I remember discussing with Matt, years ago, the difference between allegory and myth, reading through The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings and talking about how they represented (or failed to represent) the realities of this life. At the time, I was fully convinced that The Chronicles of Narnia far more accurately captured the ultimate story of our world – the fallenness of it all but also the care of Aslan (Jesus) and His goodness and triumph.
And now, after watching The Return of the King with Matt while we were in Wisconsin, I am finally coming to see the parallels and the depth of understanding offered by The Lord of the Rings. Difficulty and treachery. Wars and rumors of wars. Faramir’s army destroyed and he himself nearly killed needlessly; first-graders dead in Newtown. The growing darkness. And yet…there is Light. There is hope. Even when it seems all is lost, there is hope. But it’s often impossible to see.
In my mind, I have returned numerous times to the scene in which Aragorn leads his friends and a small army up to the black gate. They are outrageously outnumbered. They know they are walking into death – and yet they walk on, ready to fight as long as they can. And while they cannot see it and have every reason to believe it is impossible, all that they have worked for is about to be accomplished. The end is coming…but the end will not be with the triumph of evil.
The inevitable questions in the face of the tragedy in Newtown or the devastation of millions of orphans, often hungry and poor, around the world are: where is God in the face of so much suffering? How can there be a good God when there is so much evil in this world? How do we think about that? What do we do with it?
I’ve been reflecting on – agonizing over – those questions.
I think God brought several different ideas to my mind as I was pondering those questions last night. The first was those scenes from the Lord of the Rings. The second is this quote from a book by John Piper called Let the Nations be Glad:
“Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief. It is not surprising that prayer malfunctions when we try to make it a domestic intercom to call upstairs for more comforts in the den” (page 45).
I remember that quote being so striking to me when I read it for the first time; indeed, when I searched through my copy of the book this evening to find it, I found that I had underlined it years ago. What a reminder about the state of this world in which we are living. We so often live as if we are confused – or worse yet, just wrong. My life on this earth is not about my comfort. This is not one grand idyllic beach vacation. Our world is a warzone.
The third memory that occurred to me as I was thinking about these questions was a topic from a lecture in a marriage counseling course I took through the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. Our professor talked about what it really means that we live in a fallen world. God created man and earth in an unfallen state, but when Eve was tempted by the serpent (Satan) to turn away from God, Adam and Eve’s sin changed the nature of our world. He looked at God’s words to Adam, Eve, and the serpent after the fall and noted that God curses the serpent, saying:
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
The fact that there is enmity between men and evil beings is not a curse on man but a curse on Satan – and within that curse, God is promising victory to His people. It is the first promise of His rescue. My notes say, “If God did not put enmity between the woman and the serpent, we would have been given over to the enemy. But God rescues us by turning us away from this alliance.” There is blessing in the fact that we and our world are not fully given over to Satan, that we are not entirely consumed by evil. My professor noted, “Conflict is the norm for life. Battle and warfare. It is not a sign of God’s absence; it is a symbol of His presence.”
Of course these thoughts do not and could not ever fully answer the question of why there is so much suffering here on earth when we have a sovereign and good God – but they have been an encouragement to me as I contemplate those questions amidst the realities of this world.