The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. — John 1.5
It has been difficult to process how our world changed in 2016. Terrorism has become the new norm in almost every part of the world, nationalism and xenophobia have won the moment, and we now use the term “post-truth” to assuage the harsh reality that a large part of our culture is ambivalent—even partial—to the lies that form their worldview.
Yet, for people of faith, we do not lose hope. I am reminded of one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s letters, sent to his son Christopher toward what would be the end of World War II. The elder Tolkien navigates the present darkness and, as he does in his books, finds hope that penetrates the heart.
30 April 1944
I have decided to send you another air letter, not an airgraph, in the hope that I may so cheer you up a little more… I do miss you so, and I do find all this mighty hard to bear on my own account and on yours. The utter stupid waste of war, not only material but moral and spiritual, is so staggering to those who have to endure it. And always was (despite the poets), and always will be (despite the propagandists)—not of course that it has not is and will be necessary to face it in an evil world.
But so short is human memory and so evanescent are its generations that in only about 30 years there will be few or no people with that direct experience which alone goes really to the heart. The burnt hand teaches most about fire.
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 vapor, 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 aeternitaris [(in light of the eternal)]. All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labors 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.