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Archive for the ‘theology’ Category

I read once that Tolkien wrote with the pessimism of the pagan poets [1].  They uphold honor in despair, dying well, the heroic quest at the cost of losing everything you love.  But I read Tolkien and see hope scribed into every chapter.  No light, whimsical child’s hope: Tolkien’s hope is not ignorance of all things capable of clouding the good.  It’s a “fool’s hope,” [2] where anyone can see that in all likelihood, if things go on as they are, the fool will be disappointed.  In Tolkien, the fools know themselves to be fools.

 

Elven-King Fingolfin’s story weighs on the side of hopelessness.  The Silmarillion describes him as “fey” [3] when he challenges Melkor himself, living up to the epic’s heroic virtues.  What hope has an elf against a Vala?  But the Vala ought to be contended, resisted, fought.  Though the high king of the Noldor (elves) finally fell, his fight was not without effect.  The Dark Lord Melkor limped forever after.

 

At first reading, it seems that Aragorn commends this sort of despairing courage when he instructs his friends, “There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.” [4]  But Gandalf, the wizard who knows his life-encompassing hope is foolish, lends a bit of insight early on.  Recognizing he is a fool, he embraces humility.  Do you hear it in Gandalf’s words? “Despair, or folly?  It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.  We do not.  It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope.” [5]  He acknowledges that he may not have all the facts.  Indeed, thinking that he knew what the end would be was the prideful downfall of Denethor, who let his enemy select the facts he discovered, and so turn him to despair, and madness.  Tolkien’s works regularly discourage the assumption that we know the future.

 

He also discourages despair.  I know it doesn’t seem true.  There are some pivotal scenes driven by characters that rashly pursue death and glory.  Aragorn is accused of it when he takes the Paths of the Dead, but that perspective is refuted.  Though the way had been shut for long ages, the time had come.  Such is the way of hope.  Things go on in a certain way until the due time, and then change springs upon the world.

 

Perhaps most potent is the image of grey-eyed Dernhelm.  The warrior’s silent, calm assurance going in search of death chilled Merry.  And it awakens our empathy.  Why shouldn’t it?  Who hasn’t felt that life is going from bad to worse, and decided to rush forward to the end instead of waiting to be burned with the house?  I think maybe Tolkien intended to carry us along with this character, so that we could reach the same end.  Dernhelm was proud, seeking glory before duty, though demonstrating loyal love to King Theoden by staying close to him.  And glory was achieved.  And darkness did descend on the desperate hero.  Even as Dernhelm revealed herself as Eowyn, golden hair glittering in the storm-piercing sunrise like a figment of hope; she was cast down, poisoned, and taken for dead.  [6]

 

But now we come to it:  Tolkien’s hope is the kind that stands further and deeper than all those things – than despair and darkness and loss.  He knew about a resurrection hope, about seeds bringing forth fruit after they have fallen into the ground and died.  Maybe he knew that fruit is more glorious than merely putting an end to your enemies.  His hope embraces grief.  It accepts hard things.  Good is not determined by the outcome, but by some transcendent standard.  And this hope joyfully trusts that there is someOne good who may intervene yet.

 

For Eowyn woke, and repented her destructive ideals.  Day came again.  Darkness was not unescapable.  Faramir described the moment, “I do not know what is happening.  The reason of my waking mind tells me that great evil has befallen and we stand at the end of days.  But my heart says nay; and all my limbs are light, and a hope and joy are come to me that no reason can deny.  … in this hour I do not believe that any darkness will endure!” [7]  So Eowyn moved and married, healed and tended gardens. [8]  Her story is a fuller exposition of the transformation the Fellowship underwent in Moria.  They lost their way and lost their guide.  They had descended black depths and awakened demons so that they lost hope.  But on the field high on the mountain slopes, “they came beyond hope under the sky and felt the wind on their faces.” [9]

 

[1] Hopeless Courage by Loren Rosson, III (http://www.hollywoodjesus.com/lord_of_the_rings_guest_03.htm)

[2] The Return of the King: “The Siege of Gondor” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 797)

[3] See etymology of “fey” at http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=fey&allowed_in_frame=0

[4] The Two Towers: “The Riders of Rohan” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 430)

[5] The Fellowship of the Ring: “The Council of Elrond” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 262)

[6] The Return of the King: “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 823-824)

[7] The Return of the King: “The Steward and the King” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 941)

[8] The Return of the King: “The Steward and the King” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 943-944)

[9] The Fellowship of the Ring: “The Bridge of Khazad-Dum” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 323)

 

See also, The Silmarillion: “Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin” by JRR Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Abdicated Discipleship

 

This week I read an article at The Wall Street Journal, spring-boarding from Rick Santorum’s recent controversies about birth control to a commentary on the societal effects of contraceptives.  For my purposes, I’m going to sum up part of their report:

 

Before birth control, women stipulated that they would only have sex with a man willing to take care of any resulting children (either only married sex or sex with the promise of marriage should she conceive).

 

After birth control and legal abortion, many women became willing to have sex, feeling like there was less potential responsibility attached.

 

These women’s willingness to fornicate raised the pressure on other women to also fornicate – even when they were less able to use birth control, or unwilling to abort.  Men began expecting sex as part of a premarital relationship – and if one woman wasn’t willing to give it, they could leave her and find someone who was, without commitment.  Why sacrifice yourself to take on the responsibilities of marriage?

 

As I read the above view of history, my brain worked to find the solution.  Obviously my hope is to marry a good man who believes that sex is sacred to marriage, and hasn’t jumped on board with the trends in this country.

 

Men in the secular world pressure women to have sex or do without relationships.  Men in the secular world make marriage hard to come by.  But what’s the excuse for men in the Church?  Why is marriage hard to come by for a Christian woman?

 

The norm, the expectation, for a man living in the United States is to go through a series of dating relationships, enjoying the benefits of intimacy, eventually getting around to marriage when he’s been with a woman for a long time and has a good job to (not support her and her children; she works and there will be far less children than in marriages of the past; but:) fund the engagement ring, wedding, and honeymoon.  Men in this country are not taught self control or responsibility – nor the value of marriage and fatherhood (only obligations of the two).  They are not equipped.

 

Because our secular world doesn’t tell stories about good men pursuing women with purity, marrying them, and fathering children – our Christian men are also unequipped.  No one is training the men outside the Church, so the men inside the Church aren’t being taught the necessary life skills either.

 

Isn’t that last point part of a much bigger problem?  Since when did the Church depend so much on the unchristian world to teach and disciple people?  Why don’t we have an alternative story, an alternative school of sorts?

 

Is it because the Church has made it our goal to blend with the world around us?  Is it because we have refused to be separate and holy, refused to be creative, and refused to labor in building the kingdom of God?  We convert citizens of the world to belong to thekingdomofGod– but is our task to transform their institutions as well?  Or have we been given a different kind of material to build a completely unique society?  Are we building their culture or God’s?

 

In God’s kingdom, singleness has great value – not in avoiding responsibility and commitment, but in refocusing those virtues to the building of this other culture.  In God’s kingdom, marriage is part of the typological design, where institutions and interactions breathe testimony to and imitation of the love of God.  It is to be sought and desired by those called thereto, prepared for and invested in.  Bearing children in a stable family is made to bring the next humans up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  It is not supposed to be a regrettable consequence of giving in to lust.

 

Are there common features of the Christian community and the kingdom of the world to which the Church has lazily abdicated its roles?  Of course.  One of the powerful tactics of our Enemy (against whom we are supposed to be waging offensive war – in other words, building God’s kingdom for His purposes using His ways) is to take things that were created to be an instrument in the godly culture, and to take them out of their context and twist them just enough that they are ineffective.  By doing this, he gives people the impression that they are still practicing the good things God ordained.  They are also in little danger of those practices accomplishing what God intended them for.  And the more we get used to the twists and decontextualizations, the more the Enemy can bring the things farther away and the more he can morph what they actually are, still lying that they are the things we read in the Bible.

 

1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

 

1 Timothy 4:4-5, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:  For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Job

I’ve been reading Job.  One of the Bible’s most complex poetry books, about suffering, usually attracts people when they feel afflicted.  That’s not really why I started in on it this time.  Job is one of my favorite books, mostly for the last few chapters at the end.  (The discourses in the middle typically confuse me.)  This month some friends have been talking about sermons they heard about Job at their church.  On a quiet night a few weeks ago I turned on an online audio Bible.  As I listened, Job 13 resonated with me.  In one verse, I felt like Job summed up his plea.  He said that he wanted to ask and have God answer – either that or for God to speak and Job to get to listen.  This righteous man had lost almost everything, and what he wanted most was not to get everything back, but to know God better than he ever had.

 

So I’m excited to read Job each night, delighted that it makes more sense to me than it ever has.  Here is this man I feel I can really respect.  You may have encountered in your life the scarcity of godly older men to be examples of faith.  And here he is.  This man isn’t all about doing – though he makes it clear he knows right from wrong, and has spent much of his life pursuing goodness.  Job was interested in knowing God more.  The more I read, the more I see it.  Even if by coming to him, God was going to humble Job and reveal his sin and judge him, Job was willing to take that risk for the chance of knowing God.  I know the end of the story.

 

As I read of Job pleading for God to visit him, I get excited about the moment when God does all that Job asks.  YHWH Almighty comes and reveals His glorious wisdom to Job.  He asks questions and Job answers.  Then at last Job is content.  Then Job lays his hand over his mouth and says “How can I reply?”  All along Job has wanted to know who he was, especially relating to God.  He knows now.  He responds with more humble worship.

 

The end of it all is that God is pleased with Job’s faith.  The man who met with God (perhaps more a theme of the Old Testament than I ever noticed before) is restored.  Blessings of prosperity, family, and usefulness to others’ spiritual lives return upon Job.  I assume the devil was astounded by this incredible mercy, that mere man may speak with God and live.  Take away the hedge God had placed around Job, and God surrounds the righteous man with His own presence.  This is not only Job’s heart; it is God’s as well.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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When I was in junior high, I remember telling a Bible study leader that if a Christian was walking with God, she wouldn’t have to “pray about it” before she knew whether God wanted her to do something or not; she would already know.  Back then I was pretty biblically ignorant, and didn’t have much experience as a Christian trying to walk with God.  I don’t agree with what I said then.  Sometimes, no matter how closely you are walking with God, He wants you to wait on Him, to seek Him.  So He is quiet on what you should do, for a while.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I’m not perfect, you know.  But my YHWH is merciful.  One of the ways that He demonstrates His mercy is by revealing my sin to me.  He treats me like He did David.  Sin is seeded in my heart when I don’t trust God, when my delight is in something besides Him.  And I don’t notice.  (When I’m slipping down the sin track, I don’t often take time for self-evaluation.)  So God allows me to be tempted.  There’s the way of escape, of course.  I have access the whole time to the power to resist the temptation.  But I don’t.  I give in.  I speak an unkind, impatient word.  I spend recklessly.  I think lustfully.  Thus God shows me myself.  Repentance isn’t real when it holds back.  When my sin causes me to sorrow, God invites me to kneel before Him and be cleansed.  The cleansing often goes much deeper.  Making-up is precious because it heals up the breach that had been between us before I acted on it.

 

The sermon I heard this last Sunday pointed out that in Psalm 51, David acknowledges the hidden sin of his heart which led to his ghastly outward trespass of adultery and murder.  The story in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 about David taking a census of the fighting men in Israel suggests a similar thing, that there was sin in Israel that made God angry, but it was not obvious sin.  He wanted to bring it out, so He could deal with it.  So God allowed Satan to provoke David to do this thing that offended YHWH.

 

I believe that God has the power to prevent us from being tempted.  This is what Jesus taught His disciples to pray for.  However, I think that prayer is not sincerely being prayed or desired when I am keeping doubt and distance in my heart toward God.  I am not trusting Him for my daily bread; if I think of mentioning it to Him, it is a demand.  I am not begging Him for His will to be done on earth; I think my will is better.  And I am not zealous for His glory, His kingdom, and His power.  These things go together with being preserved against temptation and evil.

 

Pleasing God is much more than outward things.  It is the direction of my spirit.  When I “walk in the Spirit” and “abide in Christ” and “delight myself in YHWH,” then I will successfully serve God and bear fruit.  These will be to His credit, and that will bring me joy.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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People of Hope

We are a people of hope, we Christ-followers.  Love is to be what defines us, and Paul wrote that love hopes all things.  In the past few months I have been overwhelmed with the number of things we are hoping for.

 

First we are hoping for the return of our Bridegroom, Jesus, the establishment of His kingdom, and the fulfillment of our salvation.  This future is promised and sure, but not realized – often not even observable on its way.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen.  So much of what we do until His return is based on what we can’t see.  We love the brethren, whom we can see.  We hear the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him.  Our feasts remember Him and anticipate the wedding feast we will share with Him.  He has left us gifts and we use them.  Purity is important in a Bride, so we try to be always ready to meet Him adorned with good works and holy.  These are the acts of hope.

 

Many of us are hoping for the salvation of friends and family.  We labor for it.  We petition for it.  And we recognize that it is God who brings it about.  This isn’t a detached hope; we are eager, invested, agonizing as we plead for those who are lost in spiritual darkness and death.  The answer to our hope is glorious: redemption and reunion and our Lord’s increased joy.

 

In singleness we wait for a spouse and children, in hope.  God has led me to not just bide my time, but to really desire these good gifts.  I can’t acquire the kind of husband I would need to glorify God, by myself.  God is abundantly able.  So I wait, dreaming of the day when God brings completion to my hopes and I begin a new life, picturing the new life we Christians will share with Christ when He returns for us.

 

God has entrusted orphans to His people, charging us to care for them.  These needy children wait for homes and families, and we walk in hope that they will be adopted soon.  Some of my friends are eager to receive the blessing of an adopted son or daughter into their family.  While they know that God must move the mountains it takes to bring these children home, they seek Him for the next step they should take in this process.  They begin loving these little ones to prepare for the day that they might be their own.

 

Others are hoping for God to grow their families by blessing them with conception and healthy births.  They ask God for babies, get excited about names and interactions and discipleship and teaching and growing.  Months too early they begin collecting children’s books and decorating nurseries.

 

Having kids is an abundant source for more hopes.  Parents hope for their children to grow into men and women who zealously pursue God.  They pray for long, strong lives.  When their children stray from the truth, they fervently intercede for their repentance.

 

We gently and lovingly confront sin, hoping for the offending Christian to be restored to submission to God and fellowship with those of us who walk in the light of His grace and power and leading.

 

In all sorts of things we pray for what we don’t have, our hope in the good-gift-giving Father who hears all of our requests with love and wisdom.  Sometimes He has told us what to pray for, and our hope should be enthusiastically confident that we have whatever we ask (as it is asked in faith according to His revealed will).  And sometimes we lay our hearts before Him, begging that He will grant our desires or turn them to what pleases Him.

 

And hope maketh not ashamed;

because the love of God

is shed abroad in our hearts

by the Holy Ghost

which is given unto us.”

~ Romans 5:5

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Death, Grief, and Hope

It’s a month and a half to Easter.  Ash Wednesday is tomorrow.  I’ve never celebrated it.  The holy-day marks the beginning of Lent.  I never participated in Lent either.  I think it is something about dying.  Dying is something I’m not good at.  I’m not good at grieving death.  Maybe if I died, I would be.

 

A friend related a conversation with her cousin this week, where he said that it is harder to surrender things after you’ve lost them than before.  You recognize that all is gift.  Gifts don’t by right belong to us.  And that God has the right to take them back.  That maybe He gave them to us to be material for sacrifice.  You die to what you thought were your rights, your expectations.  And then, when loss comes, you are already dead to the clinging, dead to the owing.  The loss is still real.  And you can grieve it.

 

The Resurrection teaches us that before the hope of life-again comes death.  Maybe if I learned to die, so I could learn to grieve, I would learn to hope.  Maybe hope means nothing if it doesn’t embrace death to self.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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