God’s Goodness and the One Ring

A Twilight Musing

Those of you who read the last installment of the “Letters of Ichabod” series will remember how it depicts the possibility that even a demon can be affected by the goodness of God.  That scenario may be far-fetched, but this conclusion to the career of Ichabod reflects a more certain truth: that the Goodness emanating from God will either transform the person who engages it, or the person will reject the Good and replace it with a counterfeit “good,” which then becomes an instrument of evil.  True goodness is a part of God’s nature that can be wielded only by Him and by those to whom He grants the grace to be avenues and instruments of His Goodness. God’s Goodness is a part of His non-contingent existence, which can be defined only by reference to Itself (cf. Ex. 3:14: “I AM WHO I AM”).

This fact reminds me of the nature of the One Ring, the Ring of Power in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  Again and again, the characters in this epic struggle between good and evil are reminded that the Ring of Power cannot be used except according to the manipulative design of its creator, Sauron, the evil Lord of the Rings. All who try to use the Ring, even for good purposes, will be corrupted by that usage.  It strikes me that the reverse principle is true in a theological sense: Only God, who is Absolute Goodness and the Source of all true goodness, can bring out of His Goodness truly good things.

To be drawn thus into the imprisoning vortex of Evil is to experience an ever-narrowing path leading away from all true reality.   By contrast, the drawing of the soul into the Goodness of God offers an infinite future for that soul’s development and enhancement. 

To this similarity, however, must be added the observation so astutely made by St. Augustine in his Confessions (as a part of his rejection of his earlier Manichaeism), that evil has no separate existence and can be manifested only as a corruption of the Good.  Seen in that light, Sauron’s One Ring doesn’t represent a dualistic Evil Power equivalent in nature to the Good Power, but rather (like Satan) a horribly distorted counterfeit of the Good.  Consequently, unlike the Good, the only transformative capacity Evil has is to take its users farther away from reality into illusion.  To be drawn thus into the imprisoning vortex of Evil is to experience an ever-narrowing path leading away from all true reality.   By contrast, the drawing of the soul into the Goodness of God offers an infinite future for that soul’s development and enhancement.    C. S. Lewis depicts this contrast graphically in The Great Divorce, in which he shows the inhabitants of Hell continually and progressively growing more isolated from the center of things, because they chose to focus on their own “good” rather than embracing the great and essential Good. Herein is the chief pitfall of self-centered insistence on individualistically defining ourselves.  The noblest desires within us to be good and to do good can easily be diverted into a kind of solipsistic and pitiful parody of the Source of Goodness.   That associates us with the demonic “shadow government” that Ichabod’s letters were describing, a complete model of darkness purporting to be light.  (More to come about the intertwining of Goodness, Glory, and Light.)

 

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Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)