Love Wins, Post One.
The title of today’s post is a modified line from King Theoden’s speech in The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien (the chapter is titled “The Ride of the Rohirrim” in both the novel and the film). The first reason I thought of this line is that I’ve always loved the poetry of it, and as I write this from my kitchen table, the rising sun has just begun to peek above the fence to blind me through the open blinds, and I am reminded of the orcs who are blinded by the sun that rises over the hill just as Theoden gives his powerful last words and and the army of Rohan makes its unstoppable charge into the forces of darkness. It was this aspect of Theoden’s line - its significance during one of the great and final battles of Middle-earth - that made me decide to keep it. Theoden may or may not have known it, but his final speech was very prophetic in its context.
Tolkien’s timeline of Middle-earth is characterized by four Ages, each Age being a significant period of time marked by a major and “life as we know it”-changing event at its inception. The first three of these Ages all hold one thing in common: there is a great conflict at work between good and evil, and at the head of the evil side of the table, there is always a Dark Lord. Whenever evil is making a play for the dominance of Middle-earth, there is a being who represents the source of its forces, its darkness, who is the embodiment of its plans, desires, and motives. During the First Age, Morgoth is the principal agent of evil in Middle-earth. After Morgoth is defeated and banished, his chief lieutenant Sauron rises to take his place, becoming the Dark Lord of the Second and Third Ages. However, not long after Sauron attacked Minas Tirith and Theoden utters his unlikely prophecy, the One Ring is destroyed and Sauron defeated. After Sauron is defeated, there is no one to take his place. Because of the sorcery he performs in the creation of the Ring, its destruction ensures not only his own end, but the utter destruction of all of his forces as well, they being extensions of his power and the Ring being the source of that power. After Sauron’s defeat, the Fourth Age begins, the minor forces of evil still alive in Middle-earth are purged, and no new Dark Lord rises to power. This all happened because people like Theoden believed that the sun could rise on a the world they lived in. Theoden’s prophecy was not just a prediction of words, but one of action, evidenced by the fact that his speech was given to rally his armies to fight the battle necessary to make his hopes become reality.
Middle-earth was freed from evil because its free peoples were willing to question the world they lived in. They were willing to imagine that things could work differently. They asked themselves what kind of world they wanted to live n and compared it to the reality they knew. What if we didn’t have to fear the forces of evil? What if we didn’t have to be constantly on guard when outside at night? What if our city didn’t need to be surrounded by a wall? What if our children didn’t have to grow up in fear of our village being raided by orcs? What if my people didn’t need a militia of 30 warriors posted in every village to ensure their safety? What if we could rebuild Osgiliath as the great city it once was, rather than having to staff its ruins with archers to fend off any orc attacks? What if we could re-inhabit the Mines of Moria?
And so the peoples of Middle-earth set out to make the world of their dreams the world of their reality.
What if we could do that?
What if we could make the sun rise on our world? First, We’d need to determine which sun we want to rise. What changes need to happen? What are our “what-if”s for the reality we’ve come to know? We all live in a fallen world - I think anyone could recognize that. People lie, cheat, and steal. Some people murder others. I get up every day and am immediately disinclined to do all the things I know I need to do. Why? Simply put, our world isn’t perfect. Maybe it won’t ever be, as far as the immediate, foreseeable and experienceable future is concerned for those of us who are already her. But I think we could do better.
I’ve come to realize that this is about far more than Love Wins and taking a new look at faith, spirituality, and Christianity for me. This is about changing the world. This is a theme that I’ll have to include elsewhere - it’s too big for me to ignore. And as I explore it, I’ll be delving into something new. My posts will be raw, disorganized, rough, exploratory. This blog is a canvas, a sketchbook, a place to brainstorm. It’s like publishing unedited field notes. I won’t always get it right. I’m not perfect. That’s what essais are about. Trying - giving it a shot, and learning along the way.
Now, if I can ask the questions inspired by Love Wins that I’ve been brewing over for days, I’ll try to do so.
(If you haven’t watched the video introduction to Love Wins that I posted a few days ago, now would be a good time to do that.) (Please don’t finish reading before you’ve watched it. Additionally, please finish reading after you’ve watched it.)
Read it yet? Okay, good. Here we go.
Love Wins. It’s a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived. It’s written be Rob Bell (If you’ve seen him somewhere before, it’s because he’s the NOOMA guy (see http://nooma.com/). I highly recommend the NOOMA videos. They’re fun). I’m currently reading it, and thus far I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly, though I’m only 50 pages in at the moment. In it, Rob Bell attempts to take a look at heart of the Christian religion, at its message, its character, its history, our conceptions of it, and ask “What is its message, really?” What is the good news, really? What is heaven? What is hell? If God is real, what is He like? What is Jesus’ role? And how do I fit into all of this?
His conclusion, and mine before picking the book up, has been that we don’t always have the story straight. Those of us who are Christians don’t always understand our own religion or our own texts. Sometimes, we preach the wrong message - the wrong gospel. So what is the story, if we’ve gotten it wrong at times?
The story is that love wins.
But what does that mean? Good question. And so my list of questions to get us all (or maybe just myself) thinking about the idea. Some questions are bolder than others, and if you aren’t sure you agree with the implications of any of my ideas, please forgive me. This is an essay. I’m trying something; I may not always be right.
- What if mortal life is about more than getting to heaven?
- What if there’s more to it than that?
- What if heaven isn’t some distant, far away place, unlike our world in every way, with different rules, ways, and mechanisms?
- What if what we do here really matters?
- What if God works to bring about His will through His people much more than we realize?
- What if this is the primary way He works in our world?
- What if God’s infinite forgiveness is truly infinite?
- What if there is no arbitrary point in time at which forgiveness is no longer available?
- What if hell isn’t a place?
- What if hell isn’t permanent?
- What if God doesn’t have to punish to forgive?
- What if there really is hope for every fallen man to pick themselves up, even whenthey think they can’t? (Relient K, “Hope For Every Fallen Man,” The Birds and the Bee sides)
- What if heaven can happen on earth?
- What if we all have to voluntarily choose it to make it happen?
- What if removing the freedom to make choices by coercing moral standards and values is actually something that can only bring us closer to hell?
- What if the primary message of the gospel - the good news - is that God’s love wins; that His doors are alway open?
- What if the message accompanying that message is that we as humans have a calling to love, to care for one another, to make our world everything it ought to be?
How can we make that happen? And how can we share these ideas with others? Something tells me they’re catching. They resonate - they having something to offer us: a new look at things, a potential chance to change the world. What if that really can happen?
Ere the sun rises.
[I plan on going into depth on most of those questions and other ideas from Love Wins in specific detail in the future. I’m hoping to update this series every Tuesday/Wednesday at the least. Next week, I’ll having something more substantial discussing a specific idea or topic at length.]