Mysticism

Julian of Norwich: The problem of evil

This extract from Revelations of Divine Love is chapter 32 from the thirteenth revelation. Here Julian discusses the problem of evil and carefully skirts around the teachings of the church. She explains the importance of faith and offers a reminder that we can’t know how God achieves his plan. What seems impossible to us, isn’t impossible to God.

“On one occasion, our Lord God said, ‘All shall be well’ and on another he said, ‘You will see that all manner of things shall be well.’ The soul can find several meanings in these two utterances. One was that he wants us to know that he not only looks after the important, grand things, but also for the little and small, humble and simple things. That is what he meant when he said, ‘All manner of things shall be well’ because he wants us to know that not even the smallest thing will be forgotten.

Another meaning is this: we see that evil things happen and they cause such harm that we cannot imagine that any good will come of them. As we contemplate these things in grief and sorrow, we cannot resign ourselves as we should to the positive contemplation of God. The reason for this is that our intellect is now so blind, so debased and so simple that we are incapable of knowing the marvellous and sublime Power, Wisdom and Goodness of the blessed Trinity. This is what he meant when he said,

‘You will see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well.’

It is as if he said, ‘Take care to have faith and trust now and in the end you will really see the whole thing with perfect joy.’ And similarly, in those same words quoted earlier, ‘I have the power to make all things well,’ I see a great comfort in the work that God still has to do. There is a deed which the blessed Trinity shall perform on the Last Day, I think, but when this deed will be performed and how it will be done is not known to any of God’s creatures under Christ and will remain hidden until it happens.

The reason why God wants us to know about this future deed is that he wants us to be more at peace and more easy in our minds and to stop thinking about disturbing things that inhibit our true joy in him. This great deed of our Lord God, planned before the beginning of time, treasured and hidden in his bosom, is known only to himself: by it he will make all things well. For just as the blessed Trinity created everything from nothing, so too the Trinity will make all those things well which are not right.

I found this a marvellous insight and as I considered our faith I marvelled, saying, ‘Our faith is grounded in God’s word and our faith tells us that we who believe in God’s words will be entirely saved. One article of our faith is that many creatures will be damned: for example, the angels, whose pride caused them to fall from heaven, who are now demons; and many here on earth who died outside the faith of Holy Church – that is, the pagans and those who received baptism, but who live unchristian lives and die out of charity. All these will be condemned to hell forever, as Holy Church teaches and commands us to believe.’

When I thought about all this, it seemed impossible to me that everything would be well, as our Lord was now revealing to me. But I had no other answer during this revelation about our Lord God, but only this, ‘What is impossible to you is not impossible to me. I shall keep my word in all things and I shall make all things well.’ So, by the grace of God, I was taught that I must hold firmly to the faith, as I had previously understood it, and at the same time that I should firmly believe that all things will be well, as our Lord God has revealed to me.

For the great deed that our Lord is going to perform will enable him to keep his word and will make all that is not well right. How that will be done nobody under Christ knows – and never will know until it has been performed. That is how I understood our Lord’s meaning at the time.”


Quoted from The English Mystics by Karen Armstrong, referencing the 1901 text by Grace Warrack.

Next extract: On the importance of prayer

Read the whole series here

Image: Tornado

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