The Theodicy of the Fall

The same reader who asked me to justify the ways of God to man on the question of Hell now returns to ask about the justice of the Fall of Man.

The conversation was prompted by this parable

Galadriel the Elfin queen was born in the Uttermost West, and gazed in her youth upon the white strand strewn with pearls leading to Mount Everwhite, where the unstained and angelic powers dwell, and the light from the gold trees and the silver in the First Age mingled. For the sake of ambition, and to found her own kingdom, she fled from the perfection of those blessed shores of Aman, and came to Middle Earth, which suffers under the tyranny of Melkor the Enemy, and death and disease and all unhallowed things thrive and multiply. A child of hers is born in Lothlorien, in Middle Earth, and has never seen the Blessed Lands, and the Angelic Powers of those lands has placed a barrier of fogs and enchantment and impassible seas between the Uttermost West and the sad shores of the moral world.

But, in their compassion, the Powers have allowed that any ship departing the Gray Havens may indeed find the one straight path back to the homeland of the elder race, and have their tears sponged away. The only requirement is that any crimes or misdeed performed by the elfs while tarrying in Middle Earth be confessed and forgiven, for it so happens, by some mystery the elves do not understand, some greater power from beyond even the Uttermost West, a son of Eru, the One, has been granted power to forgive.

Now, imagine this child of Galadriel, call him Gallandus, should reason thus with himself: “I do not know for certain if the tales told by my sire and dame be true of a mountain that is ever white, where the gods in peace and splendor reign, or a farther shore where no sorrow and no warfare ever comes. But for two ages of man, I have marched in battle against the orcs and unclean things of the Dark Lord, and seen sorrows unnumbered, and shed tears, and never again shall bloom for me the glorious trees of my youth I once knew, nor can I find the entwives, whom my ancestors taught the powers of speech.

“Suppose the tale is false, what then? Shall I endure the clouded oceans mazed with spells and haunted by monsters to reach no shore? What if only endless wastes, or an hemisphere without solid land, is all the prow of the Last White Ship shall find?

“If the Powers were just, they would not have imposed the sentence of my mother’s exile on me: for I was not born when she removed from that long lost world of perfection and came to this middle earth of sorrows. To punish me for my mother’s crimes when I am as innocent as new-fallen snow is gross injustice! And if the Powers are not just, I have no desire to dwell in their happy fields. Indeed, the idea of a power both angelic and unjust is a paradox: I cannot believe that they exist at all, or their homeland of which I have heard tell.”

Is there anything wrong with the reasoning of Gallandus son of Galadriel? Can you detect any flaw in his logic?

My interlocutor’s questions below are in block quotes. Italic text is his, Roman text is him quoting me.

First, it seems clear to me that the arrival of sin is seen not as the accretion of an evil, but as the discarding of a good. Most of your Middle Earth parable appears to be crafted toward that end. Since I am a skeptic about the very concept of sin, I see no reason why I should dispute this point, and I can discuss it as if that definition is a given.

I am not sure I agree, or see the relevance is has once way or the other. In general, Christian theology asserts that evil is a lack of loss of a good, or a corruption of it, or an attempt to enjoy a good in a wrong way, wrong amount, or at the wrong time.

Let me return to your statements and questions

(Gallandus) cannot inherit an inheritance his mother forswore, no more than I can inherit a property my father sold to another before I was born. So what claim has he to the lost paradise?

I do not see this as an entirely fit analogy. When my father sells a tangible property, he is selling something finite. It is not possible for more than one person to hold title to the same property at the same time, therefore he clearly forgoes the possibility of deeding the property to me. But the “lost paradise” is infinitely shareable, is it not?

Let us tread carefully here, because you and I are on opposite sides of the universe, and we share nothing in common, not premises, nor methods, nor sense of proportion.

I do not see anything inappropriate in the analogy. Adam and Eve left paradise, both as a physical spot somewhere in Northeastern Africa, and as a state of mind, where they were no longer blessed with the divine familiarity and clarity of mind and will which was the blessing of prelapsarian man. Once they have left, they no longer own it to pass it along to their children. No creature can bestow on its heirs a nature other than its own.

In law, if I own an intellectual property, say a book or trademark or formula, which is infinitely shareable, and sell it to the Disney corporation, so that it is no longer mine, then I cannot turn around and bequeath it to my heirs, since it is no longer mine to give. The fact that the property is one that can be shared makes no difference once I have lost it. The fact that Eden was large does not mean that when Adam leaves it behind him, and gives birth to Cain, Cain is of necessity not born in Eden.

So the analogy is sound. You seem to be trying to make the argument that Gallandus has the right to live in Valinor, or Cain to live in Eden, on the grounds that he did not voluntarily depart from it. My argument is that it is illogical to speak of departing from the place where one never dwelt, that this is not what the word ‘depart’ means.

As far as I can tell, your objection is that you live in a reality where children take after their parents. Or perhaps you object to the concept that prelapsarian man had the authority and ability, by choosing death and disobedience, to change human nature for all his heirs. Well, a second prelapsarian man, Christ, has used that same authority and ability, by choosing obedience and life, to change human nature for all his adopted heirs. The difference is that Cain’s fall is involuntary, but Saint Paul’s conversion is voluntary. And I am not sure how or why any fault can be laid at the feet of God for this, rather than at the feet of Adam, or Cain, or you, or me.

Your argument so far consists of a fixed purpose to blame God for man’s failure to follow God voluntarily. Your argument logically implies that God is without blame if and only if He forces man involuntarily to follow God voluntarily. The concept involves a logical self contradiction.

God is life and is the source of life. God is light and the source of light. God is good and is the source of goodness. Those who disobey God depart from him, a sentence of exile which they pronounce by themselves on themselves. Those who depart from life, light, and goodness are heirs to death, darkness and evil, a state fitliest called Hell.

Every instant in Adam’s life which was not Hell was an instant of the mercy of God holding away the justice Adam’s rebellion had called upon himself. Should Adam have been stricken with sterility rather than with the so called curse of having to work for a living? You would be harsher than God. Would it have been better, more in keeping with justice, had you never been born rather than to be born in the fallen world with a fallen nature you inherited from your ancestors? That is the counsel of blank despair, and the voice of death.


I myself am guilty of rebellion against God, independent of anything Adam has done.

Why, and how?

Why? Each time I sin, I rebel anew against God. I would here list my sins, but you are not my confessor, and they would bore if they did not horrify you.

How? Adam did not take away my free will. Each time I rebel against God, I am in my right mind and in command of my wits. I cannot blame others for my acts.

I can perhaps blame Adam for my human nature, which is corrupt; but Saint John and Saint Justin-Martyr for whom I am named had my same human nature and were saved from their sins.

Can not Gallandus fairly say, “Those elven-queens who remained across the western sea remain there in bliss to this day. So indeed do their children and their children’s children. The fact that I have been constrained to toil and battle here in the world of Men, (dedicated to the struggle against the Enemy, I might add!!) is no more a failure merited by me, than their blessed status is a success merited by them.”

No.  That is pure envy speaking. That is the child of a poor man claiming the child of a rich man has wronged him by forcing him to be born poor. What a stupid accusation to make. Gallandus, in effect, is blaming his mother for not having drowned him at birth.

It is not logical to argue that no such offer should be trusted or accepted on the grounds that the injustice is so great that no alleviation should be accepted, for then where does the injustice lay? ………..what happens when Gallandus refuses to consider returning to Valinor? Whose is the blame then?

It’s not unknown in human history for men to refuse to accept a reward for themselves when they believe that their fellows, or those they have determined to protect, have not been similarly treated. Is this “logical”?? To a utilitarian, of course not. But those who have done so have often been regarded as heroes.

The response is illogical and off topic.

That petulant man who blames the firemen for not preventing a fire he caused and who now blocks the window to prevent his wife and children from going down the ladder to safety is not a hero but a numbskull.

I asked you if the unfairness of blaming God for the Fall of Man is sufficient cause for rejection the Salvation of Man. And you gave me a nonsense answer in reply.

Somehow, I am not seeing the punishment, unless you are saying that female fertility and male productivity deserve to be painless and cost no sweat. If that is the price we pay for not being animals, what right have we to rail against the price?

The only reason I can comprehend for the pain of human childbirth is the evolutionary explanation that the human braincase was on a different track than the human pelvis. To consider that pain anything but a biological coincidence seems to me horrific, and I would not willingly inflict it upon the wickedest of women.

You did not answer the question. The answer is: we have no right to rail against the human condition, because we have no power, unaided, to change it.

Do you think that the inventor of the epidural anesthetic has rebelled against the will of God, and would you therefore withhold that anesthetic from your wife or daughter?

The question is illogical and off-topic. Rebellion against the will of God consists of violating the commandment to love God and to love one’s neighbor.

Please stay with the argument.

Do you hold God responsible for the sins of man? Well, then you should be pleased that God hung on a cross for three hours and expired in agony, amid jeers and taunts, after being scourged.

If God so planned the world so that a fall into sin was likely, and that a crucifixion therefore would be required, I would say rather that men cannot be blamed for that crucifixion.

But that is not what I asked. Again, you dodge the question.

I asked you if God is to blame for sin entering the world, has not the punishment on Calvary sufficiently atoned for that? You answered that the punishment was His fault, and you say that man cannot be blamed. This is an odd comment,  since I did not ask whether men were to blame for the crucifixion.

In effect, your answer is to blame God for Man’s sins, but to reject when God atones for those same sins on our behalf. This is pure hubris, overweening pride, on your part.

Which is another way of stating the questions I now pose to you. Do you think that it was possible, at the creation of man, that he in fact could have averted the fall?

No.  The only way to avert the fall before the fall would be to reduce man to the status of an automaton, which means, to destroy human nature. Such is a cure worse than the disease, since a destroyed human nature is worse than a corrupted yet salvageable human nature.

Did God know that the fall would take place?

No, not necessarily; but yet contingently. Had Man decided not to Fall, God would have known that beforehand instead. His foreknowledge does not shift the blame.

God, being omniscient, seeing the past and future at once, knew and knows in all eternity; but what he knows of man he knows in a contingent fashion. Hence He knew that Man would fall, but this is contingent upon Man’s decision.

No tiniest breath of foreordainment or necessity breathes upon the balance scales. Lucifer was free to obey or free to fall, as was Adam. They worked their own fate.

Do you blame God for giving rational beings the power to work their own fate? But that is the nature of rational beings: to be rational means to have free will. Not even God can at the same time to the same being both grant and withhold rationality.

Now let me ask you in return: Are trying to blame the God in whom you do not believe for your own sins? Are you refusing to believe in God because you blame Him?

If you find the blameworthy god to be unbelievable and unworthy of belief, keep in mind that this is not the God that exists anywhere but in your imagination.


  1. Comment by Bob McMaster:

    Cogently argued. I do find objections regarding the fall more susceptible to effective reply than others, but it is difficult to see through another’s eyes well enough to understand their objections in way that makes satisfactory response possible. Again, it is also difficult to listen with a mind open enough to consider the argument qua argument rather than simply as a list to be rebutted.

  2. Comment by Stephen J.:

    It seems to me that if Gallandus is objecting to “unjustly” having to be born to suffering in Middle-earth, then for that condition to be a real injustice, there must be a suffering-free good of which he is proveably and undeservingly deprived; i.e. Valinor must exist.

    If his objection is to having to take the existence of Valinor on faith, and not being able to know whether his suffering can have true surcease until he actually attempts (in a one-time-only-no-going-back-whatever-the-result action) to return there, then again, for that to be a real injustice others would have to have access to knowledge he does not and cannot; and since the only knowledge of Valinor available is precisely the source he has chosen to be skeptical of, no elf in Endor has any better guarantee than he does.

    It strikes me that this seems to be just another (albeit a very eloquent and lovely) rephrasing of the Problem of Pain: the inability to grasp how an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent God can justly permit His creations to suffer to the degree that they do. I wonder also if some of the distinctions between types of causes (final, material, formal etc.) might be relevant; insofar as God created us and gave us the capacity to sin He is part of what causes sin, but a role in causation does not necessarily equal moral responsibility. (One of the fine distinctions which functionalist, utilitarian mindsets have a tendency to blur: “If Y could not have happened without X then whoever or whatever caused X deserves (at least some of) the blame for Y,” is the reasoning, as shown in many a fine[/sarc] Law & Order episode.)

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      In the hypothetical, Gallandus decides that the Blessed Lands ought not to exist, his reasoning being that if they did exist, his not being born there because his mother in her pride and folly exiled herself to Middle Earth, a land of darkness and sorrow, would be too great an injustice for any land that was truly Blessed to have had tolerated.

      I myself do not see any injustice at all, since I do not see, and cannot imagine, what possible claim he has to be a subject of that happy realm, once his mother, before his birth, rejects and is rejected by the sovereign powers of that place.

      The closest anyone has come so far to answering my question is Mr Ruiz, who make the claim that since the good of being a citizen in paradise does not crowd or diminish the ease and pleasure of other citizens of paradise, therefore … er …. at this point I lost sight of his point. It seemed to be simply an assumption that the mother’s actions ought not to have had an effect on her son, and that she should have the right to pass onto him an inheritance which she no longer possesses. I do not see any logical argument that favors that assumption. I cannot pass onto my heirs a mansion I burned to the ground in a fit of pique, nor one which I lost in a card game, nor one which I donated by irrevocable deed to a tribe of wandering mendicants, nor one which was amerced from my by a bill of attainder, nor which was seized by the crown for public use. I cannot give what I do not possess.

      Mr Ruiz said the analogy was inapt, but I cannot see it as an analogy. The prelapsarian nature of Adam, destroyed by his disobedience to God, cannot be passed along to Cain and Abel and Seth, who are all therefore post-lapsarian,and have the fallen human nature as we understand it, and must labor to eat bread, and their wives give birth in pain.

      I suppose the argument could be made that God, out of a whimsical sense of mercy, could have prevented Adam from giving birth to children like himself, and brought forth a race of spotless beings occupying glorified bodies. Logically, this would have been an abrogation of Adam’s authority as a father, in effect, the same as castrating him. By means of the Crucifixion, the fallen sons of Adam can be redeemed, and the curse of Adam be lifted, if only they forswear their loyalty to the devil and his glamors, or, in other words, if they repudiate the sin of Adam under whose shadow they were born. This is analogous to returning across the baptismal oceans to the paradise of the uttermost West.

      If you allow for the medieval tradition (and I do) you believe that Christ harrowed Hell to recover from its jaws those patriarchs and prophets unfortunate enough to have been born before His earthly ministry. If there is such a provision in the law, or extra effort made by Christ in a fashion unknown to mortal men, the suspicion of His injustice seems unjust.

      At the root, it boils down to two issues: either one believes the agnostic and atheistic view that evil happens for no reason, and indeed evil exists only because men judge the blind machinery of nature to produce results not in keeping with human desire and preference; or one believes evil exists because men through our wickedness brought it into being and by our wickedness sustain and feed it, and by the grace of Christ and only by that grace, can escape and undo and cure the evil. In the first view, it is meaningless, and the second, it is meaningful.

      Just as a practical matter, the human psychology is not suited to believing evil is meaningless. We cannot, like the Stoics imagined to do, convince ourselves that evil is only an arbitrary perception on our part, which we could obliterate by an act of will, by refusing to call pain painful, or call sorrow sorrowful. If evil is meaningless, it is insolvable.

      • Comment by gray mouser:

        I myself do not see any injustice at all, since I do not see, and cannot imagine, what possible claim he has to be a subject of that happy realm, once his mother, before his birth, rejects and is rejected by the sovereign powers of that place.

        Indeed. And yet I personally know more than one person who sees the punishment that man receives for original sin as inherently unjust on the part of God. Your example of not being able to inheret a mansion that has been burned to the ground is, sadly, simply lost on them (I know, I’ve used almost the same example). I think many people don’t get the argument, or at least don’t like it, because of our poor understading of what it means to be a family. You get the good and the bad from your forebears and Adam and Eve are not called our first parents for no reason.

        Now, just as Original Sin (as it pertains to the rest of us) is only a sin analogously so, too, are we only “guilty” of it analogously. But the fact of the matter is, even if the only effect on us was the lack of sanctifying grace (as opposed to that, a weakened will, darkened intellect, and concupiscence) we still wouldn’t warrant heaven. Someone who theorhetically reached a purely natural perfection still couldn’t “deserve” a supernatural reward. It would still only be possible to receive it as a grace.

        And that is something that many people today seems to think they are owed simply because God is supposed to be good. But he runs the Kingdom, not a welfare state.

      • Comment by Stephen J.:

        “It seemed to be simply an assumption that the mother’s actions ought not to have had an effect on her son, and that she should have the right to pass onto him an inheritance which she no longer possesses.”

        Purely for devil’s advocate purposes, I’ll suggest that perhaps a better way to phrase the assumption (as used in the original parable) is that the son should not be punished for the mother’s crimes. It is illogical for me to speak of inheriting a house my father has destroyed, but it is perfectly logical for me to speak of returning to a land from which my father was exiled, if I can demonstrate to a magistrate’s satisfaction that I am not myself guilty of the crimes for which my father was exiled — and if (this is the parable’s key point) the magistrate is sufficiently just that this will be accepted as exoneration.

        “Gallandus'” logic seems to be that if Valinor is sufficiently just, benevolent and powerful to permit the Elves to return, it should be just, benevolent and powerful enough to make more effort to actively rescue those Elves who did not personally exile themselves. Because it did not, it is either impotent, and thus its promise is false on those grounds, or unjust enough to permit suffering it could have prevented, and thus its promise is false on those grounds. This is the paradox Gallandus cannot resolve: He cannot conceive of a Power sufficiently benevolent to want to save him from his suffering, sufficiently powerful to be able to, and sufficiently just to make his consent part of that salvation — but simultaneously either callous, unjust, or impotent enough to permit that suffering without his personal consent to it in the first place.

        The analogy falls down between Gallandus and Adam, of course, because Valinor was not in fact destroyed, nor is Gallandus actually being denied entry to it — he is merely protesting that he was forced by circumstance to go through so much suffering first that his ability to believe in Valinor has been compromised. But it might be worth asking, if only to answer the question: Why is Edenic innocence considered to be such a singular and irreproducible state, such that it cannot be retained for the obedient while being denied to the disobedient, or gifted anew to the next generation even if one generation falls?

        My own answer would probably be a speculation along the idea that when we are talking in terms of the salvation of a people, “generation” may mean something entirely different. In the timespan of Eternity Christ and the Christian life could be argued to be “the next generation” of our species, the next great transformation of our eternal and metaphysical nature, by which the doors to Eden/Heaven are once more reopened to us. But answers like this are seldom convincing to those bedeviled by the Problem of Pain, because the whole point of pain is that it narrows your perspective.

        (Which is why I say “pain” rather than “evil”; it’s not human evil itself, but the suffering God permits it to cause, that is the stumbling block to accepting this explanation for so many people. We are not suited to believing evil is meaningless, but it can be even harder to accept without bitterness the idea that suffering is inflicted upon us for a purpose not our own.)

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Why is Edenic innocence considered to be such a singular and irreproducible state, such that it cannot be retained for the obedient while being denied to the disobedient, or gifted anew to the next generation even if one generation falls?

          Excellent question. I do not know the mind of God. I also know of no one who is obedient. Caine certainly did not have the right frame of mind to return to Eden. As for the other Antediluvians, we know very little of them, aside from their devotion to riot and violence.

          You see, the generations have been invited back to Eden. That is what the atoning blood of Christ is. He is the way back. So I cannot understand the logic of someone who says that because God is so unfair as to not offer the way back to Eden, therefore he will not accept nor trust nor believe that there is a way back when it is offered. Whether one believes the literal Genesis account or not, the logic of the argument is self-refuting: it is refusing the cure on the grounds that the doctor did not offer a cure for a disease with which the patient deliberately infected himself and his family.

          Now the question becomes more subtle. Why is original sin contagious? That I do not know. But if we lived in a universe where it was not contagious, I suspect that righteousness also would not be contagious. If we lived in a universe where it was impossible to share in the sin of the tree in Eden, it most likely would also be impossible to share in the tree on which Our Lord was hung at Calvary.

  3. Comment by Stephen J.:

    On a completely unrelated topic, I note that the ability to edit one’s own comments seems to have been lost. Is this a permanent change going forward?

  4. Comment by Nostreculsus:

    …paradise, … a physical spot somewhere in Northeastern Africa…

    Actually, Paradise is in Nevada, southeast of Las Vegas. On the other hand, Eden is in North Carolina, east of the Blue Rodge Mountains on Old State Highway 87.

    • Comment by Andrew Brew:

      Paradise is also a little to the North-west of Queenstown, on the South Island of New Zealand. I cannot speak for Nevada, but the NZ instance is aptly named. There is a Southern Beech forest there of great beauty – much of Lothlorien was filmed there for the Peter Jackson movies.

      • Comment by Tom Simon:

        Ah, but I have heard good news:

        Naturally, the huge expansion of the New Zealand tourist industry in the wake of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films has placed great strains on the infrastructure of the areas most affected. The beech-forest at Paradise is a particularly favoured destination. The demand for tourist accommodations and other amenities simply cannot be met with the facilities available in Paradise at present.

        In answer to this urgent public need, plans have just been approved to pave Paradise and put up a parking lot. Phase II will include a pink hotel, a large nightclub, and a shopping district with a variety of extremely trendy and expensive boutiques. Access to the whole development will be greatly improved by the construction of a new ten-lane motorway, to be named the Thrakatulûk Turnpike in honour of the films. The last remaining beech-trees will have to be clear-cut in order to make room for this phase of the development; but then, who needs Lothlórien when you have a swinging hot spot?

        • Comment by Stephen J.:

          Don’t it always seem to go?

        • Comment by Nostreculsus:

          The beech trees will still be available to all in the projected tree museum for a nominal admission charge (1.50 NZ$).

          I learn from Wikipedia that Paradise, Nevada “contains most of the Las Vegas Strip, including well-known hotels such as Caesars Palace, the Bellagio, and the MGM Grand. Therefore, many tourists visiting the Las Vegas area are actually spending most of their time in Paradise, rather than in the City of Las Vegas. Despite this, Paradise remains relatively unknown.”

          Cultural attractions of Paradise include the National Atomic Testing Museum , Elvis-A-Rama Museum, the Liberace Museum , and the Pinball Hall of Fame.

          • Comment by Tom Simon:

            Unfortunately, access to the tree museum will remain difficult for the foreseeable future. For reasons not fully understood by economists, the rising rates of divorce and non-married-cohabiting-couples-breaking-up seem to be causing a huge rise in the demand for big yellow taxis.

        • Comment by Andrew Brew:

          Thank you, Mr. Simon, for those cheery tidings. I had better make my return visit in haste, then, before the amenity is too much for me.

  5. Comment by Malcolm Smith:

    It’s the old, old story: once a place gets the reputation of being a paradise, human beings start swarming into it. And it required only two to ruin the original Paradise.

  6. Comment by Gian:

    You assume a deep separation between a child and his parents. It is a modern view that sees autonomous individuals and misses the forest for the trees.

    But even considered biologically, a child comes from his parents. The child is IN them and they are IN him.
    Thus, scriptual language: As we die IN Adam, we shall live IN Christ.
    Also, the sins of the fathers are to be visited on the children, upto third and fourth generation.

  7. Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

    Let us tread carefully here, because you and I are on opposite sides of the universe, and we share nothing in common, not premises, nor methods, nor sense of proportion.


    Mr. Wright, I recognize your substantial time and effort in reviewing my comments and responding in turn.

    But we do, in fact, share nothing in common, at least as far as the subject of this thread (we may in fact share tastes in literature and in statesmen). I believe that you are correct that we are upon opposite sides of the universe, and I desire that fact not to be a source of mutual irritation.

    Therefore I wish to retire from this particular field of debate, although I shall be happy to follow your blog in future and participate where I believe I can do so without appearing to be incendiary. You may take this as the raising of a white flag, or not, as you are so inclined.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I enjoy such speculative discussions more than wine, so with profound regret I apologize for my failure to make the discussion entertaining and interesting to you. I humbly beg your pardon. Had I been more polite and at ease, we could have made the festival last longer. The fault is mine. The worst shame of a host is to be found inhospitable.

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