The One Ring

Anyone who knows anything at all about me knows that one of my favorite books is The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. Not only is the late Prof. Tolkien’s book a tremendous work of mythopoeic fiction, but it also communicates some very important moral truths that are subtly woven into the storyline. Take, for example, the nature of evil as presented in LOTR. When it comes to explaining what evil actually is, one is left with two primary options, one of which teaches that evil is a positive reality, that is, evil exists as a thing in itself. The theological implications of this idea are devastating and could be laid out thus:

  1. God created everything in existence.
  2. Evil exists.
  3. Therefore, God created evil.

The conclusion of this argument strays far from the teaching of orthodox Christianity and makes God out to be the source of evil as well as good. This presents a quite a conundrum.

The other major option for the explanation of evil presents just the opposite of the aforementioned definition (which, incidentally, is known as the Manichaean concept of evil). The other option (known as the Boethian, Augustinian, or correct option 🙂) presents evil as the privation or absence of good and is the exact way that Tolkien presents evil in his book. Is it any wonder that the chief bad dude (Sauron) is called the Dark Lord? Darkness does not have substantial existence: what we call “darkness” is the absence of light. Or when Frodo is pierced by the evil blade of the ring wraith and is afterwards plagued by a deathly cold? “Cold” is the absence of heat. Perhaps the whole idea can best be summed up in the words of Frodo himself while speaking to Sam about the origin of the monstrous orcs:

“The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. I don’t think it gave life to Orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them…”(Return of the King p. 190).

So what exactly do we learn from all of this? Well, for starters, God cannot create evil! What we call “evil” is actually a privation of God’s goodness. Furthermore, not even Satan (Sauron) himself created evil in a substantial sense, he merely perverted the good things of God to his own selfish ends.