Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tolkien's Gospel: Redmeption (Recap Week 3)

J.R.R.Tolkien wrote the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in order to create a mythology that would transmit timeless virtues to a culture that he feared was losing its soul as it hurdled toward modernity. Tolkien a life long friend and colleague of C.S. Lewis, also used his devout Christian faith as a source of the virtues he wanted to share with through his stories. These facts make the stories wonderful sources to illustrate the nature of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.While in contrast to Lewis' Narnia, no one figure represents Christ, each virtuous character in Tolkien's works represents Christ in some way despite their faults and weaknesses. 

Aragorn is character that readers of the Bible should find eerily familiar.  The setting of the novel Lord of the Rings is a place called Middle Earth.   This place was once one kingdom; it was then divided into a northern half and a southern half.   The northern half quickly falls apart while the southern survives.   Then a promised king comes out of the wilds of the collapsed northern kingdom.  If you feel you have heard this story before you have, maybe even in Sunday School.  Tolkien based this part of the narrative on the Bible.  Israel once united, divides into a northern kingdom and a southern one.   The messiah though born in the south would emerge out of the long defunct northern kingdom from an obscure place called Nazareth. So the character we witnessed this week's scene is clearly based on some of the people we meet in the Bible.  

(1 Samuel 16:12) He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, "Rise and anoint him; for this is the one."(NRSV)

In many ways Aragorn reminds us of David.   The one who leads and is confident of victory because the ultimate cause is just.   David has a heart for God, Aragorn has a heart for doing good.  Like David, he begins to assume his calling of kingship long before the official coronation. The scene we watched this past Sunday portrays this as he receives a sword from his future father in law Elrond.  He is made aware of the urgent need and his role in the fulfillment of a providential plan of rescue for a besieged people. Just like a biblical judge or king, Aragorn goes forth to fight for the good even if it means going through the shadow of death. 


(1 Peter 3:18-19) For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison,  (NRSV)

Aragorn like David in the Bible is fallible and in need of healing and redemption.   Aragorn
often feels weighed down by the burden of his forbears.   His ancestor Elendil is the one who failed to destroy the Ring of Power that now threatened to destroy the world.   He would fail to protect his friends at times and felt great guilt.   He has a need of redemption for himself in order to be whole again.  Aragorn assumes the kingship by taking the Dimholt road- which runs through the place of the dammed and unfaithful.  He needs to take this dark road in order to help those who because of their sin have failed to be faithful.   I am convinced that this part of the narrative was inspired by the verse above and the line in the creed  "And he descended into hell."   The Elf-lord Elrond tells Aragorn the only way he can have enough people to fight the battle against evil is to summon the unfaithful to his banner.   In other words those fallen away from a right life are needed to help, so they must be redeemed.   Unless the unfaithful are redeemed there is no victory.  Otherwise, there are not enough righteous to make a real difference.   The character of Aragorn teaches us about the necessity of forgiveness in our leaders.

(John 18:36) Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." (NRSV)

In many ways Aragorn looks the part of the messiah we all would like to see someday.   The handsome warrior rides in on his white horse, shows his martial arts moves,  kicks out the bad guys and all is right with the world. Yet the most effective weapon in his arsenal would be no weapon at all, it would be a promise, a promise to the unfaithful that they could be redeemed.   He gives his word and the unfaithful come to his side.    We often want a leader to be tough and mighty,  but true Christian leadership takes compassion and forgiveness.   Leadership without forgiveness is false leadership.    Jesus himself led by healing and forgiving.  As even the most casual of Christians knows, Jesus was the unexpected Messiah.   He brought no sword, no army, but walked alone to accomplish an act of redemption for the world.  The true King is to bring healing and wholeness to our world and that can only be accomplished through redemption.   We know this in our bones,  one of the reasons we admire Lincoln so much as a leader is his ability to use the gift of redemption to help lead the country through the Civil War.

In the Lord of the Rings, Aragorn will show not just the possibilities of human leadership but also its limitations.   In the end of the narrative he can not defeat evil on his own even with his large armies,  he will need the efforts of the entire community of the faithful along with a good dose of divine intervention.  We learn that real Christian leadership will always acknowledge its limitations and dependance upon God as much or more that our own efforts.   In the book and the films Aragorn leads by showing the way toward redemption, and it is impossible to redeem oneself it always takes another to help you along.

(John 18:37) Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." (NRSV)

The Christian  leader embraces the truth and does not try to change it, hide it or spin it.   This starts with a self awareness for his or her own need of redemption.   Whether you lead in your home, workplace, church or voluntary organization, fogiveness, reconciliation, and redemption will be the most useful and most loving of skills you can use.    Jesus came to reveal the shortcomings of human leadership and at the same time affirm the love God has for those same human beings. We are blessed to have a leader, messiah and king like Jesus. 

Keep the Faith, 
Pastor Knecht   

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