From Vital Speeches, LXII (July 1, 1996), 557-62.
-- James V. Schall, S. J.

THE "GOOD NEWS" RECONSIDERED

 

I.

First, the bad news. A New Yorker cartoon (Latham, 22 April 1996) shows us down in Hell. We see several pudgy, furry devils, with their three pronged forks and pointed tails, herding throngs of hapless human sinners through the licking flames of the Inferno. Sitting on a hot rock observing the scene is a rather reflective gentleman, hand on his chin. He has been down under for some time and knows the score. Obviously, he has been just quizzed by a rather dazed, innocent-looking gentleman descending by the hot rock about what it is like further down into the scorching caverns. As a frowning devil looks over his shoulder, long-term human resident of Hades tells the expectant, hopeful arrival, deflatingly, "No, it's not going to be O.K." In other words, in these smoking realms, contrary to all popular earthly psychology, however politically incorrect, when we choose certain alternatives, we lie to ourselves if we think that our condition is anything other than "I'm not O. K. and you're not O. K."

 

We have here, in fact, a surprising bit of Christian orthodoxy in so unlikely place as The New Yorker, not normally known for its theological acumen. Yet, one of the most solid signs of orthodoxy is always the right understanding about Hell, about what is at stake in our purposeful lives, about whether, no matter what we do, it necessarily comes out "all right, O. K."? We would like to think, at first glance, that we can really do nothing that might be ultimately serious, ultimately worthy of eternal punishment. But if we cannot ever do anything to which such dire consequences are attached, we have to wonder whether we can do anything worthwhile either. Are the good things we do likewise not in any sense our responsibility? We have to wonder, indeed, on such an hypothesis, whether we, by our own choices, can do anything at all, whether we may not be living in a deterministic world in which neither we nor our actions really matter? In other words, when spelled out, much is at stake with each doctrine, not least one so perplexing as that of Hell, even though we often do not, at our peril, reflect enough on it to figure out what its cause might be.

 

Yet, such are the ironies, the concluding statement of The New Yorker's cartoon would also be perfectly orthodox if its setting were not Hell but what Christian tradition called Purgatory, wherein a veteran inhabitant could rightly say to a new comer, "Yes, eventually it will be O. K." The distance between the one and the other doctrine, as this tradition teaches and the cartoon implies, is infinite. Small mistakes of understanding or inference can make enormous differences in these matters. This is why thinking and thinking correctly are also essential elements to our spiritual lives. We sometimes like to maintain that accuracy and clarity of what it is we hold are really not important. All that counts is how we "feel" about something, including our own deeds. But this view, however popular, is very superficial. It ignores the importance of our active reason in all that we do. The teaching about Hell is that there really can be terrible things that free creatures can and do choose, actions against unknown human beings, each of infinite worth, against friends, against mankind itself. And while these crimes, sins, or disorders may be forgiven, even the worst of them, still they may not be ignored or treated as if they did not happen or matter.

Thus, if we insist that whatever we choose is legitimate, no matter what it is we do, we have succeeded in setting ourselves up as gods who decide what is good and what is evil against any permanent objective standard. Not even God can change a will fixed on itself. Hell, when rightly sorted out, is merely the consequence of living totally with our own creations, our own choices depended on nothing but ourselves. Purgatory, however, that so often misunderstood teaching, simply implies that, at some point, we recognize that we do not create the difference between good and evil. On this basis, actually acknowledging the vast divergence between what we did and what we ought to have done, we repent; that is, we indicate to ourselves and others that what we did, claiming our will or feelings were sufficient justification, was in fact wrong. Sorrow and repentance in this way uphold the structure of what is right. Punishment, as Plato taught us, means that, in accepting it, we acknowledge to everyone, including ourselves, that what we did needs repair, restructuring.

 

Purgatory, as it were, is a place wherein the depths of the evil we did, even when acknowledged, can be accepted by us and atoned for. There is, in this sense, nothing odd or unusual about this sort of understanding of the power and consequences of our choices, especially our wrong choices. What we put into existence by our actions, we are responsible for, for better or for worse. But if we do uphold what we ought to do by our acknowledging that what we did was in fact wrong, then, "yes, things will be O. K." When we freely acknowledge that this deed of ours ought not to have been done, we are in a very different situation than when we do not grant the validity of the standards against which we act. In the latter case, "no, things will not be O.K."

 

II.

The contrast of "bad news" and "good news" is of course of long standing. "Bad news" is not just a matter of listening to CNN every night and believing what we hear. The very word "good news", to recall, is a translation of the Greek word, e?av?e??ov, good news, or better in the older English translation, "good tidings". In the Christmas scene, the angels brought to the shepherds "glad tidings of great joy". This "evangel" was the word used for the Gospel. Since this good news was supposed to be directed to the consideration of everyone, eventually to those of "all nations", even to the ends of the world, it has the connotation of something sent, something sent for a reason, something sent to someone. The good news had the characteristic of faithfulness to what was initially revealed to us. It was a trust. We are not going ,to improve on its scope, on its wonder. The bearers of this good news were not primarily intellectuals or emissaries with their own message. Indeed, if that is what news they bore, news strictly of their own concoction, it was not what was assigned to them, not what we wanted or needed to hear from them.

 

St. Irenaeus, the Second Century bishop, already explained what was at stake in keeping intact the original teachings:

The faith and the tradition of the churches founded in Germany are no different from those founded among the Spanish and the Celts, in the East, in Egypt, in Libya, and elsewhere in the Mediterranean world. Just as God's creatures, the sun, is one and the same the world over, so also does the Church's preaching shine everywhere to enlighten all men who want to come to a knowledge of the truth. Now of those who speak with authority in the churches, no preacher however forceful will utter anything different -- for no one is above the Master -- nor will a less forceful preacher diminish what has been handed down. Since our faith is everywhere the same, no one who can say more augments it, nor can anyone who says less diminish it (Against Heresies, I, 10).

This ancient passage reminds us that it is not our eloquence or lack of it that is important but what we have been given, what is handed down to us. Men who "want to hear the truth" are the ones to whom the truth is directed, again implying that to hear the truth we must want to hear it. However great the diversity of mankind in culture or time, what each person ultimately needs is exactly the same, the accurate description and presentation of what it is that revelation intended to tell us about ourselves, about our world, and about God.

 

The Apostles were sent into the world to speak of these "good tidings". What was intended here was something that everyone would want to know about for it concerned something that was of vital importance to each finite human life. To "evangelize" eventually came to mean to bring this explanation, this good news, to the attention of folks of all nations as something they not only had a right to know about but as something they would want to know about, insist on knowing about, if they could have the opportunity to understand its dimensions. The good news, directed to all men in all regimes, even those hostile to it, was, as it were, an explanation of why human life was in fact more than it appeared to be. If it was at risk in some ultimate sense, as the doctrine of Hell seemed to imply, this risk, by way of paradox, also indicated its ultimate worth even to those who bore the risk.

 

How did human life appear to be? Aristotle had noticed the "wickedness" of human nature left to itself. Augustine eloquently described the disordered consequences of The Fall. To others, like Hobbes, it appeared, in a famous phrase, to be "nasty, brutish, and short". It appeared to contain disaster, foreboding, sickness, deceit, and certainly death as its last and apparently final act. It appears so bad, even today, that some of our courts are helping us to commit suicide to avoid its ramifications. We are rapidly becoming a culture of death, putting in place laws and means to facilitate our personal demise, even with our own consent. Against such a background and experience, even in our own days, anyone who maintained that he had particularly "good news" would seem less a benefactor than a madman.

 

It soon became clear, moreover, that not everyone wanted to hear this good news, for it involved, even demanded, a change of life and its living. It introduced what seemed new and outlandish principles, such as forgiveness and repentance, the sanctity of life and the sacrificial nature of suffering. It announced a new seriousness to our lives. Our faults were not merely missteps but sins, indeed they even seemed to reach the Godhead who loved those whom we offended. Our free will was much more powerful than we had ever anticipated or bargained for. We could actually choose against the order of being; we could conceive ourselves to be ill-created because we were limited by what was right to do, when we preferred to do whatever we wanted to do..

 

III.

April 19, 1778, was an Easter Sunday. James Boswell, the great Scottish biographer of Samuel Johnson, had been to services in St. Paul's Cathedral in London. After services, Boswell visited Johnson but, he tells us, he "did not stay for dinner." However, in a reflective moment, he told Johnson, that he wished "to have the arguments for Christianity always in readiness, that my religious faith might be as firm and clear as any proposition whatever." And why did Boswell want to have his arguments in order? So that, as he tells us, he would not be under the "least uneasiness, when it should be attacked." Boswell obviously expected that some attack from some source or other would always occur, so he wanted his head to be full of good argument. He was rather vain about it, in fact.

 

To this concern of Boswell, Johnson had a surprising response, one that is worth a considerable amount of reflection especially today. "Sir, you cannot answer all objections," Johnson wisely reminded his precocious young friend.

You have demonstrations for a First Cause; you see he must be good as well as powerful, because there is nothing to make him otherwise, and goodness of itself is preferable. Yet, you have against this, what is very certain, the unhappiness of human life. This, however, gives us reason to hope for a future state of compensation, that there may be a perfect system. But of that we are not sure, till we had a positive revelation.

The "positive revelation" is, of course, precisely the "good news". Johnson has here in this little paragraph, no doubt, a brief outline of the essential arguments that Boswell had in mind, arguments mindful of those of Thomas Aquinas himself.

 

Thus, we can know that there is a First Cause, something of its nature, from reason, its power and goodness. But if God is good and powerful, why do we humans experience such "unhappiness"? Johnson was a realist. This unhappiness is a great mystery and cause of revolt. This same unhappiness, however, when experienced, led us to look for some "future state of compensation". Plato and Aristotle had profound considerations about these issues and principles. But they did not get them too far, Johnson thought, since, in the end, they were not "sure". In ultimate things, we need to be "sure". But now that we have a positive revelation, we can be more certain. We cannot use our faith as if it were merely another argument, as Boswell seemed to have wanted. Yet, every denial of what faith taught, itself seemed to lead to a contradiction when adequately thought about. However elusive, this faith seemed to have a persistent, coherent intellectual component. Ideas rooted in faith, when considered and drawn out, seem to increase reason, make things more coherent, not less so.

 

IV.

The Year 2000 has fascinated the present Pope, John Paul II, ever since he was elevated to the Papal See. In a remarkable document entitled, "On the Coming Third Millennium," the Pope has considered it time to re-present, to re-send to mankind the essentials of Christian doctrine, particularly its teaching about God Himself. The groundwork for this re-presentation has been the result of the enormous clarification, reformulation of the Christian faith that has been carried out by this remarkable Pope. The essence of this understanding of the faith is that the single God has manifested Himself as a being of one reality with a diversity of Persons within the one substance or being. In revelation, these Persons are respectively called the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost or Spirit. One of these Persons, the Word, became man, lived in a definite time and place, in the regime of Augustus and Tiberius Caesar.

 

Each of the years coming into the Third Millennium, 1997-2000, is to be devoted to one of the persons of the Trinity, with the Year 2000 devoted to the very Triune God. That is to say, that Catholicism is making it a particular enterprise to re-present its teachings and understandings about God. This endeavor is done under the urgings of the faith itself that maintains that mankind both needs and wants what is revealed to it. While it is important, as both faith and reason teach us, that we freely accept what is revealed, we can also reject it. Moreover, there is a certain urgency, almost as if the way we live has reached a critical point, that our personal disorders are no longer minor ones, inadvertent ones.

 

When we think of it, very little discussion exists in the modern world about God Himself, what He is like. Now this knowledge of the communal or Trinitarian life of the Godhead, in its specific form, is not something that the pagan or modern philosophers figured out by themselves. It was something that needed to be revealed to us, but once revealed, we were to think about its meaning and implications. There is a coherent and plausible explanation of the Godhead that does not deny its mystery, its infinite surpassing of the powers of the human mind. We in fact rarely hear this explanation, rarely often are allowed to hear it. Media, educational, and political control makes considerable effort to prevent a clear and honest explanation of the Godhead from being presented on a wide scale. People themselves are often reluctant to listen to what they ought to hear and live by. Political regimes are content with their "civil religion" or lack of it. They do not want to change. Ways of life are set. Many have made choices, moral, personal choices, which, if unchanged, will prevent personal consideration of the Godhead both as it can be known from reason and from revelation.

 

One of the little attended to aspects of the efforts of John Paul II is his endeavor to call political regimes simply to the minimum of religious liberty wherein an honest and thorough presentation of revelation and its dimensions could be presented without fear of reprisal or punishment. It seems rather ironical that today, on this front, it is not the state demanding civil tolerance of the religions but religion requesting basic civil freedom before the increasingly all-powerful state, including particularly the democratic state. John Paul II, of course, is not interested in religious wars and strife. But he is interested in religious discussion and reflection on what each religion, no matter what it is, teaches and practices.

 

Almost alone of modern public men, John Paul II insists that we clearly and cautiously begin to speak to each other about our past records and differences in a way in which we can acknowledge our past sins and faults and, at the same time, have the courage to think about the truth, wherever we find it. One of the main lessons of the late twentieth century is that the sins of the past, sometimes centuries past, be acknowledged and forgiven. John Paul II is concerned about honest and fruitful discussion among people who are serious and take their lives seriously. He has no doubt it can be done if we observe certain basic civilities and respect one another.

This approach means that beyond politics, beside it, there ought to be everywhere places wherein we can hear and reflect on what it is that revelation is about, what does it teach us about God and how we are to live. Religious liberty is not a cover for religious or philosophical skepticism, but an invitation to seek the religious truth honestly and openly. One can say with little fear of contradiction that the religious world today is far more prepared to listen to arguments against religion than the secular world is prepared to allow and reflect on religious teachings.

 

On February 18, 1996, in Rome, John Paul II repeated for the hundredth time the exact teaching of Catholicism on religious liberty. "There is no relativism or religious indifferentism at the heart of this right (to religious freedom), as if no truth existed and every choice had the same value," John Paul II observed. "Instead, there is the dignity of the human person, who by nature had the right and duty to seek the truth and can do so in a truly human way only if he is actually free." Each human person has first the duty and then the consequent right to seek the truth in a human way. No faith is worth anything at all if it is not rooted in freedom, a freedom not for its own sake as if there was nothing further than making our own choices, but the freedom to seek and live by what is true and what is right.

 

Religious freedom in a political sense means simply that we all ought to have this opportunity, unhindered, to hear what is handed down and, subsequently, to practice and to live by what we hear without fear of political coercion or cultural disdain. In theory, perhaps, there is religious liberty in many parts of the world today. Most civil constitutions at least pay lip-service to it. But the practice and reality are far different. In many places Christians are severely restricted or even repressed, the Sudan being at present the most obvious and least attended to example. Even in democratic societies, perhaps especially there, we can fine a great difficulty in learning about and in practicing one's faith. The growing home school movement in the United States is very often the result of a kind of practical despair at ever getting proper religious teachings in state and even private controlled schools. Almost everywhere, even Catholics have to make special efforts to hear precisely what it is that the Church teachers. The new General Catechism of the Catholic Church has provided a basic text that frees us from so much false teaching and emphasis, a problem that can come sometimes even from within Church circles, as John Paul II reminded us in Veritatis Splendor. But a book is not a book for us, including the Bible and the Catechism, until it is read and assimilated.

 

V.

America is said to be a country in which more people believe in God and go to church than anywhere else in the world. Yet, it is a country of surprising moral disorder. The ancient philosophers at their best taught us that to reform our public lives we had first to reform our personal lives, that tinkering with external things like laws and regimes would little avail us if we were so disordered in soul that we could not recognize what was right. And in many corners of our civilization, religion is looked upon as a threat precisely because it does hold certain truths to be self-evident. It is hardly ever considered for what it actually teaches.

 

The old Epicurean philosophers held a view that we often still find today, indeed it was at the root of Marxism for Marx studied Epicurus. It held that science has proved that belief in the gods was untenable. Religion was said to be caused by fear of the unknown. Once we understood that there were no gods and that everything could be explained, we would not need the gods because we had nothing to fear. There would be no fear of Hell because all could be explained without it. This argument was, of course, known by Thomas Aquinas. He gave it as the second objection (the first was the existence of evil) to his proofs for the existence of God. Science, however, has not shown that it can explain everything including fear of punishment resulting from our evil deeds.

 

In our time, religion is almost always seen as something primarily political, but this is because the political has claimed more and more of our lives. Politics looks more like a religion than religion looks like politics. Religion, contrary to its own inclinations, has been forced to become political because the laws of the public order increasingly embody principles and practices that are directly opposed to the tenets of religion, and of Christianity in particular. There is nothing secret about this. Anyone who objectively, say, reads the morning newspaper followed by reading the Ten Commandments cannot help but being aware that some deep conflicts exist in the soul of the democracies. As the state has gained control over the educational and cultural process, it has excluded anything that it did not directly control.

 

The notion of the separation of church and state only meant something if there was something to separate. The state today, as I have said, often looks more like a religion than it does a state. This is why it might well be maintained that we live in a time of an odd kind of religious civil warfare. Quite clearly, there is a vested interest in relativism, both cultural and personal, as a claim to be the only foundation of that sort of democracy that can deny moral order and encourage practices that militate against the human good. The claim that certain things are right and others wrong means that relativism cannot be right. Every relativism holds that the principle of relativism is true, which if true, means that something is not relative. To be free means to be able to reject those things that are wrong, to live our lives without wrong things being imposed on us. We will have a very different kind of public order, however, if we believe nothing is true but what we choose, or if we believe that what we choose today can be rejected tomorrow, that there is no criterion to establish any difference.

 

VI.

We live in a busy, busy time. St. Paul said, in a famous statement, that faith comes by hearing. But today we can hear and see almost anything. If we add the computer which has immediate access to almost infinite amounts of information, including that of religion, we will soon realize that competition for our attention, for what is important, is all-pervasive and limitless. The problem we most run into when we seek to reconsider the "good news" is that everything, including the "good news" itself, exists within this entire atmosphere of competing voices. Whereas Irenaeus could maintain that the faith was presented in the same way all over the world, we experience great confusion in finding out what this same faith is, even though its essentials can be found if we are persistent enough, if only in the ancient creeds.

 

We are fortunate in our time to have the papacy to be vigorous and clear but we also notice that everything is controverted. A well-known Catholic scholar or politician can usually be found to deny in the public forum almost any religious truth found in the corpus of its teachings. Indeed, the major media will often deliberately find a dissident voice and feature that counter-position as part of its own claim to be objective and thorough in covering religious things. This procedure leads to a double confusion. It obscures what is in fact taught in the Church and it hides what is not orthodox under the appearance of orthodoxy.

 

In his homily in Central Park in New York City (October 7, 1995), John Paul II recalled the Christmas song he used to sing in his homeland. "I remember a song I used to sing in Poland as a young man, a song which I still sing as Pope, which tells about the birth of the Savior. On Christmas night in every church and chapel, this song would ring out, repeating in a musical way the story told in the Gospel.... The same story is told in the beautiful hymn 'Silent Night', which everyone knows." From this Christmas scene we get the very terminology of the "good news", the "glad tidings". Revelation includes a series of events that happened in human time, each of which is part of a whole, an interrelated, coherent explanation of what we are and what is our destiny. We ourselves are caught up in the working out of God's plan for mankind, a plan that includes the particular destiny of each of us.

 

We sometimes think that, because of the extraordinary diversity of religions and philosophy that different people have different destinies. Yet, however diverse the explanations of what human destiny might be like, in fact there can be only one destiny; or to put it more accurately, we ultimately all have the choice of accepting or rejecting the same destiny. There is a divine plan or purpose. The order of its accomplishment has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We all belong to this plan that is not designed for itself or for some abstract collectivity but for each of us. Every human being ever born on this Planet, or even ever conceived for that matter, has the same destiny, which is to enjoy forever the divine glory. Adult, responsible human beings can, however, positively reject this destiny.

Though we cannot be certain of this, some, perhaps as St. Augustine thought, many do reject this gift offered to them. This ominous possibility of things ultimately not being "O.K." is what is at stake in living out our lives, in our own time and place, whenever and wherever that might be. Were our freedom not involved in our destiny, we could not be the kind of beings we are. Certain activities must be free, those that indicate specifically what we love and we admire. Likewise, what is in fact good and the origin of what is good, when spelled out, contain the characteristics of personhood. The divinity, to the enjoyment of which we each are created, is not an inert thing or a sort of vague celestial energy, but an infinite being whose inner life consists of the ordered interchange of three persons.

 

The "good news" as it is conceived in Christian understanding is that we are called to be something beyond what we could possibly expect to be due to us on the basis of a realistic understanding of our own finite nature, an understanding that we can and ought to acquire by reflecting on and examining what we are. At the origin of creation is a tremendous risk that God took in forming beings other than Himself. We do not often think of it this way. But none of us would want someone to love us if he were forced to do so. The principle involved is exclusive to us human beings. Rather we must say that however little we would want someone to love us who did not choose to do so, so much the less would God want someone to love Him who did not choose to do so. The whole drama of creation is contained in this simple observation.

 

This relationship of man and God, when we think about it, forms the context and, yes, the suspense of human existence on this earth. What is going on in mankind's history, at its deepest level, is the presenting to each human person, also through human means -- the going forth to teach all nations -- this good news. If there were not in every generation those who did not want this understanding of human destiny to be known and did not want life to be practiced according to its norms, human beings would have known accurately and objectively long ago the essential outlines of their destiny, something they still do not know on a universal scale today.

 

But while there is only one destiny for each human being, there are many competing explanations of human existence. The history of wars and rumors of wars, of internal strive and personal disorder, results largely from these competing explanations. And it is no little thing that a human being properly understand that for which he is created, for what he exists. Faith includes and is directed to intelligence. What is perhaps unique about our time is that we all, even ordinary people, have the possibility of confronting the single destiny of mankind within the myriads of explanations of this destiny.

 

Today, it is quite possible to have an accurate historical and doctrinal account of every religion and philosophical position claiming to be able to explain man's nature and destiny. We can know what the various sects of Islam teach and practice, for example. We can classify and compare We know about Buddhism and Hinduism, Mormonism, Marxism, and the New Age. We have read the philosophers. The era of government trying to prevent other religious or philosophic explanations than the official one is not completely over, to be sure. China with its one-third of the world's population remains mostly a closed society, still largely confined by sophisticated modern force. The charges that private and public media in democracies are biased against belief likewise have much to be said for them. Still, with the computer, fax, CD, e-mail, tape-recordings, books, telephone, and television, it is almost impossible that accurate information cannot be somehow attained.

 

At first sight, this multiplicity of means might sound like a worst-case Tower of Babel revisited. And this very variety does present a formidable challenge just to know what sorts of understandings are available. Yet, we have the one destiny. It is possible that some, many do not achieve it. We all must, in any case choose it. Moreover, there are not "many" ways to this same salvation, but only one way. If there is anything new about the good news, or better about the way it is to be known, it is that we no longer deal with one another in ignorance. We have an active engagement at many levels about our differences and similarities. The great question is how we choose. We know that those who strive through their own lights to seek the will of God, however it is perceived, will not be denied God's graces. But we also know that our differences, in so far as they can be resolved, are not to be neglected. Our procedures are not based in relativism. It is part of the very good of human intelligence and freedom that we do not deny what we hold and are.

 

VII.

In conclusion, I might say that in one sense the forces standing against the human good and the truth of revelation in our time, forces that seem so formidable, may in fact be very weak. The suddenness of the collapse of Marxism, an empire that we can see better in retrospect did have much evil connected with it, perplexes our social sciences because it really does not appear to have an identifiable scientific cause.

 

At his Trial, in a passage that defines the heart of our civilization, Socrates had said that we can escape death in battle if we throw away our arms and run away, that if we are unscrupulous enough we can always escape death, at least for a while. The difficulty, he added, "is not so much to escape death; the real difficulty is to escape from doing wrong." Then he added that "nothing can harm a good man either in life or after death, and his fortunes are not a matter of indifference to the gods." Even if the good man, the martyr, is killed by the state, he cannot be harmed.

 

Recently, I came across a paperback edition of J. R. R. Tolkien's Unfinished Tales in a book store in Virginia. I mentioned finding this book in a class of mine. I was surprised that a couple of the students had already read it. One student told me a couple of weeks later that he checked the book out of the library and read it again. In the Tale entitled "Narn I Hîn Húrin", there is an encounter between Morgoth, the Prince and origin of Evil, and the human hero Húrin after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Húrin had fallen into the hands of the Evil Ainur, Morgoth, who wanted him to reveal a secret that he was forbidden to reveal.

 

This brief encounter repeats the lesson of Socrates in its own way but in the light of the classic spiritual tradition of not dealing with a prince of evil. In fact, it recalls the scene in Genesis in which Satan, speaking to Eve, about violating the prohibition to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, told her that in telling them that they would die, that God lied.

"You have learned the lesson of your masters by rote," said Morgoth. "But such childish lore will not help you, now they are all fled away."

"This last then I will say to you, thrall Morgoth," said Húrin, "and it comes not from the lore of the Eidar, but is put into my heart in this hour. You are not the Lord of Men, and shall not be, though all Arda (earth) and Menel (heavens) fall into your dominion. Beyond the Circles of the World you shall not pursue those who refuse you."

"Beyond the Circles of the World I will not pursue them," said Morgoth. "For beyond the Circle of the World there is Nothing. But within them they shall not escape me, until they enter into Nothing."

"You lie," said Húrin (Ballantine, p. 7).

Here are all the elements of our destiny -- the power of evil in the world is real, but it cannot stand. It is based on a lie. For those who think this world is everything, that beyond it there is nothing, they cannot see the rejection of doing evil. The courage it takes looks foolish to them.

 

"It is good to have the arguments for Christianity in readiness." "The faith and the tradition of the churches founded in Germany are no different from those founded among the Spanish and the Celts...." We see "the unhappiness of human life" that leads us to hope for "a future state of compensation .... But of that we are not sure, till we had a positive revelation." "We cannot act as if no truth existed and every choice had the same value." "On every Christmas night, in every church and chapel, this song would ring out, repeating in a musical way, the story told in the Gospel." "The difficulty is not to escape death; the real difficulty is to escape from doing wrong."

Evil claims for itself something that it cannot deliver.

 

In the Circles of the World, evil and its prince lie to us. This is its intrinsic weakness, why it can disappear in a moment of blessedness.

 

The bad news is that "it is not going to be O.K."

 

The "good news" is that, if we so choose, it is.