One of the most fascinating things about Julian of Norwich’s reflections — and what makes them truly stand out from so much of the writing of her time — is how she comes to see God’s love as being so immense that it renders everything else, including evil and sin, so small as to be meaningless. Sin is indeed “no thing“ (Ch 11), and will it may cause pain in the world, at the end of the day, “all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well” (Ch 27).* This last refrain becomes a major theme of the section of Revelations of Divine Love that lasts from chapter 27 through chapter 34, and then recurs later in the work as she starts to bring her thoughts together. And so it’s worth thinking through further.
Like any sane person with any experience and knowledge of the world, Julian struggled to accept this idea that “all will be well.” She mounted all sorts of opposition to it, but God wasn’t having it. As she recounts it:
And so our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts which I could raise, saying most comfortingly: I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well, and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well. (Ch 31)
Christ doesn’t answer her objections, but merely reiterates the point, using all sorts expressions to remove any wiggle room or doubt. He can and will make all things well — and she will see it for herself. There are hints of such a teaching in the Scriptures, but only hints. We might think of John’s statement that the Incarnation was motivated out of God’s love for the whole world (3.16), using the word kosmos, which refers to everything around us rather than oikoumene, which referred to the world of humanity. Or, Paul’s claim that “the whole creation has been groaning together as it suffers together the pains of labor” (Romans 8.22) waiting for its salvation in Christ. But in this world of ‘groaning’, it’s still difficult to conceive of all being well. This is a matter of hope, of faith, of a trust in something that is impossible for us to see right now.
This message is intended not to confound us, but “in these five words God wishes us to be enclosed in rest and in peace” (Ch 31). For it means that God’s deepest “longing in love for us” is “to gather us all here into him, to our endless joy” (Ch 31). She continues in the next chapter:
He wants us to know that he takes heed not only of things which are noble and great, but also of those which are little and small, of humble men and simple, of this man and that man. … [T]he smallest thing will not be forgotten. Another understanding is this: that there are many deeds which in our eyes are so vily done and lead to such great harms that it seems to us impossible that any good result could ever come from them. And we contemplate this and sorrow and mourn for it so that we cannot rest in the blessed contemplation of God as we ought to do. And the cause is this: that the reason which we use is now so blind, so abject and so stupid that we cannot recognize God’s exalted, wonderful wisdom, or the power and the goodness of the blessed Trinity. … [It is] as if he said: Accept it now in faith and trust, and in the very end you will see truly, in fullness and joy. … For just as the blessed Trinity created all things from nothing, just so will the same blessed Trinity make everything well which is not well. (Ch 32)
What she’s saying is that our experiences of the world — experiences of disappointment, of sickness, of loss, of betrayal, of being sinned against — are such that we can’t imagine a different world where all of this might be redeemed for God’s purposes, for our salvation and God’s glory. It’s a failure of imagination — a reasonable one, to be sure, but a failure nonetheless. And so we must take it on faith, trusting in God’s goodness and greatness that, as Paul put it, “all things work together for good.” “All this,” she concludes, “… is a solace against sin; for in the third revelation, when I saw that God does everything which is done, I did not see sin, and then I saw that all is well. But when God did show me about sin, then he said: All will be well” (Ch 34).
This won’t be until our ultimate salvation, when all things are recapitulated into God. And so, until then, it is a matter of trust. And if we can get there, hard as it may be, it is also potentially a matter of great joy and comfort, and consolation in our times of suffering and pain.
* Unless noted, all quotes are taken from the long text of Julian or Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love as translated and set in Julian of Norwich, Showings, translated by Edmund Colledge and James Walsh. The Classics of Western Spirituality. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978.
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