Darkness is rolling across the land and the forces of evil seem to be growing in power around the globe.
In such times, it is always good to return to the Holy Scriptures for guidance and inspiration.
This is particularly true with all the bitterness and divisions, hatred and anger, selfish “me-me-me”-ness, as well as the verbal, physical, political and structural violence spreading throughout the world and across our country.
That’s why I am reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
True story: Once, as a seminary student, while we were discussing the book of Revelation in class, I asked, “What sets Revelation apart from J.R.R. Tolkien’s grand mythology?”
Revelation, of course, is filled with wild, fantastic stories of talking beasts, terrifying monsters, rivers of blood, gore and guts, and epic battles of good versus evil. It reminds us that God is love, God is good and just, and that goodness, love and justice ultimately prevail.
Revelation was written in a cryptic, allegorical manner for an oppressed and violently persecuted people; a people living under the mind-boggling cruelty of the utterly corrupt Roman Empire.
The purpose of Revelation was to infuse them with hope and to inspire them to keep on going, to not give up, to not grow weary, to never surrender to despair.
The Lord of the Rings books are also filled with wild, fantastic stories of talking beasts and terrifying monsters, as well as blood, gore and guts of even biblical proportions. Tolkien’s tales are epic battles of good versus evil, and goodness, love and justice, in the end, are triumphant.
So, what does make John the Revelator’s apocalyptic writing different from J.R.R. Tolkien’s grand mythology?
The wise professor paused and smiled, then noted, “Well, other than the early church councils’ closing the biblical canon long before Tolkien’s works could be considered, I guess not much.”
I’m sure he probably added something about not being grounded in the Adam/Jesus narrative too, but now that’s just taking all the fun out of this piece, isn’t it?
I have learned I am not alone in returning to The Lord of the Rings for hope. Many of us are finding in those stories inspiration to persevere, no matter how bad things get.
In these epic, ground-shaking times, a global pandemic is wreaking havoc. It threatens our jobs, our schools, our health and even our most sacred of institutions, college football. It is all so completely overwhelming.
In these chaotic and deadly days, we long for a time of predictability; we pray for something resembling normalcy. Predictability and normalcy mean comfort.
The hobbit, Frodo Baggins, finds himself far, far away from the ease and familiarity of his beloved Shire. He longs for the comfort of his hobbit-hole. He is overwhelmed by the darkness, evil and death around him.
Frodo speaks for us when he says, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
Gandalf, the great and wise wizard, replies, “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Gandalf is speaking to us. We do not get to choose the times in which we live. All we get to decide is what we are going to do with the times in which we find ourselves.
It is Paul the Apostle, not Gandalf the Grey, who speaks to us in Galatians 6:7-10. He encourages us to just keep doing good, just keep doing the right thing, just keep looking out for one another, just keep working for the good of all.
Sooner or later, Paul says, we will reap the harvest we have planted. Sooner or later, he reminds us, goodness and love will win. God’s righteousness will be victorious.
John the revelator. Paul the apostle. Tolkien the storyteller. The message remains the same: The context of our present is not ours to control. What is in our control is how we will respond within that context.
So, let us not grow weary. Let us persist in doing what is right, regardless of the cost.
And, above all, for the love of God and love of our neighbors, let us not think only of ourselves, but rather work diligently for the benefit of everyone.
That is our role to play in this continuation of God’s grand eternal tale.
Pastor of University Baptist Church in Starkville, Mississippi, and the author of five books, including “A Rabbi & a Preacher Go to a Pride Parade,” Montgomery also teaches religion and sociology courses at Mississippi State University.