Tolkien, divine sovereignty, and evil

For Tolkien, the causal dependency of creaturely free will on God’s own creative power is no less true when those creaturely intentions and their effects happen to be “against His Will,” for the Creator “does not stop or make ‘unreal’ sinful acts and their consequences” (L 195). Because it is the divine will that gives being to the finite will and its effects, any potential conflict between the two cannot be ultimate but, like Tolkien’s concept of ananke or Thomas’s concept of chance, is only “as it appears on a finite view,” as Tolkien puts it, implying a higher level at which even sinful actions are invariably made to contribute to the Creator’s greater plan. As Tolkien further explains in the same context, “in every world on every plane all must ultimately be under the Will of God” (L 191). In another place Tolkien writes of the simultaneous transcendence and immanence of the Creator in this way: “He must as Author always remain ‘outside’ the Drama, even though that Drama depends on His design and His will for its beginning and continuance, in every detail and moment” (Morgoth’s Ring 335). In this sense Tolkien is willing to speak of the Creator as in fact “the one wholly free Will and Agent” (L 204).

This point is brought home in the Ainulindalë when Ilúvatar tells Melkor that, despite his rebellious music, in the Vision he will discover “that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined” (S 17). A little later Ilúvatar reiterates the point, telling the Ainur: “This is your minstrelsy; and each of you shall find contained herein, amid the design that I set before you, all those things which it may seem that he himself devised or added. And thou, Melkor, wilt discover all the secret thoughts of thy mind, and wilt perceive that they are but a part of the whole and tributary to its glory” (S 17, emphasis added).

3 thoughts on “Tolkien, divine sovereignty, and evil

  1. Pingback: Evil and a greater good | The Flame Imperishable

  2. Note: the passage you quote above “in every world on every plane all must ultimately be under the Will of God”, is actually from Letter #153, not Letter #191 :)

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