Christianity and Middle-Earth

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Eucatastrophe

This little essay I came across by way of A Physicist’s Perspective just reamed me out but good.

And set me to a train of rather unpleasant thought.

Suppose you woke up one day, made yourself a nice little breakfast and settled down with your marmalade and coffee to be cozy with the morning paper. Almost immediately, you wish you hadn’t because the above-the-fold story is all about an as-yet unnamed local citizen being charged with – among other things – forcing a five-year old child to perform oral sex, raping a pregnant woman with a pipe-wrench, and embezzling the church Christmas-toy fund to spend a wild weekend in Amsterdam.

Not a pleasing thing to read whilst munching toast-fingers. But it’s about to get worse.

As your eyes focus on the accompanying photograph, it slowly dawns on you that that grainy long-shot of the accused is horribly, terribly familiar. You look at that face in the mirror every morning.

Before you can even get your pole-axed lungs functioning again, the phone calls start. You are aware of this only as a dim jangling edging in around the wild fringes of a black vision-field suddenly spangled with Hell’s fireworks, but you latch on to it as something that was in your world yesterday and the day before that and the day before the day before that; and eagerly, frantically make a practiced grab for a receiver you can’t even see.

“You’re dead, you &#%@ bastard!”

“Get out of our #$!@% neighborhood, you @&$# sonofabitch!”

“You’re &#%@ fired, you mother#@$! I don’t ever want to see your #%*@ face around here ever %@#% again!”

And that of course is just the beginning.

How the photographic mix-up happened, you have no idea. Your reeling brain lurches desperately at retractions and apologies in two-inch letters. The last caller’s imprecations lapse into dial tone as you frantically fumble for a phone book only to discover that you’re shaking too hard to turn the pages, your panicked thoughts crashing off one another like kitchen pots in the hands of a two-year old.

Can they fire you just like like that? Can you go out to the grocery store? The library? The post-office? Why aren’t you in jail?

What will people do when when they see you? Herd their children away? Curse you to your face? Spit on you?

Will you end up like those poor child-care workers who finally ‘confessed’ to crimes they never committed because plea-bargaining would give them some shadow of their lives back again?

~~~

As Mark Loughridge puts it in his post:

[Jesus] is going to take the sins of his people on himself. In this moment it is as if all the sins he will have to bear crowd into his vision in the most glaring light. Is it any wonder that he looks on this and shudders in utter abhorrence? The awfulness of it swamps him. It sweeps over him like a relentless tide of raw sewage that keeps on coming and coming and coming. And he hasn’t got to Calvary yet where it actually happens, but this is just (if I can say just) this is just the realisation of the awfulness of it.

And that was not all. Not only is there our sin to bear, but there is something much worse: the wrath of his father. The gracious smile of the father was to be lost. And replaced with a face of holy judgement. Here is the garden we see Christ is deep and terrible distress. The awfulness of what awaits him crushes him and the thought of facing his beloved father and seeing the face he loved filled with holy anger against him squeezes rivers of silent tears from him.


The scenario I painted above illustrates the point, I hope.

Christ came to the cross and was, without any resistance on his part, blamed for a whole world of wickedness he never committed. Before the entire host of heaven he traded his goodness and innocence to, as it were, confess to the title of murderer, thief, abortionist, child molester, liar, sex-trafficker. He became a man guilty of any and every offense you can imagine and probably some you can’t, and he did it knowing what the consequences would be.

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

~~~

Frodo is very much a Christ-figure, but he is also each of us, individual Christians plodding through the Mordor of this world, patiently (more or less) treading the broken earth, seeking a final end to the weight and weariness of the burdens we carry.

Beneath the enticing golden shimmer of the Ring was a power that Frodo could not truly comprehend. Little of his life in the kindly Shire could have prepared him to confront the re-entry-grade impact and fury of Sauron’s life-force and stand against it: only his inherent innocence and goodness were of any use in that direction.

Boiling out from the Ring like a high tide in a narrow place, the floodwaters of the Enemy’s will pounded against that fragility until at long last, on the edge of the Fire, Frodo’s small strength failed him utterly. In that instant, when he took the bright and burning gold to be his Precious, Sauron’s heart and will engulfed his own.

We are most of us less innocent than Frodo, and yet many of us maintain a certain degree of removal from the darkest reaches of the human condition. I could have done new research on the sins to which we humans are prey and provided links and painted my picture in far more repellent colors had I wished; merely by use of even such mild explicitness as I have above, I keep that remove in place. (I’d rather not soil my keyboard, thank you, and I prefer not to know any more details than I know already. My own revulsion illustrates Mark's point and my own nicely.)

When Christ bore our sins, there was no remove. There was no polite hedging around things because of being ‘in mixed company.’ All of our sins, from the small and petty selfishnesses to the most depraved of violent crimes, came upon him and him alone and left him lying before heaven in his blood and our unedited guilt.

“You bring great evil here, Ringbearer.”

~~~

Like Frodo, we stand on the balance-point of life and death; like Frodo we find that our small strengths cannot save us from the fatal step. But Love in the person of Christ is there at our end as our own goodnesses fail before the onslaught of Mordor and Night, forcing even the ruinous work of the Enemy to our redemption.

For as did Love at Frodo’s bitter falling, so does Love for mankind as the Ring is taken from us even against our weakness and cast into the Fire and we are set free.

 

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