“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” – Tolkien ‘The Lord of the Rings’
How do we reckon with the presence of evil in a beautiful world?
Let’s look to the stories…
Darkness has come to the Shire. Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippen are forced to flee their childhood home that was once filled with song and laughter. It’s all they’ve ever known. But destiny calls them forward, and blindly they answer the call, only to find that the world isn’t as safe as they once thought it was, and that courage is measured by more than a person’s size.
After losing his wife and child in the movie Kingdom of Heaven, Balian follows his estranged father to Jerusalem, hoping to find a place of redemption. Instead he finds a land divided by war and greed. His conscience soon gets the best of him. He tries to carve out a comfortable life for himself, but he comes to realize that paradise is nothing if earned at the expense of integrity. And so he is forced to pick up his sword and follow his heart.
Benjamin Martin has known war. He fought alongside the Redcoats in the French and Indian War, and the experience has left a mark on his heart. All he wants to do is settle into a life of peace where he can farm his land and raise his children. But war has come again, this time right to his front porch where his son is murdered by the hand of the treacherous British Colonel William Tavington, and Martin is forced to face his own sins and take up arms as a patriot at the dawning of a new country.
Jesus has brought his band of brothers into the garden to pray. But pray for what? Even though he has told them over the last couple weeks that his time is running short, they still don’t understand. It’s not until one of their own shows up with a mob of soldiers and Pharisees that they begin to realize not all is well on this fateful night. Judas betrays his master with a kiss, and the disciples scatter in despair as the Roman authorities drag Jesus away to be flogged, and eventually executed.
These stories are filled with images of a world under siege, where faith and courage are tried in the fires of tragedy and heartache. Heroes are born in the midst of adversity, and we love to watch or read about the men and women who rise to face the challenge of their times, and who overcome. Even when it comes at a great cost.
But what about our own story?
We have known great loss. We have witnessed terrible things. Darkness has come and too often our hearts are overcome by it. We can certainly agree with Tolkien, can’t we? The world is indeed full of peril.
It’s hard to hold on to hope when facing tragedy. We are not so far removed from terrible events like what happened this week in Las Vegas that we are immune to them. Our hearts break at the loss of life. Or we grow angry. Or we simply turn our head and feel helpless. We find that we are not much different from those eleven disciples when despair grips our heart, and we wonder how can a loving God allow such evil to take place in the world.
In order find understanding, we need to revisit the story of mankind.
Our own story began long before the first male and female were placed in the garden. Long before the serpent brought deception to paradise. An angel named Lucifer sought to make himself a god, and so rebelled against the Creator. He was thrown out of heaven, cast down to earth, where he has been seething with a growing rage ever since. In his pursuit of vengeance, he has turned his wrath on mankind, because we are created in the image of the God he betrayed. And he seeks to kill, steal and destroy as many lives as he can, because he knows that his time is short.
What happened in the garden sealed a covenant that was executed on the premise of a lie. The mighty angel who once stood in the presence of the living God, has now become the Father of Deception, and he cons the man and woman into believing that God really doesn’t have their best interest at heart.
“God is holding out on you,” the serpent says, and a wedge of doubt is suddenly placed in between God and man.
Let’s pause here for a moment, because isn’t that the lie at the root of our despair? That God doesn’t really care? That we are all on our own? Where do you think that doubt comes from? Did you think it was from your own heart?
Back to the garden. The serpent, now called Satan, deceived the man and woman into betraying the trust they had with God. And oh the shame of this, friends! Adam and Even walked with God. They knew intimacy with our Creator like none of us could even imagine. And they gave it all away! In a moment crafted by the enemy, mankind gives up the greatest treasure of all. To know God. To live daily in His presence. To enjoy the warmth of His company and to hear His voice. What wouldn’t we give to have that restored to us?
But the enemy knew exactly what he was doing.
When God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, he gave them dominion over all creation (Genesis 1:26). His desire was for mankind to rule paradise. And when they made the decision to betray God, when they ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they handed that dominion over to the enemy. Paradise was lost.
The bible teaches that creation groans as it waits for the redemption of mankind. There is an unwinding that has been happening since this moment in the garden, a deterioration of creation that will only be reversed when Jesus comes back.
Adam and Eve lose paradise, and creation is placed under a curse. Something shifts throughout creation. We are no longer who we were meant to be. Mankind is left to toil and to slave under the dominion of sin, longing for the day when a savior might come to set everything free, and to restore balance.
In the middle of the night, thousands of years after Eden, a child is born to a young virgin named Mary. She and her husband don’t even have a proper place to lay their newborn son, so they swaddle him and lay him in a manger. There is something special about this little babe, so much so that Mary and Joseph have fled their hometown to keep him safe, because the king has ordered all newborn males to be put to death (the enemy at work, no doubt). And on that fateful night as the child is born, angels appear in the sky, rejoicing that the savior has finally come into the world. The one who has been prophesied. The one who will restore all things.
Why did Jesus come? I mean, the idea of God becoming flesh and being born into His own creation is absurd, isn’t it? Think about that for a moment.
Why would God leave His place in Heaven and take on the frailty of man?
But it was the only way. Creation was under a curse, and a covenant like the one made in the garden can only be broken by a blood sacrifice. An exchange needed to be made. Jesus took our place and gave himself at the cross. He became the curse, so that through Him we might escape it.
When Jesus rose from the dead, he shattered the power that death had over us all. What Adam gave to the enemy, and so cursed mankind, Jesus took back. And there is a restoration that will happen when all things are complete. When Jesus returns, the earth and all its beauty, and mankind in all its wonder, will be restored. You and I, we will be free.
This, my friends, is the gospel.
There will come a time when Jesus returns, and I certainly believe it will be soon. And all things will be made new.
Until that time, we need to understand that we still have an enemy, and he knows now more than ever that his time is cut short. He knows that he has already lost the battle. But an enemy who knows that his time is short is a dangerous enemy indeed. His bitterness and rage are perhaps like never before.
Now, I’m not one who believes that every bad thing comes from the devil. I think that idea is absurd. But there is evil in this world, and we have seen its face before. This week in Vegas. September 11th. Hitler. We have known the wrath of the enemy.
This understanding should shape our view of the world and what our place is in it. But what do we do?
Back to Tolkien’s words: “and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
Love. Mingled with grief. But growing even greater still.
Though our lives right now are mingled with grief, we cannot lose our hope. And we must be moved to a kind of love that reflects what Jesus has done for us. Evil cannot be legislated into submission. It cannot be willed away. It will continue to rise and seek where it may do the most harm, and we must face it. We must face our enemy. That is what we are called to do.
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7
“Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:13
We cannot lose heart. We cannot bow our heads in fear when tragedy comes. Like Frodo and his friends, we have been born into a world under siege. Things are not as they seem. There is a battle taking place in the heavenly realm, and we are needed, friends. So desperately needed. The world longs for the men and women of God to finally realize who we were meant to become, and who no longer settle for a comfortable life.
We carry within us the beacon of love, if we have surrendered our hearts to Christ. It’s not the version of love that this world understands. It’s the kind of love that will move a man to lay down his life for another. It is selfless. It is revolutionary. And even though it is mingled with grief, it grows greater still.
Our Story, though often tragic, is one of redemption. No form of evil can take away our hope.
And that’s what the world needs to hear.