The Vision of George MacDonald

I saw a crowd—priests and laymen—speeding, hurrying, darting away, up a steep, crumbling height. Mitres, hoods, and hats rolled behind them to the bottom. Every one for himself, with hands and feet they scramble and flee, to save their souls from the fires of hell which come rolling in along the hollow below with the forward ‘pointing spires’ of billowy flame. But beneath, right in the course of the fire, stands one man upon a little rock which goes down to the centre of the great world, and faces the approaching flames. He stands bareheaded, his eyes bright with faith in God, and the mighty mouth that utters his truth, fixed in holy defiance. His denial comes from no fear, or weak dislike to that which is painful. On neither side will he tell lies for peace. He is ready to be lost for his fellow-men. In the name of God he rebukes the flames of hell. The fugitives pause on the top, look back, call him lying prophet, and shout evil opprobrious names at the man who counts not his own life dear to him, who has forgotten his own soul in his sacred devotion to men, who fills up what is left behind of the sufferings of Christ, for his body’s sake—for the human race, of which he is the head. Be sure that, come what may of the rest, let the flames of hell ebb or flow, that man is safe, for he is delivered already from the only devil that can make hell itself a torture, the devil of selfishness—the only one that can possess a man and make himself his own living hell. He is out of all that region of things, and already dwelling in the secret place of the Almighty.

He trusts in God so absolutely, that he leaves his salvation to him—utterly, fearlessly; and, forgetting it, as being no concern of his, sets himself to do the work that God has given him to do, even as his Lord did before him, counting that alone worthy of his care. Let God’s will be done, and all is well. If God’s will be done, he cannot fare ill. To him, God is all in all. If it be possible to separate such things, it is the glory of God, even more than the salvation of men, that he seeks. He will not have it that his Father in heaven is not perfect. He believes entirely that God loves, yea, is love; and, therefore, that hell itself must be subservient to that love, and but an embodiment of it; that the grand work of Justice is to make way for a Love which will give to every man that which is right and ten times more, even if it should be by means of awful suffering—a suffering which the Love of the Father will not shun, either for himself or his children, but will eagerly meet for their sakes, that he may give them all that is in his heart.

George MacDonald

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7 Responses to The Vision of George MacDonald

  1. Logan Polk says:

    Thank you Fr. Aidan for being one of my introductions to my new favorite theologian. I have been voraciously devouring “Lilith” ever since you talked about it previously. Which one of his works is this dialogue from? It reminds me of the words of the Pure Lands Buddhism founder, who himself may have been a Hidden Christian in Japan, Shinran Shonin (he was alive 200 years before the Catholics arrived to Japan, but lived 200 years or so removed from when the Assyrian Church of the East made its evangelizing attempts in the region, and carried some form of the Gospel of Matthew in the form of a Sutra with him wherever he went, though we don’t know if he understood the true significance, according to Japanese-Assyrian researcher Rev. Ken Joseph. Shinran essentially brought monotheism to Buddhism through the worship of the Amida Buddha, or Buddha of the Eternal Light. Given the ACOE in China and Japan was called the “Luminous Religion” or “Religion of Light” I think this has more than 1 significant parallel, among many other parallels, which come from his book “Lost Identity”)

    “‘No root’ means that at the beginning I did not know to revere the Tathágata, and
    did not entrust myself to the dharma and Sangha. World-honored one, if I
    had not encountered the Tathágata, the World-honored one, I would have
    undergone immeasurable suffering for countless, incalculable kalpas in the
    great hell. Now I meet the Buddha. With the virtue I have acquired from
    this meeting, I will destroy the blind passions and evil mind of sentient
    beings!’

    The Buddha said, ‘Excellent, excellent, Great King! Now I know that you
    will without fail be able to destroy the evil mind of sentient beings.’

    ‘World-honored one, if I can clearly destroy sentient beings’ mind of evil,
    even if I were to dwell in Avici hell constantly for innumerable kalpas,
    undergoing pain and suffering for the sake of sentient beings, it would not
    be painful.'” (from the Collected Works of Shinran Shonin, p. 163)

    This passage comes from a much, much longer parable on the nature of Hell, but we can see here that Shinran taught the idea that, like MacDonald up there, even the dead can quelch the fires of Hell that will crash over us in our lives, and surely that one will be one of the saved, for the sake that all men eventually will. Shinran taught that message loud and clear as well.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Logan, click on the George MacDonald’s name at the end. The link will take you to the novel in which the passage may be found: David Elginbrod.

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I see there is a free, volunteer-read audiobook of it at LibriVox.org (17 hours and 44 minutes long, with all 71 chapters loaded separately), though – as always – listeners will have to see what they think of the reader and the recording quality.

        (I might add, there are a great number of his books, and shorter works, available, there – though I think Lilith is the only one I’ve listened to right through, so far – with much enjoyment – though with audiobooks as with much else, there is a lot of truth to ‘de gustibus…’.)

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Come to think of it (after hitting ‘Post Comment’), I have also listened to at least the (to my mind superb) recording of The Princess and the Goblin by the late Andy Minter – and maybe some other of the ‘fantasy’/’fairy tale’ works!

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  2. Sean Maddigan says:

    Father,

    I absolutely love George Macdonald, and he helped me through one of the most difficult periods in my life. I believe I found this blog because of a post you made about him. One thing I have struggled reconciling in his theology is the meaning of baptism. He strongly insists in multiple unspoken sermons that we are all children of the Father and the doctrine of adoption is a misinterpretation of Paul. However, he also says that we are not “true sons” unless we do the Father’s will. I have read Ratzinger make a similar commentary in Jesus of Nazareth, but my big question is what role does baptism play in “becoming a child of God”? Also, on a more pastoral note, I really struggle with accepting the beautiful portrait Macdonald paints of God at times. I begin to accuse myself of wishful thinking in prayer. Do you have any advice on how to overcome that. Thank you!

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      Not being eastern Orthodox myself, I too would be interested in the Orthodox understanding of sacraments. I myself understand them as physical incarnations of a spiritual reality.
      As you say, following MacDonald, we cannot receive the benefits of sonship unless we live it, and we cannot live it unless we commit ourselves fully to do so, and we cannot so commit unless we accept and receive the spirit that enables us to do so. My understanding is that this is what takes place in baptism, and its external form is as it is because this was chosen and commanded by God as the most suitable for ourselves.

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  3. Oh my! I like this! Then, I tend to like George MacDonald’s writing.

    “that man is safe, for he is delivered already from the only devil that can make hell itself a torture, the devil of selfishness—the only one that can possess a man and make himself his own living hell.”

    Yes!

    “Let God’s will be done, and all is well. If God’s will be done, he cannot fare ill. To him, God is all in all.”

    YES! How else could I even BE a Christian?

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