Posted on Feb 22, 2009
Once I again just recently I have watched The Return of the King, from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, on DVD this time. How I love that story, both in the book and the film version! The DVD is accompanied by behind-the-scenes extra features, which included the actress who played Eowyn saying that though we live in cynical times, yet this is not a cynical story. No indeed; it is a story of courage, loyalty, steadfastness, brotherhood, of evil and righteousness, of discipline and decisions that really matter.
It is a mirror of the real-world battle between evil and righteousness, in which the same virtues are equally called for. Yet the virtue we need is often less obvious: the willingness to love a child, to stay strong in sickness, to keep going after a financial setback, to speak a word of encouragement, correction, even sometimes confrontation. It is the faith to trust in God even when (Psalm 13) we cry out, “How long?” And it is also that which shuns the easy but deadly road of temptation.
This is what speaks to me throughout the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings. In one important way, however, the story’s parallelism with reality fails, and that is in its depictions of battle. Apart from perhaps the character of Gollum, the enemy is unremittingly evil and awful. There is no question of sympathizing with the Orcs or the Uruk-Hai, or with Saruman or Sauron. There is nothing to sympathize with in them. They represent what the Bible calls the spiritual forces of darkness, the unseen evil we battle by faith.
So much of what we fight from day to day is not this: it is each other. It is also ourselves (as the movie did capture, in Frodo, Boromir, and others). Standing between the great good of God and the great evil of darkness there is humanity, which is each of us.
Earlier today, I posted a piece criticizing Robert Pennock for the manner in which he opposes Christianity and Intelligent Design (not the same topic in my mind, though it seems to be in his). In a battle of ideas, which I also take to be a spiritual battle for people’s souls, he is my opponent. Yet he is a man like myself. We have walked the same sidewalks at the university I attended, where he now teaches. Though I stand against much of what he stands for, I recognize much of my own situation in his.
I believe he is wrong in many ways. I believe also that he has cut himself off from God, the true source of life, joy, and love. I believe that he has tasted life, joy, and love, as God gives his gifts to all humans, but that he cannot know them in their fullness while he stands apart from God. So this evening, having thought this through with the epic battles of The Return of the King fresh in my mind, though I believe he is wrong, I cannot see him as my enemy.
Unlike the combatants in the trilogy, he and I have much in common, including mutual enemies. There are many of these, of which I’ll mention just one, since it’s very much on my mind. I’m in the sixth week of treatment for pneumonia, and it’s not working yet. I’ll see a specialist tomorrow to see if we can figure out something better than the antibiotics I’ve been on. I’m sure Robert Pennock has faced something like this, in himself and/or his family, and that he’ll face it again. Not that I’m worried about this ending up this way this time, but to face a disease like this is in some measure to face death, to be reminded of the one most significant enemy each of us faces. (Even for Christians who believe God can redeem it, death is still an enemy—1 Corinthians 15:24-28.) It is our common foe.
So looking back on what I wrote this morning, I do not regret saying that I believe he is wrong (massively so). I seem to have the ability to recognize and communicate some of what is going on in this battle of ideas. I do regret this, however: I regret that I do not more often feel, and more effectively communicate, that this battle is with a fellow human.
What I would like most now to communicate, which I’m sure I will fail to do well, and which I’m sure non-Christian readers will hardly believe or understand, is this: that this fellow human, this man with whom I so much disagree and who represents others with whom I disagree—this fellow human, whom God loves, who has for now at least cut himself off from God, is one for whom I have wept today.