Archive

Posts Tagged ‘J.R.R. Tolkien’

Acts 21, The Will of God, and a Literary Example

May 2, 2022 Leave a comment

I haven’t posted here at this blog lately, because instead I’ve been writing articles around a different theme, at a new blog site.  For those who are interested, visit my posts at https://ourblessedhope.wordpress.com.  Our Blessed Hope:  Thoughts on Imaginative Christian Writing (particularly J.R.R. Tolkien so far).

The following is a sample article — also at this link.

A recent Sunday sermon was on Acts 21, and in this incident, especially verses 11-14, I was reminded of a similar illustration from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers  — and Faramir’s last words with Frodo.

These verses in Acts 21 tell of when the prophet Agabus visits and makes a “bad news” prophecy, that trouble awaits the apostle Paul in Jerusalem:   the Jews of Jerusalem would bind Paul and hand him over to the Gentiles.  The people, on hearing this, plead with Paul not to go to Jerusalem.  But Paul insists on going to Jerusalem, proclaiming his willingness to be bound and even to die in Jerusalem, and then the people accept this, saying “The Lord’s will be done.”

As harsh as Paul’s experience ended up being, Tolkien’s picture of a similar type of thing appears to be of even worse circumstances —  with great details to engage the reader and to strongly identify with the characters.   This illustration in turn can give us a greater appreciation of the actual trials experienced by the apostle Paul.

In the Middle-Earth event, the place is that of known danger, of some great, ancient evil — Cirith Ungol.  Frodo at first does not know its name, and can only describe the general direction and path of this entrance into Mordor that Gollum has described.  Faramir plays a role similar to Agabus and the people who heard Agabus’ prophecy:  first, in the prophecy of extreme danger, and then — like the people who heard Agabus — strongly advising Frodo not to go there.  Yet, like the apostle Paul – and in a way that both Jesus and Paul in Christ’s steps showed us — Frodo keeps to the will of God (as pictured in the Council of Elrond, and the great task that he must accomplish).  After giving the warnings to Frodo, and seeing Frodo’s determined choice and willingness to his work, Faramir — like the people who accompanied the apostle Paul, in similar effect did the same:  Since he would not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Lord’s will be done.”

It is this feature in Frodo’s character, as well as later events that happen to him, that is in mind when Frodo is commonly referred to as the representation of the Priestly Office of Christ — along with Gandalf the Prophet and Aragorn the King, for the types of Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King in Tolkien’s epic work.  A few excerpts for consideration, from the scene in The Two Towers:

‘Frodo, I think you do very unwisely in this,’ said Faramir. ‘I do not think you should go with this creature. It is wicked.’

‘You would not ask me to break faith with him?’ ‘No,’ said Faramir. ‘But my heart would. For it seems less evil to counsel another man to break troth than to do so oneself, especially if one sees a friend bound unwitting to his own harm. But no – if he will go with you, you must now endure him. But I do not think you are holden to go to Cirith Ungol, of which he has told you less than he knows. That much I perceived clearly in his mind. Do not go to Cirith Ungol!’ … …. Of them we know only old report and the rumour of bygone days. But there is some dark terror that dwells in the passes above Minas Morgul. If Cirith Ungol is named, old men and masters of lore will blanch and fall silent.’

Then a further plea:

It is a place of sleepless malice, full of lidless eyes. Do not go that way!’

Frodo’s response:  ‘But where else will you direct me?’ said Frodo. ‘You cannot yourself, you say, guide me to the mountains, nor over them. But over the mountains I am bound, by solemn undertaking to the Council, to find a way or perish in the seeking. And if I turn back, refusing the road in its bitter end, where then shall I go among Elves or Men?  … ‘Then what would you have me do?’

Faramir: ‘I know not. Only I would not have you go to death or to torment. And I do not think that Mithrandir [another name for Gandalf] would have chosen this way.’

‘Yet since he is gone, I must take such paths as I can find. And there is no time for long searching,’ said Frodo.

‘It is a hard doom and a hopeless errand,’ said Faramir. ‘But at the least, remember my warning: beware of this guide, Sméagol. He has done murder before now. I read it in him.’

Faramir’s final words on this subject:

He sighed. ‘Well, so we meet and part, Frodo son of Drogo. You have no need of soft words: I do not hope to see you again on any other day under this Sun. But you shall go now with my blessing upon you, and upon all your people. … If ever beyond hope you return to the lands of the living and we re-tell our tales, sitting by a wall in the sun, laughing at old grief, you shall tell me then [Faramir’s questions about Gollum, and how Gollum had been involved with possessing the great ring of power]. Until that time, or some other time beyond the vision of the Seeing-stones of Númenor, farewell!’

An important element in both the Bible story in Acts 21, and the similar type of event in Lord of the Rings, is that the main character, the protagonist, is heading into great danger.  For Paul it certainly meant bonds, being whipped and physically abused, and (for all he knew) death.  For Frodo it meant likely death, and indeed we see in the later events, that Frodo (again similar to Gandalf and Aragorn) did experience a type of death  that is like to the real sufferings of Paul as well as Christ.

Yet, when Agabus gave that prophecy to Paul, nothing in the prophecy itself indicated to the recipient (Paul) that he should thus change his course and direction, and avoid the place that would provide such a negative experience.  A common life saying I’ve heard from a local acquaintance goes something like, “if I knew the place where I would die, I would avoid that place like the plague.”  Such is our natural reaction, to avoid pain and suffering.  But the call of God on the life of a Christian, as shown in the 1st century experience of the apostle Paul, and shown for us in the best of tales and epic sagas, takes precedence.  As Elisabeth Elliot observed (see previous post), the great heroes went on their adventures, facing great difficulties, because of the promise of great reward.  Paul the apostle certainly had this heart, knowing the love of God which constrains us, with a willingness to suffer, since (Romans 8:18) our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the future glory.  Frodo, too, realized the importance of carrying out his mission — to destroy the evil works of Sauron the Dark Lord, to bring peace and safety and happy lives to the people of Middle Earth, to free them from their fears and the threats and bondage of Sauron.

Premillennialism …. and J.R.R. Tolkien and Lord of the Rings

March 19, 2022 Leave a comment

I’m rereading “Lord of the Rings” (see previous post on the Christian Worldview and Tolkien), this time in a one volume Kindle edition.  Now I recall also, from reading the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien a few years ago, that in one letter he mentioned his belief in premillennialism:

but certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth.  We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile’.  … As far as we can go back the nobler part of the human mind is filled with the thoughts of sibb, peace and goodwill, and with the thought of its loss.  … Of course, I suppose that, subject to the permission of God, the whole human race (as each individual) is free not to rise again but to go to perdition and carry out the Fall to its bitter bottom (as each individual can singulariter).  And at certain periods, the present is notably one, that seems not only a likely event but imminent.  Still I think there will be a ‘millennium’, the prophesied thousand-year rule of the Saints, i.e. those who have for all their imperfections never finally bowed heart and will to the world or the evil spirit.

In Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” we can see several things that serve as good illustrations of premillennialism.  One part of this, our expectancy in this age, is brought out early on, in chapter 2 of Fellowship of the Ring.  At this point Bilbo has left the Shire, Frodo has taken possession of Bag End, and Gandalf has gone away, only returning occasionally over the next 17 years.  During this time, unusual events are occurring in the world, rather like eschatological events.  Most of the Hobbits are caught up in their everyday lives and uninterested in anything outside their little world.  Yet Frodo is intently observing, and diligently seeks out whatever news he can get, from the dwarves and Elves that pass through the Shire.  Later on, Sam is likewise listening to outside news and wondering about it.

The equivalent in our world, is well expressed by J.C. Ryle in his commentary on Luke 21.  From Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse, verses 25-33.  From Ryle’s commentary:

The general duty which these words should teach us is very plain. We are to observe carefully the public events of the times in which we live. We are not to be absorbed in politics, but we are to mark political events. We are not to turn prophets ourselves, but we are to study diligently the signs of our times. So doing, the day of Christ will not come upon us entirely unawares.

Are there any signs in our own day? Are there any circumstances in the world around us which specially demand the believer’s attention? Beyond doubt there are very many. The drying up of the Turkish empire,—the revival of the Romish church,—the awakened desire of the Protestant churches to preach the Gospel to the heathen,—the general interest in the state of the Jews,—the universal shaking of governments and established institutions,—the rise and progress of the subtlest forms of infidelity,—all, all are signs peculiar to our day. All should make us remember our Lord’s words about the fig-tree. All should make us think of the text, “Behold, I come quickly.” (Revelation 22:7).

Book 6 in Tolkien’s epic (in Return of the King) notes the dawning of a new era, the ending of Middle Earth’s Third Age and the beginning of the “Fourth Age.” This Fourth Age marks the defeat and destruction of Sauron and his kingdom — the Dark Lord, representative of Satan and his evil kingdom.  The Fourth Age is marked by peace, safety, and good and wise government.  The king, Aragorn descendant of the great kings of earlier ages, has “returned.”  The time of the Stewards of Gondor — like God’s people, described as stewards in this time before Christ returns — has come to its proper end.  The kingdom has been established anew, with the line of the kings of Gondor, starting with Aragorn, reigning over a world at peace and the enemy defeated.

Tolkien has given this great picture, in this literary work, of how believers should be watching and ready for Christ’s Return, and then of what the Millennial Kingdom will be like.

I am planning to consider more of such ideas, how we see Christian truth in great literary works such as Tolkien’s, in future posts.

For those interested, here are some good online resources, that have provided similar type articles about Christianity related to Tolkien and other imaginative fiction:

 

Thoughts on Chesterton’s Orthodoxy: Patriotism and Paganism

July 15, 2020 Leave a comment

Some observations from recent reading and the Christian/Evangelical response to the pandemic situation.

In reading G.K. Chesterton’s classic work (published in 1908), Orthodoxy (online text and audio files available online here) I’ve noticed a similar thought style to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who were greatly influenced by Chesterton.  Additionally, Chesterton’s description of the right kind of patriotism, to me, brought forth the word-picture illustration of Tolkien’s The Shire (as for instance how Frodo described his love for the shire, without a particular reason, simply caring about it and its people):

The man who is most likely to ruin the place he loves is exactly the man who loves it with a reason. The man who will improve the place is the man who loves it without a reason. If a man loves some feature of Pimlico (which seems unlikely), he may find himself defending that feature against Pimlico itself. But if he simply loves Pimlico itself, he may lay it waste and turn it into the New Jerusalem. I do not deny that reform may be excessive; I only say that it is the mystic patriot who reforms. …If we love England for being an empire, we may overrate the success with which we rule the Hindoos. But if we love it only for being a nation, we can face all events: for it would be a nation even if the Hindoos ruled us. Thus also only those will permit their patriotism to falsify history whose patriotism depends on history. A man who loves England for being English will not mind how she arose. But a man who loves England for being Anglo-Saxon may go against all facts for his fancy. He may end (like Carlyle and Freeman) by maintaining that the Norman Conquest was a Saxon Conquest. He may end in utter unreason—because he has a reason. …Nowhere else is patriotism more purely abstract and arbitrary; and nowhere else is reform more drastic and sweeping. The more transcendental is your patriotism, the more practical are your politics.

Orthodoxy also brings out the lament concept, how we ought to respond in sadness, not rejoicing, at coming destruction and judgment.  Another interesting section is the contrast between paganism and its ‘non-binary’ sameness, versus the Christian expression of life with great diversity:

If any one wants a modern proof of all this, let him consider the curious fact that, under Christianity, Europe (while remaining a unity) has broken up into individual nations. Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the Pagan empire would have said, “You shall all be Roman citizens, and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent; the Frenchmen less experimental and swift.” But the instinct of Christian Europe says, “Let the German remain slow and reverent, that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental. We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France.”

Chesterton’s observations echo today, more than a century later, with the significance of the ‘break the binary’ movement that has now ushered in rampant homosexuality and transgenderism.  I first learned of this connection between paganism one-ness and these cultural expressions of perversion, from two of Dr. Peter Jones’ lectures (reference this previous post).

Yet as Chesterton pointed out, world history itself stands as a great testament to this fundamental difference in worldviews, in which we see the geographically large and monolithic Eastern empires, as contrasted with the great variety of life, even in the fact of the much smaller European nations that developed from the ancient Roman Empire.

Orthodoxy is an interesting read–some of it dated with references to the political ideas of the day, yet also expressing timeless truths about the Christian worldview, especially in terms of basic social ideas such as patriotism (and optimism/pessimism) and one-ness versus diversity.

Suffering, Affliction, Regrets — and the Larger Perspective

September 11, 2019 Leave a comment

Continuing through the collection of free used books received, I’ve started reading Richard Baxter’s The Godly Home —  a recent publication with modernized language and introduction by J.I. Packer, covering a portion of Baxter’s Christian Directory from the 17th century.  Even in the current form, it’s not always the easiest to follow, as it describes situations unfamiliar to us, in the Puritan-era writing style (wordiness).  This selection from his larger work includes chapters on marriage, children, family worship, and several other topics — Baxter’s wisdom and guidance to Christian laypeople regarding their daily life and life decisions.  As a guide to those facing such decisions it excels, well describing the hardships to be experienced from a wrong choice, descriptions of the experiences that others have had to “learn the hard way.”

A sampling from the first chapter, Directions About Marriage:

If you should marry one who proves to be ungodly, how exceeding great would the affliction be!  If you loved such persons, your soul would be in continual danger by them; they would be the most powerful instruments in the world to pervert your judgements, to deaden your hearts, to divert you from a holy life, to kill your prayers, to corrupt your lives, and to damn your souls.  If you should have the grace to escape the snare and save yourself, it would be by so much the greater difficulty and suffering since the temptation is greater.  What a heartbreak it would be to converse so nearly with a child of the Devil; it is like living forever in hell.  The daily thoughts of it would be a daily death to you.

Another short sample, a description of an ungodly person:

To habitually prefer things temporal before things spiritual in the predominant acts of heart and life is the certain character of a graceless soul.

Thus is the ideal (Baxter’s “Directions About Marriage”), and when followed to prevent poor life-decisions, all is well.  Yet as I have observed, in the Christian life and experience in this fallen world, those who “get it right” and make wise relationship choices on the front end will experience some other type of suffering and disappointment later in life—perhaps with children, or health, or financial or many other possibilities.

But what about those on the other side, who have already made poor decisions?  Here we must turn to other wise counsel, regarding the sovereignty of God.  Ed Welch in Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness (see this previous post), well stated an important point to continually remember:

Although life before a sovereign God assures us that God is in control, accomplishing His good plans even through our poor choices, it is easy to lose sight of this reality.  When we do, we can feel as if an unwise decision has forever doomed us to a path that is second best. … in view of God’s sovereign control, God will accomplish His purposes in our lives even when we make decisions we later regret.

Indeed, when the Bible speaks of “all these things,” or “in all things,” and the trials and tribulations of the Christian life, those trials can include the problems noted above that may come to those who at least have their “relationship-act together”; yet for some the trial does include relationship difficulty, even within marriage.  Here I also recall the great application from past Tabletalk devotionals, in this previous post, and relating to the “day to day” life experienced by Abraham and Sarah, by Isaac and Rebekah, and then Jacob.

Another book I’m reading ties into this in a rather unexpected way:  The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien  (a past Kindle deal); this book’s main focus is on Tolkien’s letters as related to his writings of The Hobbit and then the Lord of the Rings.  I first read it 15-20 years ago from the library, but through the years since and the maturing process of life, I now notice another aspect brought out: Tolkien’s own personal trials and difficulties in the day to day of life, during the years while he was still (slowly) writing the Lord of the Rings.  The letters reveal a life with its share of great afflictions and trials—along with hope, the times of looking beyond the present life to the glory yet to be revealed.

In a letter from August 31, 1938, he even notes that he had come close to a breakdown:

I am not so much pressed, as oppressed (or depressed).  Further troubles which I need not detail have occurred, and I collapsed (or bent) under them.  I have been unwell, since I saw you—in fact I reached the edge of a breakdown, and was ordered by the doctor to stop short.  I have done nothing for a week or two—being in fact quite unable.

Elsewhere, in writing and providing wisdom to one of his then-young adult sons regarding marriage (from the human side of events), he offered this:

Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates.

And to another son during the son’s experiences in World War II:

If you cannot achieve inward peace, and it is given to few to do so (least of all to me) in tribulation, do not forget that the aspiration for it is not a vanity, but a concrete act.

As I’ve seen before, so again: a complete, well-rounded perspective regarding life in this fallen world requires multiple inputs, and truth, love, and encouragement come to us in many different ways, including from reading many different books and even types of books.

Van Til on Presuppositional Apologetics

August 17, 2017 6 comments

Continuing in the 2017 Challies’ Reading Challenge, some books are more challenging and slower-going, such as a selection for apologetics:  Cornelius Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith,  about presuppositional apologetics.  The writing style itself is not always easy to follow, with a lot of abstraction and philosophy, though some parts are clearer.  Overall, though, I see the basic points of presuppositional apologetics, along with a detailed explanation for why classical/evidential apologetics is not the best approach for communication with unbelievers.

Throughout, Van Til contrasts Catholic and Protestant-Evangelical (Arminian) apologetics, with the understanding of Reformed Theology.  As well-pointed out, what it really comes down to is that Reformed folks should use the same approach for both preaching and apologetics; Reformed preaching proclaims the sovereignty of God in all things, including salvation, as well as the total inability of the lost sinner.  Yet often, Reformed Christians depart from this when it comes to apologetics, turning instead to lost man’s “reason” independent of the authority of God’s word.  The analysis of basic differences in the very definitions of concepts between unbelievers (even unbelievers of varying types, pagan polytheists versus secular), such as the concepts of deity and mankind, is quite interesting, all supporting the point that believers really do not share any “common” point with the unbeliever, in terms of the natural man’s thoughts and reasoning.

The Reformed Christian is often Reformed in preaching and Arminian in reasoning.  But when he is at all self-conscious in his reasoning he will seek to do in apologetics what he does in preaching.  He knows that man is responsible not in spite of but just because he is not autonomous but created.  ..  He knows also that the sinner in the depth of his heart knows that what is thus held before him is true.  He knows he is a creature of God; he has been simply seeking to cover up this fact to himself.  He knows that he has broken the law of God; he has again covered up this fact to himself.  He knows that he is therefore guilty and is subject to punishment forever; this fact too he will not look in the face.

And it is precisely Reformed preaching and Reformed apologetic that tears the mask off the sinner’s face and compels him to look at himself and the world for what they really are.  Like a mole the natural man seeks to scurry under ground every time the facts as they really are come to his attention.  He loves the darkness rather than the light.  The light exposes him to himself.  And precisely this neither Roman Catholic or Arminian preaching or reasoning are able to do.

Van Til points out that evidentialist apologetics does the first part of evangelism by appealing to the natural man’s thinking, and challenging the atheist/agnostic unbeliever with the fact, the existence, of God.  Only after this first part of “accommodating” the unbeliever, the apologist then “switches” to the Christian perspective and why one should believe the Bible, etc.  The unbeliever can certainly follow along at the first point, since nothing is being challenged in his fundamental human reason.  As Van Til observes, the result is a two-phase approach to Christian conversion:  first to Theism, then, later, conversion to Christianity.  This method obviously does ‘work’, as God’s sovereign purposes in calling His elect include even faulty apologetic methods; but Van Til makes the case for a true Reformed approach to the matter.

It helps to relate what Van Til is saying to real-world examples.  What Van Til described here, describes the conversion story of C.S. Lewis, who was an atheist when he met colleague J.R.R. Tolkien at Oxford in the 1920s.  Much has been said on the negative side regarding the theology of both of these men – though as has also been noted, Tolkien converted Lewis to Christianity in general, not to Catholicism.  Yet as Lewis himself described it, his conversion was indeed a two-phase process: first, conversion to theism, and then – about two years later – to the Christian faith.  Van Til’s critique of classic apologetics provides the clear explanation for the very process/method of Lewis’ conversion experience.

Though the overall reading is not easy, I’m now over halfway through, and some parts are quite good, with insightful quotes.  In closing, here are a few great quotes from Van Til:

The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. And it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or indirectly. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work but it also tells us who God is and whence the universe has come. It gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven into an inextricable whole. It is only if you reject the Bible as the Word of God that you can separate its so-called religious and moral instruction from what it says, e.g., about the physical universe.

And

Time rolls its ceaseless course. It pours out upon us an endless stream of facts. And the stream is really endless for the non-Christian basis. For those who do not believe that all that happens in time happens because of the plan of God, the activity of time is like to that, or rather is identical with that, of Chance. Thus the ocean of facts has no bottom and no shore.