Thoughts on Suffering from Tolkien and Lewis
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?” “A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”
—Conversation between Sam Gamgee and Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings (chapter 4, Book Six)
“Son,” [MacDonald] said, “ye cannot in your present state understand eternity…But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all this earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say ‘Let me but have this and I’ll take the consequences’: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say, ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,’ and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly.”
—A Conversation between the Spirit of Gordon MacDonald and Lewis’s protagonist in The Great Divorce, Chap 9.
Critical to our understanding of forgiveness is that God promises to restore victims of crimes to wholeness. God can and will make everyone whole. For those who are followers of Jesus, the promise is ever better. God can and will “turn even that agony into glory.” God answers yes to Sam’s question to Gandalf, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” This speaks to the very nature and power of God and what He can accomplish.
Do we know how that will be accomplished? No. In most cases, I cannot even begin to fathom how such great pain and loss will be made into present glory.
On the other hand, we do have the Cross. On the Cross, the greatest of all injustice and crime to humanity became the greatest of justice and glory for humanity. In the Resurrection, can we by faith begin to hear “laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count?”