Friday, April 28, 2017

Free Will and Sin

      In our last class, we discussed what sin is in Tolkien’s mythology and, in particular, what Melkor’s great sin was. Of course, in order to discuss sin, we also had to figure out what evil is too. Some argued that evil was destruction; in an Augustinian frame, this argument seems to have merits. Augustine states that “God is existence in supreme degree - he supremely is - and he is therefor immutable . . . Thus to this highest existence, from which all things that derive their existence, the only contrary nature is the non-existent” (CoG 473). If existence is good, then destruction/forcing out of existence must be evil. In a Christian context, however, I wonder if true destruction is even possible. If God is, as Augustine and most Christians today agree, “utterly incapable of any change or injury” and “God is existence in supreme degree” then for a created being to complete destroy and erase the existence of anything would be the same as that creature destroying God. We see some of this thinking when Iluvatar says to Ulmo, “Seest thou not how here in this little realm in the Deeps of Time Melkor hath made war upon thy province? He hath bethought him of bitter cold immoderate, and yet not destroyed the beauty of thy fountains, nor of thy clear pools. . . . Melkor hath devised heats and fire without restraint, and hath not dried up thy desire nor utterly quelled the music of the sea” (Sim. 19). Melkor can only harm what has been created and can not destroy completely the beauty of Iluvatar’s creations; Augustine says, “It goes without saying that no evil can harm God; but evils can harm natural substances liable to change and injury” (CoG 474).

    Another possibility that was brought up was that sin is a lack of respect for the creator. Aule and Melkor, in particular, were contrasted against each other in class. Melkor “built his strength, and he slept not, but watched, and laboured. And the evil things that he had perverted walked abroad, and the dark slumbering woods were haunted by monsters and shapes of dread” (Sim. 47). The word “perverted” is especially reminiscent of Augustine who states “No nature is contrary to God; but a perversion, being evil, is contrary to good” (CoG 474). Melkor’s perversion (not creation! Tolkien writes, “I have represented at least the Orcs as pre-existing real beings on whom the Dark Lord has exerted the fullness of his power in remodeling and corrupting them, not in making them” (Letters 195)) of Iluvatar’s creations makes clear his lack of respect for Iluvatar. In contrast to Melkor, Aule made dwarves in secret because he was childishly impatient and “unwilling to await the fulfillment of the designs of Iluvatar” (Sim. 43), however, because of Aule’s humility, “Iluvatar had compassion upon Aule and his desire” (Sim. 43).  Aule’s humility made clear his true respect and fear of Iluvatar. Furthermore, Aule states of his dwarves that “Eru will give them dominion, and they shall use all that they find in Arda: though not, by the purpose of Eru, without respect or gratitude” (Sim. 45) showing that this respect and gratitude is an essential part of giving Iluvatar his proper due.

       I think more attention should be given to Aule and Iluvatar’s exchange over the creation of the dwarves. Iluvatar asks Aule, “Why hast thou done this? Why dost thou attempt a thing which thou knowest is beyond thy power and thy authority? For thou hast from me as a gift thy own being only, and no more; and therefore the creatures of thy hand and mind live only by that being, moving when thou thinkest to move them, and if thy thought be elsewhere, standing idle. Is that thy desire?” The line, I think this means that, at this point, the dwarves were similar to puppets at this time and only empty forms. Aule does begin “to instruct the Dwarves in the speech that he had devised for them”, but it is apparent that they did not have minds of their own since Iluvatar says to Aule “Thy offer I accepted even as it was made. Dost thou not see that these things have now a life of their own, and speak with their own voices?” (Sim. 44, emphasis added). Perhaps in line with Tolkien’s belief that power and control corrupts, it is Iluvatar alone who can give beings a mind, or will, of their own. The dwarves as Aule originally made them would only have ever been able to act if Aule when Aule thought to make them act. Aule perhaps did not “desire such lordship”, but it is what he would have had if Iluvatar had not given the dwarves their own will. Melkor’s great sin was that he “started making things ‘for himself, to be their Lord” (Letters p.195)

      One of the big questions that come up, however, either in Tolkien’s mythology or in Christian theology, is what does it mean to “have now a life of their own, and speak with their own voices” in a universe with a God with “providential design”? (Augustine 475) Iluvatar says, “And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite” (Sim. 17). What are sin and free will if everything that happens is according to God or Iluvatar’s plan? Is it that sin, or perversion of will, is used to contrast how truly good what God has created is since perversion “shows how great and honourable is the nature itself”?(CoG 472) If “good may exist on its own” (CoG 474) why would a supremely good God even allow sin to exist at all? I am not going to attempt to answer these questions using the universe Tolkien made for I believe that Tolkien would agree with Augustine’s (mind-blowingly frustrating, in my opinion) statement that, “the right course for us, when faced with things in which we are ill-equipped to contemplate God’s providential design, is to obey the command to believe in the Creator’s providence. We must not, in the rashness of human folly, allow ourselves to find fault, in any particular, with the work of that great Artificer who created all things” (CoG 475).


1 comment:

  1. You have gotten to the heart of the problem that Tolkien is using his stories to explore: the relationship between Creature and Creator and what it means to have free will as a Creature. How is it possible for made things (like Aule's dwarves) to have voices--their own thoughts? Why are we as human beings not puppets of God? RLFB