Monday, December 10, 2012

Tolkien's Gospel: Morality recap week 5

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. 

Whether or not we need morality seems to be an open question for people today.  Since the latter 19th century many have questioned  the idea of morality.  The philosopher  Nietzsche in his work "Beyond Good and Evil" advocated a radical honesty of human motivations that relegated morality to being a mere social convention that kept a person from reaching his or her full potential.  Ayn Rand in the 20th century, would build on this foundation write the influential novel "Atlas Shrugged" which posits that the highest good is one's free choice, no matter what the outcome.  The notion of doing the right thing for the right reason seems to be relic of a bygone time, our culture seems to be living in a post-moral age.   

In Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" there is an underlying moral  counter argument to the utilitarian view of modernism in his day and the moral relativism of ours.   We saw Tolkien's underlying view of morality in full display in this week's scene where two hobbits, Merry and Pippin attempt to enlist the support of the Ents (tree like beings, who are very strong and powerful) in the war against the demonic forces that threaten middle earth.  They respond with an answer that is so familiar to each of us "this is not our war"  (not my problem!).   The narrative will show that this is a false statement; the war will come to threaten all eventually, but even if it didn't the right choice would be to actively help others in their struggle against the evils that assail them.  

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you. Proverbs 3:27-28

We often think of morality in negative terms.  Don't smoke, or drink to much, or lie or steal. While this indeed important, it is not the most important aspect of a true Christian morality.  The most important way to view morality for the person of faith is in positive terms.  Asking the question  "How can I help?" is a very moral thing to do.  In this scene the Ents are not acting morally,  the response:  "This does not concern me"is not an option for the true disciple.   The minimum response is prayer to examine what is in our power to accomplish aided by the spirit of God.

If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. Luke 6:33

Jesus primarily taught a positive view of morality.  In both the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain Jesus teaches that the real good that people do is something more than a mere exchange of favors done for one's pure self interest.  There is ultimately a difference between survival and faith. Self preservation is not discipleship.  Discipleship involves trusting your life to God and taking the risky road of actively coming to the aid of our neighbor.  The retreat from danger, to sit in a comfortable life and hide from the problems of the world like the Ents would like to do can never be held  up as anything more than a mere expediency.  

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; Luke 6:35

Christ calls us to do active good for others, even our enemies.  This is why Christians are concerned for the well being of all God's people.  Jesus called for us to take up our crosses and follow him.   The oft missed aspect of Jesus’ exhortation above is the last clause.  How we treat others, whether or not we come to their aid in their need shows how close you are to God.   Your willingness to do concrete acts of love reveals that you are connected to God!!  For since the start of the Jesus story it has been about all the world coming in contact with the healing we brings.   Luke quotes Isaiah when describing the ultimate point of John the Baptist’s mission to introduce Jesus.  We read that one day “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Luke 3:6

Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:7-8

In the end a Christian morality is always grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ.   The story of why we don’t retreat and hide in our personal caves when others are in need has its beginning in the story of Jesus.   Nothing we do can change God.  God could say to the world “not my problem”, but God did not.   When the hobbit Merry tried enlist the support of Treebeard the Ent, he cried “but you are part of this world.”  God when sending Jesus says much the same thing.   God wants to be in the world with all of His children,   God said your problems do concern me and Jesus came to bring healing hope and salvation to us all.   So we love because we have been loved.   Indeed a true Christian morality is nothing more, or nothing less than actively loving our neighbors and world.

Keep the Faith,

Pastor Knecht

No comments:

Post a Comment