Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hobbits In a Land of Dragons

We are hobbits in a land of dragons.

(Properly, I suppose, we should say, “in the land of THE dragon,” but since Satan has innumerable minions doing his bidding, we would not be out of line to assume they are of similar character.)

It’s impossible to know precisely how much of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth was intended to allegorize the Christian experience, and in the end the answer is unimportant. Tolkien’s faith, like that of any believing writer, informed both the plot of his epic fantasy and his imaginary characters, intentionally or otherwise. At least in part he wrote what he knew, and it seems to me that one of the things he knew best was salt-of-the-earth, slightly out-of-touch, decent, ordinary men and women going about their business without ruffling a lot of feathers.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Peaceful and Quiet

Paul tells Timothy:
“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
Peace and quiet are not bad things, and we’ve had plenty of both in North America and parts of Europe for the last seventy years, notwithstanding the usual sabre-rattling and national participation (mostly by proxy) in distant conflicts. I don’t imagine it’s particularly profitable for us to beat ourselves up for the privilege we’ve had extended to us. Living peacefully and quietly is something worth praying for, not as an end in itself, but as a means to a greater end:
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
So the average Christian is to be deliberate about not disrupting the political order unnecessarily, not so much so he or she may enjoy a pleasant, undisturbed existence, but in order to further the spread of the gospel.

No Orcs, No Nazgûl

We’ve done that well — at least the “peaceful and quiet” part. North American evangelicals have peaceful down to a tee. Oh, I know the Left, the Media and especially Hollywood do their best to paint Christians as would-be terrorist bogeymen, but the facts on the ground bear no resemblance to their carefully constructed narrative. Christian suicide bombers are not exactly a growing demographic. We may be falsely portrayed as orcs or Nazgûl, but we’re … just hobbits.

I don’t know about “godly”, but there is not much more peaceful, quiet and dignified than Tolkien’s Shire, and hope I’m not insulting anyone to say that many of the denizens of our local churches are dead ringers for citizens of Hobbiton. Not because we’re short, or have furry feet, or are fond of blowing smoke rings in our gardens at sunset, but because in our own Shire-like peacefulness, quiet and dignity, many of us are about as insulated as it’s possible to be while still living in the modern world.

For most of the war with Sauron, no more than five citizens of Tolkien’s Shire had any real idea what was going on way out there in Middle Earth. And of all the qualities Christians and hobbits have in common, that willful obliviousness seems to be the one we ought to take the most pains not to imitate.

Quietness Is Not Stupidity

Why? Because leading a peaceful and quiet life is the side of ourselves we present to the world for the world’s sake. It is Christian behavior designed by God to maximize the effectiveness of testimony. But it is not a dopey, uninformed quietness. It is not dullness or unwillingness to engage. The same apostle who encourages Timothy to teach peace and quiet counsels the Ephesians this way:
“We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
A contradiction? Not at all. Paul is unlikely to contradict Paul. Like Bilbo Baggins and Frodo’s intrepid foursome, it is the obligation of true hobbits of character to know what’s going on in the wider world — or in our case, the spiritual realm. There are dragons out there, not to mention orcs, goblins and Nazgûl. If the Bridge of Khazad-dûm has been shattered and the Balrog is fighting Gandalf in the depths of Moria, it does not make us better hobbits to be unaware of these realities, though in our own quiet way we persist in praying for peace and safety.

The Twelve Hobbits

Consider how the Lord almost begged his own coterie of “hobbits” to give thought to the invisible spiritual dangers that surrounded them and respond appropriately:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.”
Sadly, the failure of his faith wasn’t on Peter’s prayer list that day. He remained unaware of his spiritual peril despite the warning. Then there was this one:
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Naturally, the Lord found his disciples sleeping again. The hobbits were oblivious. And the dragons were invisible to them.

I’m Going To Get Myself In Trouble Here

In many of our churches, we gather for prayer week after week and spend the bulk of our time together pouring our hearts out to God over the sick and aging among us (often the same people), striving in prayer to resist the almost-inevitable. (I say “almost”, because for a single generation death is not inevitable, praise the Lord! But who knows if those for whom we pray are among them?) Of course we would love to keep each and every one of them with us forever, but that is not the nature of fallen creation. At some point we will all be called home, and I for one hope that the Christians who gather in my local prayer meeting don’t waste too many precious minutes of their very limited time together tilting at spiritual windmills on my behalf. When I finally check out, where I’m going will be … wait for it … BETTER. Far better, in fact. Paul says it. I believe it.

So do most of the people we’re praying to keep with us.

A thought: Could we stop praying quite so much for the preservation of their tapped out, worn out, exhausted, longing-to-be-at-home-with-the-Lord-Jesus bodies?

Principalities and Powers

Take a breath. Don’t hurt me now.

Do you believe in the resurrection? I do, and I know you do too. Some of you believe in it with a lot more clarity and conviction than I will ever muster.

So let’s act like it.

Sure, we’d all prefer that those we love get better and remain with us if at all possible. But if we’re going to pray for the sick, could we maybe invest more of our efforts supporting them in the spiritual aspect of their suffering? Can we address the powers and principalities?

Could we beseech the Lord that their testimony to their family in their declining days and moments will be fresh and real? That their faith in the love and goodness of God will not falter in the face of pain and suffering? That they will be preserved from the displays of childish pettiness that characterize many seniors who don’t know the Lord? That they will be able to pray even when it’s hard to think clearly. That those who can still think and speak clearly will have freedom and opportunity to testify to the grace of God in their hospital beds and that their likeness to their Saviour will be evident to all even when they can’t get the words out. That they … ahem … Finish Well. Every real believer wants that, I think. Can we pray that they feel the presence of the Good Shepherd in the Valley of the Shadow of Death? That, even if their minds falter and peter out before their bodies, what is left of them will be useful in building Christian character in their loved ones who are caring for them, teaching them lessons of eternal consequence. And that the kingdom of God be furthered in their lives and furthered even more in their passing.

That’s all most of them really want, I suspect. Not another five-year, or two-year, or six-month kick at the can.

The actual mechanics of living and dying are only the affairs of Hobbiton. Not to be minimized. Not to be ignored. But definitely not the whole story. The principalities and powers are out there doing business. We may only be hobbits, but ask Frodo Baggins about the limitations of hobbithood. We definitely have a part to play.

Assuming we know what that part is.

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