One of the topics I found most interesting from our discussion on Monday was the ways in which the events leading up to the drowning of Numenor can be considered evil, especially in the context the Sayers passage from The Mind of the Maker. The essential agreed-upon part of evil, recognizing what is good and consciously subverting or corrupting it, is manifested in a couple of ways in the story. The first, most obvious one is the direct disobedience of the Valar in the decision to sail west. The Numenoreans clearly recognize Iluvatar and the Valar as beings worthy of, at the very least, respect, making a regular “offering of the first fruits to Eru.” In light of this knowledge, and assuming that the will of these beings is “good,” the attempt to reach the paradise of Aman is a clear, deliberate perversion of it, and must therefore be considered evil.
I think that the other way the men of Andor can be considered evil in their actions is much more interesting. Death is described to them by the messengers of Manwe as a gift of Iluvatar, yet the Numenoreans seek directly to end it, and become immortal. In this way, they mean to take part of creation, namely themselves, and change it in a fundamental way. Again, if the intention of Eru is taken as the good in middle earth, this action is decidedly evil based on our definition. The mortality of men is always described as a crucial characteristic of their race; so much so that removing it is to corrupt the very idea of man, perverting creation. This could provide an interesting parallel with the fall from Eden, where humans seek to gain knowledge they weren’t intended to have, or, more directly, the Tower of Babel, an accomplishment that was meant to be beyond the reach of man. From the point of view of the reader of these tales, this seems pretty straightforward case of foolish humans disobeying a higher power. The Valar gave the Numenoreans a paradise on earth with only one restriction on their actions, but the men get greedy and refuse to obey, dooming themselves to a lesser existence.
But what if we try to put ourselves on Andor? As discussed in class and Blaine’s post, it’s not too hard to see why the men of Numenor fall. It’s easy to read a story about a magical island where there is no sickness or evil and imagine that we’d be happy there for several lifetimes, simply because we can compare it so favorably to our own reality. This is doubtless what the original Numeoreans felt like when the Valar gave them their island, but if we fast-forward several generations closer to the rule of Ar-Pharazon, wouldn’t they have become somewhat complacent with their lives? It is one thing to live in paradise having once lived otherwise, but quite another to be born into a land that your ancestors came to 2000 years before whose gift no living man can remember. Once “paradise” becomes such an established routine, seeking something more from life seems only natural. Though it was brought up in class that there is some contrast provided between the lives of men on Numenor and those who remain on Middle Earth, it’s not the same as actually being able to improve one’s own status. Of course, the influence of Sauron plays a large part in the actual rebellion against the Ainur, but it’s undeniable that the men of Andor became dissatisfied on their own long before his influence was extended to them.
So what does this mean for the mortal men (and maybe by extension us humans in our primary reality) if they’re unable to live in a literal paradise without becoming restless and unfulfilled enough to try and steal the one thing that they’re explicitly told they cannot have? Humans are differentiated from elves by their habit striving against any bonds, but at what point does this turn from an admirable quality that allows them to overcome evil to a detriment that prevents them from ever being truly satisfied? Sure, the men of Numenor were able to struggle valiantly against the yoke of Morgoth, but it is this same quality that explains why they launched a massive fleet against their former allies on the suspicion that it would grant them immortality. One might argue that the Akalabeth is a cautionary tale, and that these are excessively greedy and prideful men fueled by the hatred of Sauron, but in light of our discussion Monday, and the ease with which people seemed to accept the idea that “heaven is boring,” I don’t think that these characteristics make the Numenoreans exceptional among men. Though there are those faithful who oppose the actions against the Valar, I would argue that they still fear death just as much as those who fall under Sauron’s influence. Their decision to return to Middle Earth isn’t mutually exclusive with wishing for immortality, it just means that for whatever reason they put more stock into the tales of old (or recognize that listening to the incarnation of evil that they captured over the divine beings who gave them their island might not be a great idea). In any case, it seems like mortal men simply cannot be satisfied in a stagnant situation, no matter how close to paradise it comes.
In light of this, I wonder if we get a little closer to a reasonable conclusion of the problem of evil with regards to Eru. It’s been asked in class multiple times what we’re to think of the creator of a world if he has absolute control over its nature and full knowledge of what this nature will bring, yet allows its inhabitants to suffer regardless. Several times in the Ainulindale, it is reinforced that all things on Ea were created in accordance with the wishes of Iluvatar, and that no amount of meddling from Morgoth could change the outcome that he had intended for the world. Given this, we’d have to conclude that the creator simply didn’t care about the suffering of the men and elves of middle earth. Now this may seem like a cop-out solution to give Eru more credit than is due, but what if he recognized that suffering was the only thing that would keep men interested in their lives? If he created men with their ever-striving nature, he would be fully aware of the tendencies that lead to the drowning of Numenor and would be able to use this knowledge to grant them an interesting world full of evils and suffering to overcome. The Valar, who do not fully understand Iluvatar’s creation, wish to give them a paradise free of suffering, but perhaps suffering, and the more satisfying nature that it grants suffering’s absence, is necessary for men to have satisfying lives. In this way, the problem of evil isn’t in the nature of the creator, but the flawed (and sort of morbid) nature of the creation, that is bored without strife.