JRR Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings once wrote: “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.”
Note here that he attributes this seemingly pessimistic view on his Roman Catholic faith. Tolkien tells us that Catholicism views human history as the “long defeat.”
As I have gotten older, the truth of this sinks in. Though I think everyone begins to feel this way with age. The sunny days of youth are idealized and the younger generation begins to cast off the values that served as the solid foundation for our own lives. It leaves us feeling unmoored from the world, as if the culture is moving away from us and beyond us to the point where we begin to feel irrelevant.
We can feel this in politics, the popular culture, and even in our local communities. But we especially see this in how our society treats our faith. We are told that we have lost the the next generation on things like abortion, same-sex “marriage,” drugs, materialism, and atheism. Society, it seems, has evolved and we are told we too must evolve or die.
Pope Benedict XVI once wrote that in the modern world, the believer feels more and more like the outcast. He tells the story of a traveling circus that catches fire, so one of the clowns goes to the local town to scream for help. Seeing him in his clown outfit, the townsfolk think he is joking and begin to laugh. The more emphatically and emotionally he pleads for help, they laugh all the more. Pope Benedict said that this is how many modern Christians feel when trying to share the faith with the modern world.
And notice that Tolkien’s view is completely at odds with the modern notion of progress. There is a notion out there that even as we jettison the old religious traditions that somehow we will, through our technology and our politics, achieve an undreamt of utopia.
Of course CS Lewis pointed out that this idea of the inevitability of progress is a myth. He wrote in The World’s Last Night that , “The idea of the world slowly ripening to perfection, is a myth, not a generalization from experience. “ But this myth must be kept in place in order for us to “move beyond” the Christian faith.
Christ Himself warned us about this future. He told His disciples, ““If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’[a] If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. “ (John 15:18-20)
Jesus was not a Utopian idealist. He even told His followers that “The poor you will have with you always.” (Mark 14:7) Fallen human nature can have a gravitational pull on the souls of men, whereas the life of grace requires us to swim upstream, to go against the tide.
In many ways, you can see how Tolkien was right.
God makes the world. And what follows?
-Adam and Eve fall
-Cain kills Abel
-everyone becomes sinful but Noah
-the tower of Babel
-Sodom and Gomorrah
-Jacob steals the birthright
-Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery
-Hebrews build the golden calf
-Moses strikes the rock twice
-Saul tries to kill David
-David becomes an adulterer and murderer
-Solomon commits idolatry
-Civil war in the kingdom
-the Babylonian Exile
-the Roman occupation
-Christ is condemned to death by His own people and crucified by the Romans
And the book of Revelation tells us of the tribulations that are to come.
But we should not despair.
Remember the entirety of Tolkien’s quote. “History” is the long defeat.
But Christians look beyond history into eternity.
And that is where we will find final victory.
If the world around us seems like it is collapsing into evil and chaos, remember the words of The Little Flower, St. Terese: “The world is thy ship. Not thy home.” Our boat may be rickety and the waves may be crashing over the sides so that we fear we may sink. But if Jesus is in the boat with us, He will get us to land He promised. The question is not if the boat will sink (it won’t). The question is who will stay safe in the boat and who will abandon ship and drown.
Even in the eyes of history, we can see the work of eternity if we have the eyes of faith:
-God promises a savior after the Fall
-God spares Cain’s life
-God saves humanity through Noah
-the people of Babel fill the world as God intended
-God reminds us that the righteousness of 10 men could save a city
-Jacob builds the nation of God
-Joseph’s saves his family
-Hebrews become people of the Law
-Moses shows us how to accept responsibility for our sins
-Saul fails to hurt the Lord’s anointed
-David repents and remains the greatest of kings
-Solomon is still used by God to hand on His wisdom
-The mistakes of the kings act as a warning for us.
-the return from exile brings great joy
-the Roman Empire becomes the means by which Christianity spreads
-by killing Christ on the Cross, we have a chance at eternal joy
Do not be afraid.
Whatever is going on in the news or in the world, do not be afraid.
We will experience much more defeat and heartache in this world. But remember the words of our Lord: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Remember, even though history is a long defeat, all that matters is what happens in the end.
And the promise of God is that His victory is final.
Copyright 2020, WL Grayson