Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tolkien's Gospel: the Seduction of Evil (Recap week 4)

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.

A central theme found in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is how people are seduced by evil.  The Ring of Power is the metaphor for the struggle with evil found in the human heart.   In the narrative many come face to face with the ring and give in to its seductive power.   Some give in to the the greed for outright raw power, but others fall for the more alluring trap.   The real pitfall portrayed in the story is the trap that comes when people wanting to do good believe that the Ring can be used by them without corrupting them.   They believe that they are different than other people and that they are not capable of falling prey to evil.   Much harm has been done in our world by those who thought they were doing good.  For example many despots and dictators thought they were doing the right thing when they grabbed their country's reins of power.   One of the ways that we are seduced by evil is when we become blinded to our own limitations.  We overestimate our abilities, we become blind to our true motives,  and we come to believe that we are the sole arbiters of right and wrong.     In the scene we watched on Sunday we see the wizard Gandalf refuse to take the risk of guarding the Ring.   He shows his wisdom by being aware of his own weakness and faults.   He knows that if he used the ring even out of a desire to do good it will corrupt him.  St. Paul says something similar in the following verses. 

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Romans 7:18-19 NRSV

The Bible reminds us in multiple places that the fear of The Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. One reason we fear the Lord in the first place is because we are aware of our finitude and limitations.   It is when we forget these that we get in trouble.   When the serpent tempts eve in the garden,  he speaks only of potentialities and possibilities and not of her limitations.   He encourages her to believe that she can really do anything with no downside.   Paradoxically, it is our recognition of our limitations that opens us to the power of God's Grace.  St. Paul continues:

Who  will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. Romans 7:24-25

Paul reminds us that we are as Martin Luther explained simultaneously saint and sinner.   We have need for God and others to complement us so that together in community we are able live in fruitful, life-giving and virtuous ways.  It is this knowledge that can act as a vaccine and immunize us from the seduction of evil.   When we have a realistic idea of what it is we can and cannot accomplish we guard against falling into the trap of believing we are the only ones capable to act.   The danger of falling into this trap is heightened when times are tense.   When stressed we may obsess that we need to do something and that we are the only ones capable.   This is where the end time teaching of the Bible can be a word of grace.
People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Luke 21:26

One of the great things about the eschatological (end-time) writings of the Bible is that it teaches us how to respond in healthy ways to times of heightened stress and anxiety.   In the Gospel lesson this past Sunday, we read of Jesus teaching about the end of the temple in Jerusalem in Luke 21.  He taught that it will be a time of great and profound fear and worry.  It is in these times that one is susceptible to panic, curving in on oneself and acting out of the more primitive places of the mind.   These are actually the times when we should be really engaged in higher level thinking of planning, problem solving, and risk assessment.  So look at what Jesus recommends:

Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:28

The disciple is to embrace anxious times boldly, depending on the God of grace and understanding that while there may be cause to be wary, there is really no cause for alarm.  One of the false ideas that has gotten into people’s heads through some fundamentalist end time preachers is the idea we have to do something in order make God come, so they come up with all kinds of ridiculous and irrational schemes to make this come about.   (like breeding red cows, supporting the sabotage of the mideast peace process and so on)   What they have failed to understand is that they are not being faithful to actual biblical witness.   In the Bible, God never comes because people are somehow ready for God.  God comes because those whom he loves need saving.   So by definition every time God has intervened in history the people have not been ready.  Those who teach the contrary have fallen prey to the seduction of evil,  that they are somehow immune to sinfulness and limitation, and that they may even need to act for God.  The faithful Christian trusts in God to act and to show us the way.

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. Romans 8:15

The real answer of how to avoid the seduction of evil is “communion”.   In some ways I do mean it in the sacramental sense, but in others I mean something deeper.   In Tolkien’s Lord of the RIngs no one person could keep evil at bay by him or herself, they needed to work together.   Gandalf could not carry the ring, Frodo could not make his way to Mordor without the fellowship showing him the way,  Aragorn could not defeat Sauron without the destruction of the Ring by others. In the church we realize that in order to safeguard against evil we need to be in communion with God and others.   If you look at times when we in church have failed (and there have been many) it is because we have become isolated, insulated and retreated into our own bubbles.   The idea of communion reminds us that we are interdependent upon one another and upon God.  We are adopted members in a community, which makes accountable to other members of the community and to God who heads it.  This idea of communion with God and others also guards us against passivity in the face of anxious times.  We do go forward and do things to help and show love but we do them through a process of spiritual discernment.  Historical examples of this can include the abolition, women’s suffrage, and anti-child labor movement all founded by Christians seeking to do good at God’s direction.  In order to help foster wellness and wholeness, some say “it takes a village” others say “it takes a family”  for  Christians it takes a “body”, the body of Christ.  

Keep the Faith,
Pastor Knecht

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