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Evil Labours in Vain: Tolkien on Suffering, Hope, and God's Plan (Letter 64)

Evil Labours in Vain: Tolkien on Suffering, Hope, and God's Plan (Letter 64)

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I was reading through some of Tolkien’s letters this evening (compiled and available here) and I was so moved by this passage that I thought I’d share it with all of you. One sentence in particular stood out to me the most, “All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labours with vast power and perpetual success --in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in.” That is such an encouragement to my weary soul, and I hope it is for you, too.

An Excerpt from Letter 64 to his son Christopher, written while Christopher was serving in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War:

“I sometimes feel appalled at the thought of the sum total of human misery all over the world at the present moment: the millions parted, fretting, wasting in unprofitable days -- quite apart from torture, pain, death, bereavement, injustice.

If anguish were visible, almost the whole of this benighted planet would be enveloped in a dense dark vapour, shrouded from the amazed vision of the heavens!

And the products of it all will be mainly evil -- historically considered. But the historical version is, of course, not the only one.

All things and deeds have a value in themselves, apart from their ‘causes’ and ‘effects’. No man can estimate what is really happening at the present sub specie aeternitatis.

All we do know, and that to a large extend by direct experience, is that evil labours with vast power and perpetual success --in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in.

So it is in general ,and so it is in our own lives… But there is still some hope that things may be better for us, even on the temporal plane, in the mercy of God.

And though we need all our natural human courage and guts (the vast sum of human courage and endurance is stupendous, isn’t it?) and all our religious faith to face the evil that may befall us (as it befalls others, if God wills) still we may pray and hope. I do.

And you were so special a gift to me, in a time of sorrow and mental suffering, and your love, opening at once almost as soon as you were born, foretold to me, as it were in spoken words, that I am consoled ever by the certainty that there is no end to this.

Probable under God that we shall meet again, ‘in hale and in unity’, before very long...”

- Letter 64 to Christopher Tolkien, 30 April 1944

Afternoon Tea (vol. 3)

Afternoon Tea (vol. 3)

Make a Habit of the Praises: Tolkien's Prayer Recommendations

Make a Habit of the Praises: Tolkien's Prayer Recommendations