Tag Archives: Epic

Apocalypse, World View and Work

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?
Matthew 24:44-45 (NIV)

Whether we know it or not, each one of us approach life with a certain ingrained perspective. It’s called a world view and we each have one. Our world view determines how we perceive and react to events and circumstances around us. If something happens that doesn’t fit neatly into our world view, it can be rather disconcerting.

I thought a lot about world view this past November when Donald Trump unexpectedly won the Presidency. It was an event that most of us never could have imagined happening. We know that anyone can run for President, but we’ve come to expect from history that the winner is always going to be a member of the political establishment.

The election results definitely shook things up, and with it came all sorts of apocalyptic thinking. I still feel it simmering beneath the surface of news articles, posts, and current events. Along my life journey I’ve noticed this pattern in human behavior. If we’re rattled hard enough we go into doomsday mode.

As I sat in my hotel room on election night at 1:00 a.m. swapping text messages with Wendy and Taylor I got to thinking about world views. Among followers of Jesus the prevailing world view has been a predominantly medieval one in which things are going to get worse and worse and worse and worse until the very end when Jesus returns in a eucatastrophic moment.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a teacher of medieval literature and his epics reflect this world view. Saruman is a great example of how Tolkien viewed modern man felling the innocence of the trees to fuel his machines of war. (Interesting to think how serving in WWI and living through WWII may have affected his world view. ) Darkness grows and spreads until the forces of good stand on the field of battle outnumbered and hopeless. Then at the darkest moment something happens to miraculously bring about unexpected victory. That’s what he called eucatastrophe.

There is another world view among followers of Jesus, however, that holds that things are actually getting better [cue: The Beatles’ It’s Getting Better All the Time]. It’s the “glass is actually half-full” world view. This world view holds that despite the headlines and 24 hour news channels skewing our perspective by bombarding us with the latest tragedies from around the globe, the situation world-wide is actually better today than at any point in human history. There’s less disease, life spans are the longest they’ve ever been, things are safer than they’ve ever been globally, and food production is the highest it’s ever been around the globe. Poverty world-wide is lower than its ever been in history and what we would call “poor” in today’s world is far different (and better) than our definition just a generation or two ago.

In today’s chapter Jesus gives his followers some generalities about what’s to come in the future. It reads like the medieval world view with wars, famines, false messiahs, and Jesus returning when no one is expecting it. Even in the description Jesus admits that He does not know the exact timing of events.

These things are fascinating to think about, and many people dedicate much of their lives to studying eschatology and all the various theories of the end times. Google it and you’ll find all sorts of charts, graphs, opinions, and theories about what’s to come.

I found it interesting that Jesus concludes His apocalyptic overview with a parable of a servant in charge of feeding his master’s servants while the master is away. When the master returns the only question was whether or not the servant was found doing what he was supposed to do. Jesus’ message is clear: Don’t worry about these ordained events that I cannot control. Worry about being faithful to do each day those things I am called to do. Actively love God. Actively love others. The rest will take care of itself.

On election night our daughter asked me to text her something wise. I don’t know how wise my message was, but I gave her my perspective at that moment. Donald Trump may be President, but the next morning I was going to get up, go to work, and do the things I do everyday. Just like I did when Obama was President, and Bush 43, and Clinton, and Bush 41. Life goes on. My job is to focus my time and attention on my spheres of influence and doing the things I’m called to do to the best of my ability.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do 😉

Purposes and Implosions of Evil

“I will stir up Egyptian against Egyptian—
    brother will fight against brother,
    neighbor against neighbor,
    city against city,
    kingdom against kingdom.”
Isaiah 19:2 (NIV)

‘Yes, they quarreled, seemingly,’ said Sam. ‘There must have been a couple of hundred of the dirty creatures in this place. A bit of a tall order for Sam Gamgee, as you might say. But they’ve done all the killing of themselves.’
The Lord of the Rings, Book 6, Chapter 1

Evil falls prey to its own nature. That’s one of the themes that Tolkien threaded through his epic stories. Left to its own devices, evil implodes from its self-seeking appetites:

  • Several characters relented from killing Gollum and Gandalf even believed that Gollum had a part to play in the fate of the ring. Gollum’s insatiable lust for the One Ring was what ultimately saved Frodo and everyone else, while destroying both the Ring and himself.
  • In the Tower of Cirith Ungol Sam is able to find Frodo and rescue him because all of the orcs fought and destroyed each other. (see quoted passage above)
  • The orcs who took Merry and Pippin quarrel over their captives and their quarrel is leveraged by the hobbits to plot their escape.
  • Gandalf refuses to kill either Saruman or Wormtongue. In the end, Wormtongue finishes Saruman off himself.

I thought about this theme in Tolkien’s stories, and its caused me to think about my responses and reactions to evil that I encounter around me and in others. As a young man I was far more given to the notion of swift and final justice of any perpetrator of evil. The further I get in my journey the more I’ve come to appreciate that life is not always as simply black and white.

Even God, through the word of the prophets, makes it clear that sometimes the agents of evil unwittingly serve the greater design of the Great Story. In Isaiah’s prophetic messages to the nations in the past few chapters there has been a recurring theme of Israel’s enemies accomplishing God’s larger purposes. And, sometimes  implodes and devours itself.

Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement,” Gandalf says to Frodo regarding Gollum’s deserving justice. “For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

This morning I’m thinking about grand themes of good and evil, of mercy and justice. I would love for things to always be simple in the story telling and to avoid the messiness of the mystery. I would especially appreciate it as I apply these themes to my own life and relationships. Yet, my life journey has taught me that things are rarely that simple. The truth is that I would have quickly dispatched Gollum and considered it a just end, but then how would the larger epic have ended?

I’m left, as I am so often am, praying for wisdom and discernment. I’m trying harder than ever to suppress my natural eagerness to deal out judgement. I’m trying harder than ever to increase love in tangible ways.

 

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The Implosion of Evil

merry and pippin held by orcsWhen Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. Acts 23:6-7 (NRSV)

One of the themes I have noticed in epic literature over the years is that evil tends to implode from within. In the Lord of the Rings, Merry and Pippin were able to escape from their captors in large part because of the infighting between the orcs Mordor and the Uruk-Hai of Isengard. Likewise, the reason Sam was able to rescue Frodo from the Tower of Cirith Ungol was because all of the orcs killed each other. Factions of hatred have a hard time uniting.

I was reminded of this as I read today’s chapter. The Jewish council had two main factions who disagreed on theology and who seemed to hate one another more than they hated Paul and the followers of Jesus. The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death or in the spiritual realm while the Pharisees did. Paul, seizing on the opportunity to stir up the on-going debate between the two factions, sided loudly with the Pharisees and got the two factions arguing (orc-like). The Pharisees were suddenly defending Paul as an ally and the Romans were forced to rescue him from the ensuing tumult.

Today, I’m reminded that Jesus command to love others, even our enemies, has powerful consequences far beyond the spiritual health of our own souls. The power of love to unite is one of the most powerful weapons we have against evil.

Foreshadowing

job

You will call and I will answer you;
    you will long for the creature your hands have made.
Surely then you will count my steps
    but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.
Job 14:15-17 (NIV)

The book of Job is an epic poem (bookended with a prose prologue and epilogue). It was likely an ancient story and scholars suggest that the protagonist of the story lived sometime between 1000 and 2000 B.C. The story of Job and his three friends was likely shared through oral tradition for many generations before a Hebrew poet and scribe penned it in the form and structure we read today. The date is unknown, but historians place the books writing anywhere between the reign of Solomon and when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and forced the Hebrews into exile which would put it roughly 600-1000 years before Christ.

Realizing that we’re reading a poem penned so many centuries before Jesus was born, what struck me in today’s chapter was the foreshadowing of Jesus that came out in Job’s words:

You will call and I will answer you;

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” – Jesus

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus

You will long for the creature your hands have made.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…. John 3:16

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” – Jesus

Surely then you will count my steps,

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” – Jesus

but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” – Jesus

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

God is telling a story, and it is woven through His Message. Job is a part of that story. His ancient words not only speak to me of my very present human condition, but also foreshadow a chapter of God’s story which would not unfold for many millennia.

This morning, I’m thankful for the rich layers of story and of meaning told through Job, and through the books of law, and history, and wisdom. I’m thankful for the ways I daily relate to them these thousands of years later, and the ways they richly reveal God’s story as it unfolds across time.

Connected Stories

Source: Steve Czajka via Flickr
Source: Steve Czajka via Flickr

The sons of Judah:
Er, Onan and Shelah. These three were born to him by a Canaanite woman, the daughter of Shua. Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. Judah’s daughter-in-law Tamar bore Perez and Zerah to Judah. He had five sons in all.
1 Chronicles 2:3 (NIV)

The first section of the record that the scribe penned was following the family line from Adam through Noah to Abraham and Israel. Now the scribe lists out the twelve tribes of Israel, but notice that the scribe immediately moves to the tribe of Judah and ignores the other eleven tribes. Judah was David’s tribe. It was the tribe from which God established His throne.

Often in reading the chapter each day and writing these blog posts I find myself focused in on the micro details of something in the chapter. There’s some little word, phrase, detail or nuance that resonates with me that morning and with where I find myself on life’s road. When reading the long lists and genealogies I also pay attention to the small details that the scribe inserts about certain individuals. I ask myself, “Why did he mention that little detail when he said nothing about all these other people?” Today, however, I found myself thinking about this family tree on the macro level:

  • The long line of descendants tie the stories together. When reading God’s Message we often think about the stories and characters from different eras and ages to be disconnected as if they are random snapshots from different times in history, but when you step back and look at them through time and family line we see that they are all connected. It’s all one storyline and one family. We read the book of Ruth and the touching story of her marriage to Boaz, but we forget that Ruth was Kind David’s great-grandmother.
  • Because God told David that his throne would be established forever, the subsequent generations knew that Messiah would come from David’s line and from the tribe of Judah. When Matthew and Luke write their biographies of Jesus and make claim that Jesus was the Messiah, they knew that their Jewish readers would immediately question Jesus’ claim based on his family tree. That’s why Matthew and Luke trace Jesus’ pedigree back to David, and why the Christmas story of the census that sent Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem was so critical to the larger storyline. Bethlehem was the “City of David” and Jesus, the Messiah, was born in David’s home town. The story of Jesus is intricately woven into to the story of David.
  • There were eleven tribes left out of this list. Siblings don’t abide favorites and the fact that the tribe of Judah was getting the better end of this monarchy thing was not lost on the other tribes. Keep in mind that Judah made David their king long before the rest of the tribes signed on. Keep in mind that Absalom’s rebellion was rooted in powerful individuals from the other tribes while it appears that those of the tribe of Judah maintained their steadfast support of David. Keep in mind that once David’s grandson takes the throne the nation will split in two along these same tribal lines and years of civil war will follow.

Even in our own stories, it is sometimes good to step back and look at things at a macro level. What’s the story of my life? How, if I can see it, does my story connect with the Great Story? What are the overarching theme’s of my story? Who are the main characters of my life epic? Can I see individuals in my story (family, friends, teachers, mentors, spouses, children) who fit classic archetypes?:

  • Innocent
  • Orphan
  • Hero
  • Caregiver
  • Explorer
  • Rebel
  • Lover
  • Creator
  • Jester/Fool
  • Sage
  • Magician
  • Ruler

Today, I’m thinking about my story on a macro level and musing on the larger, connected story being told through my journey. I hope you’ll think about yours. Perhaps over a cup of coffee, a good meal, or a pint we can swap stories.