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George MacDonald (3) – Goodness & Evil

May 11, 2009

MacDonald came more and more to believe that the sects and churches sometimes actively hinder the doing of God’s will and the spreading of the genuine Good News. He revered those pastors and churchmen who used their position and pulpits to spread the love of Jesus and his Father (as in the character of Thomas Wingfold, Curate) but some of his hardest words were directed against those who said “Lord, Lord” and made not the slightest effort to do God’s will.

The corollary of this is that George MacDonald was convinced that those who follow their consciences and their highest ideals would be saved. The doctor in “Robert Falconer” expresses this belief vis-a-vis a good Brahmin he had known. It is not that MacDonald would ever have equated the Brahmin’s beliefs with those of Christianity, but while showing the great gaps in the Brahmin’s life because of his defective beliefs, nevertheless he is confident of his salvation because of his goodness. He believed that when a good man is eventually presented with the vision of the Good Man, he will fall down before him in penitence, gratitude and love, and be led joyfully into the Kingdom.

But George MacDonald knew that all men are not good and do not always follow the best they have learned. His novels contain some horrifying descriptions of evil: personal malevolence, ruining life after life; drink-sodden women of the street; starved children living in squalour; puffed-up wealthy bullies causing the poor to despair. And in his works of fantasy, especially in Lilith, which has been called the crown of  his works, Satanic evil is powerfully portrayed. MacDonald was no blind optimist hoping that somehow all would turn out well. He knew – with a knowledge based on a tested faith – that in the end the God of love would triumph. But he also knew that the only way to that triumph was through the Cross of Christ.

That is why MacDonald often seems to glorify suffering. He sometimes comments favourably in the novels about the suffering being experienced by one of his characters, in a seemingly callous way. But we soon see that he is not glorying in that suffering as a sadist, but rather as a surgeon. He sees that the present pain is needed, to lay bare the spiritual malignancy so that it may be removed or healed. Suffering is just the necessary means to a great end – the development of a full-grown son of God.

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