“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Problem of Good

“[T]he thought pierced him [Sam] that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.” – The Lord of the Rings

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” – Haldir, The Lord of the Rings

In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run,
the merry finches sing.
Or maybe ‘tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair.
Though here at journey’s end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars forever dwell:
I will not say the day is done
or bid the stars farewell.”
– Sam, The Lord of the Rings

“They cannot conquer forever.” – Frodo

An awareness of this victorious nature of good is planted deep within us – what scientist and theologian John Polkinghorne calls “intimations of hope” – and it sprouts up in little shoots in things we say and do. We tell our loved ones, “it’s all right, everything will be okay.” It’s a phrase that comes up again and again in movies, even when there seems to be no hope or reason for its being said, as when Sam sings his song of hope in the darkness of Cirith Ungol. Are we merely trying to ease the pain for one another, or is this a seed of a deeper and stronger hope that never dies, a demonstration of our intuition that good is victorious?

To sum up, we find that good is superior to evil – primary, original, and victorious – and we are left with the problem of explaining this reality. This is essentially what is meant by the “problem of good.” We are faced with the issue of finding an answer to our intuitive confidence that good will defeat evil just as we are faced with the issue of discovering if there is a greater purpose for which evil exists.

The answer to both quests is in the victory of God. Just as we know that good will triumph over evil, we know that there is one source of all that is good and beautiful and majestic and perfect. The victory does not belong to some abstract entity called “good,” but to God, the source of all reality. God defines goodness and light and beauty and majesty and all that is worthy and perfect. It was he who set in our hearts intimations of hope and joy and beauty, and the knowledge that good is victorious and primary, and it is in his victory that we find an answer to our intuitions. God has set in the hearts of his lost children, his image bearers, a knowledge of his ways and his Story (cf. Romans 1-2), and he has revealed that Story to us more fully in his Word. So let’s take a long hard look at the climactic victory of this true Story and how it answers our questions.

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