the world.
    – If God eliminated evil by fiat, he would be eliminating all free will. Thus, he must allow evil, or he must discard the possibility of his creatures genuinely choosing to love.

    Greg Boyd says it much better than I do in the scholarly “Satan and the Problem of Evil,”

    For those who want a lighter read, this one is more accessible:

  • Scooter says:


    Due to the ontology of sin and because of God’s goodness.

    I see it kind of like how a doctor cannot separate Siamese twins that share the same heart without destroying them both.

    Man, Morgoth and Arda share the same Marred nature. To destroy the nature of something is to destroy the thing itself. Therefore, destroying Morgoth would destroy Man because Morgoth lives in man, is indeed the operating principle in man (and certain features of the fallen world), and they practice the same evil. In them his power, person, and being are manifest. Thus, they are ontologically and eschatologically bound to one another.

    If Illuvatar brought forth his wrath on Morgoth he would bring it therefore on Man. Now he would be perfectly justified and capable of doing so; but, since he loves Marred Man, he wants to find some other way that is in line with his will.

    Hence, the brilliance of the Incarnation. The One enters into Arda, takes on the nature of man, becomes bound to the world as its champion, dies to the Marred nature, and in righteousness overcomes the reign of Morgoth. When the One dies and is raised, all of Arda dies and is raised. For those that choose to become so bound, we now receive and share in the divine nature.

    I see this as a support and buttress to the free will defense. I echo you David in recommending Boyd’s view of spiritual warfare. I was mistaken in saying that the free will defense does not say anything about natural evil — Boyd’s formulation of it does.

  • Foster says:

    “You’ve simply eliminated God’s omnipotence, in that “a good God cannot annihilate evil without simultaneously annihilating the creatures and the world that he so loves.” Can’t? Why?”

    “God, in accordance with the perfection of the divine power, can do all things, and yet some things are not subject to His power, because they fall short of being possible.” -Aquinas; S.Th. I,q25,a4

    If creation is in part Lucifer’s song, it may be metaphysically impossible to kill the singer without also killing the song. Thus God’s omnipotence is not denied, but some things are impossible by their nature. God cannot make a four-sided triangle, because such a thing is a nonsense babble of words that do not correspond with any reality. Annihilating evil without also annihilating the present world may be a similar nonsense.

  • Emmanuel says:

    Why do you people think natural evil is even a thing?

  • Gecko says:

    Thou Melko shalt see that no theme can be played save it come in the end of Iluvatar’s self, nor can any alter the music in Iluvatar’s despite. He that attempts this finds himself in the end but aiding me in devising a thing of still greater grandeur and more complex wonder: – for lo! through Melko have terror as fire, and sorrow like dark waters, wrath like thunder, and evil as far from my light as the depths of the uttermost dark places, come into the design that I laid before you. Through him has pain and misery been made in the clash of overwhelming musics; and with confusion of sound have cruelty, and ravening, and darkness, loathly mire and all putrescence of thought or thing, foul mists and violent flame, cold without mercy, been born, and death without hope. Yet is this through him and not by him; and he shall see, and ye all likewise, and even shall those beings, who must now dwell among his evil and endure through Melko misery and sorrow, terror and wickedness, declare in the end that it redoundeth only to my greater glory, and doth but make the theme more worth the hearing, Life more worth the living, and the World so much more the wonderful and marvellous, that of all the deeds of Iluvatar it shall be called his mightiest and his loveliest.

    J.R.R. Tolkien, The Book of Lost Tales I

  • ManOrMonster says:

    There is no “problem of evil” if we view God as what He is, our Father.

    Indicting God based on the evils that happen in the world is like blasting a parent for letting their children ride bicycles, or play outside, or do any other potentially dangerous thing. Without letting children experience life, they will never grow into worthwhile adults.

    As it is with man. Without experiencing evil, how could man ever know to reject it? How can one become good without knowing evil? The serpent was not lying when he said “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

    This process was necessary for men to become like God, knowing good and evil, yet choosing good. Mankind must grow, just as children must grow, into worthy people. And at the end of the age, we will.

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