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Posts Tagged ‘despair’

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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I read a story last week: Return of the Guardian King.  Fourth and final of a vividly epic fantasy series written by a woman who knows my world, my type, and my God.  Her name is Karen Hancock, and her stories have invaded my imagination permanently.

It is a book about temptation, I told a friend.  Resisting in the slow way, wearied by the persistence, common days, small things.  And massive temptations: to betray all you have believed in, to denounce the promises of God for the power of ruling kingdoms, to trade love in the good God and His simple gifts to the extravagant suit of the alluring devil.  But the large and the small are the same. 

The characters are strong against deception and temptation when they have been faithful in the daily denying of self.  To live for others, in kindness and patience, prepares each person against bitterness and despair.  Immersion in the truth and promises of God is comfort and hope.  Even if their prayer is a single cry for help from God, bad things trun to good when people talk to their God. 

The story isn’t about what is happening on the outside as much as it is about whether the characters are trusting God, whether they know with all their might that He loves them and that His plans for them are good.  When they are rebelling against him, they are miserable.  So are those around them.  So am I. 

Kiriath is in the hands of the jealous and vengeful brother Gillard, possessed by a demon rhu’ema.  Already they treat and ally with the archenemy, Belthe’adi, Abramm had warned them of.  Abramm is known to be dead.  But Abramm is also walking the mountains, chafing under the waiting in a snowed-in monastery.  Maddie is back at her childhood home, a palatial life she never embraced, and her newest royal duty is to marry some rich aristocrat who can offer troops to defend the last stand of her homeland.  But her dreams linked with her beloved’s are back, and something tugs hope alive in her that maybe Abramm survived after all. 

Shapeshifters, dragons, and the critical people who are supposed to be his friends plague Abramm on his Odyssey-like journey back to his wife and sons.  Trap and Carissa mirror Abramm’s struggle with pride and longing but in a quiet domestic setting.  Detours take the exiled king and longed-for husband to places of faith and doubt he never would have imagined – and sometimes wishes he had never asked for. 

Every character learns the power of friends: locking them against temptation, praying for their dearest concerns, teaching and challenging with the truth, dividing the attacks of dragons, delivering messages, watching with unbiased eyes, guarding against betrayal.  Again Abramm learns that it is not his strength that conquers, and that God has not gifted him with leadership and military prowess to fight God’s battles for Him.  He is but a vessel. 

Maddie meets a charming man who is attractive in all the ways Abramm never was.  Tirus wants her, wants to help her.  He understands her and shows her off, showers her with gifts and protects her from scorn.  How long can she wait for her husband whom even her dearest friends still believe is dead?  Will she believe the light-born visions and promises from God, or the technological, repeatable sight from the stone sent to her by her suitor?  Will she change her mind about regal living and the purpose of marriage?  The things that stood in Maddie’s way when she wanted to marry Abramm, and the undeniable need they had for each other – will she forget those? 

When things go from bad to worse, whose job is it to protect the ones they love?  At what cost will they buy safety and love?  Will the armies of the Moon, and the powers of the air – dragons winging terror across the skies – will they succeed in doing their worst, in taking everything from those faithful to God?  Or will they be utterly defeated?  If they cannot be defeated, what is the point in fighting and sacrificing? 

And when God’s people fail, bitterly weak, The Return of the Guardian King resounds with display of God’s mercy.  God knew we were weak when He chose us.  He knew we would fail when He sent His Son to suffer for those sins.  And a single prayer, sometimes the end of God’s longsuffering chase, brings grace empowering His servants to do the right thing.  He cannot deny Himself.  His promises will be true, however faithless we are. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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The various temptations of a single woman’s life:

1. To want companionship to cure the loneliness: just a friend who is so often there that it doesn’t matter so much when he isn’t, a friend whose conversation is lively and intelligent and equally willing to listen to and interact with me.
2. To want the security of having a major point of the future decided and knowing exactly what is required of me. On a spiritual level the Bible answers this question sufficiently for each day’s choices, but on a lifestyle level, the Bible is frustratingly silent about the activity of an unmarried woman.
3. To want romance: flowers and notes and special attention and stories to share with friends, to have the flutter of expectation and the thrill of affection.
4. To want a leader, someone to follow and help and believe in, who is capable of leading, strong and visionary and full of faith. A girl sometimes just wants a man to tell her what to do.
5. To be sad, full of pity and despair and just wanting to stop hoping so that I can cry.
6. To be aloof, proclaiming disinterestedness in anything I don’t already have, lying so that hope is kept silent and so that life is a series of functions. To lose passion, releasing it for the safer state of not caring.
7. To fill the various temptations with temporary flirtations or imaginings, books or movies, or the stories of the romances and lives of friends.

There comes a point when guarding against all these various temptations is impossible. I stop being pitiful, only to be assailed with the temptation to watch a chick-flick to fill my yearnings. I applaud myself for not wanting romance and find that I want security.

So instead of trying not to fall into this trap or that snare, I need to focus on what I know I need to do. Love God. Talk to Him. He is leader, companion, listener, giver, refuge, planner, lov-er, and passionate. Serve Him. Don’t think about myself and all those wants. Take them to Him when they overwhelm me. Share with Him the poignant ordeal of waiting. And be ok with the reality that nothing I expect has to happen except what He has promised.

I don’t want anyone to think I want to be single forever. Hearing friends admire my patience drives me crazy; I don’t want them to imagine that waiting is easy. But I will wait, if only because I know that I cannot get what I deeply want any other way. The question is: will I wait well? Waiting is sacred, an activity of God who created time and invites us to imitate Him in it, to share in what He feels as time marches on between beginning and end, desire and fulfillment, initiation and consummation. But waiting is not a virtue. Patience is a virtue, and contentment, kindness and selflessness. Will waiting produce and demonstrate these in me?

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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“We must cry for our present world,

because the idealists who have screamed so loudly

against the falseness and hypocrisy of the plastic culture

have ended up in an even worse position –

the inhumanity and the destruction

of everything they hoped to accomplish.” 

~ Francis Schaeffer, “Walking through the Mud” No Little People

 

I find this to be a universal diagnosis of so many different types of destructive people.  Can you think of individuals in history of whom this is true? 

 

Is there anyone you know now who could identify with any stages of this quote: idealists, screamers, inhuman, despairing? 

 

How can you use your answers to the above two questions to share the hope of Jesus who saves and redeems, the Bible which answers, and the God who is there with the acquaintance?  Can you show them where their path is leading? 

 

To God be all glory. 

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