Month: February 2014

Enjoying the songs of middle-earth

When I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as a child, I didn’t have much time for the songs. The short ones I endured, the long ones I skipped. Now I’m discovering a hitherto unknown appreciation for this poetry.

Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

J. R. R. Tolkein, The Hobbit

As we’ve already seen this week, the Christian hope is described beautifully by Tolkein. This time the focus is on rest. The Christian journeys through this world in a constant state of war with spiritual forces. But our eyes, which currently see the conflict of fire and sword, will one day enjoy the sight of meadows, trees and hills that we have previously known only by faith.

Quick Quote 4 – even dragons have their ending

There far away was the Lonely Mountain on the edge of eyesight. On its highest peak snow yet unmelted was gleaming pale. “So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending!” said Bilbo, and he turned his back on his adventure.

J. R. R. Tolkein, The Hobbit

This is the Christian hope in the midst of pain and suffering; fire is quenched and even dragons have their ending.

The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.

Revelation 12:9

Quick Quote 3 – there are no words left to express his staggerment

To say that Bilbo’s breath was taken away is no description at all. There are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful. Bilbo had heard tell and sing of dragon-hoards before, but the splendour, the lust, the glory of such treasure had never yet come home to him. His heart was filled and pierced with enchantment and with the desire of dwarves; and he gazed motionless, almost forgetting the frightful guardian, at the gold beyond price and count.

J. R. R. Tolkein, The Hobbit

When I get to heaven and see Jesus Christ face to face, even Tolkein’s description of Bilbo seeing the treasure hoard of the great dragon Smaug will be nothing in comparison to the wonder there will be. How thankful I am that there is no “frightful guardian” for the Christian to face, but a loving Father!

Thorin’s resurrection hope

For those who don’t know how The Hobbit ends, and don’t want the end of the last film to be spoiled, this would be a good post to skip. I’ll be blogging a few thoughts from The Hobbit for the whole of this week, as I’ve just finished reading it, so you might want to check back next Monday. For the rest of you, read on…

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Equipped to Serve: An introduction to church history

My church, Trinity Church Bradford, runs a course called Equipped to Serve. It runs over four years, and covers Christian doctrine, a Bible overview, church history and practical skills. This is the third year, and church history is the theme for the whole year. In the coming months I’ll be posting my thoughts on some of the things we’ve learnt.

In the first term we looked at the early church fathers, who wrestled with the question of God’s impassibility (don’t worry if you don’t know what that means, neither did I!) This term we’re considering the reformation, and next term will be the age of reason (I don’t really know what period that is, but we’re covering Descartes to Kant if that means anything to you!) It’s not a comprehensive look at church history, of course, but it’s a good grounding for further study in the future. The approach we are taking is to look at some of the key writings of each period, rather than focusing on the events themselves. We have been using these writings to gain an insight into the concerns, and particular the theology, of those who were at the centre of the events.

My aim is to write a series of posts to help myself think through some of what I’ve been learning, and draw out some highlights that might be beneficial to others too. I’m planning to start these posts from the material we’ve looked at this term, but I do intend to come back to the early church fathers at some point in the future. Next week (hopefully) I’ll be looking at Erasmus and allowing him to help us see some of the context of the reformation.

The moral dilemma of a drug-addicted beggar

Have you ever been asked for money by a beggar, but been reluctant to give any for fear that it will fund a drug habit or some other destructive behaviour? I’m sure many of us have felt the tension between wanting to be generous and not wanting to fund an addiction. We are not the first to face this dilemma, and we can undoubtedly learn from those who went before us, whether or not we agree with their conclusions.

Charles Spurgeon, a Victorian preacher, pondered this very question. He decided that he would give money to people in need, even if he knew they would spend it on an addiction instead of spending it on food, and gave two reasons. His first reason was:

If poor people come to me, apparently starving, and I give them bread, and when they receive it, they turn it into drink, I am not to be held accountable for their wrongdoing. My present and pressing duty is to relieve the hungry, and to prevent starvation as far as I can. If men and women are so sinful as to abuse the mercy which God sends to them through me, I am not to be so wrong as to cease from giving to the poor on that account.

In other words, Spurgeon drew a sharp distinction between his responsibility and the responsibility of the poor. He was to be an instrument of God’s mercy, giving generously to others. How those gifts were used was the responsibility of the person to whom they were given.

The second reason Spurgeon gave was:

If God were to keep back from us all his mercies because we might turn them into evils, there would be very little for him to bestow upon us. There is not anything in this world, however good it may be, but may be turned to evil by the sons of men; but God does not withhold his favours because of that sad fact.

Both quotes by Charles Spurgeon, quoted in Sunlight for Cloudy Days, p77

Here we see that Spurgeon sees it as Godly behaviour to give gladly even when that giving may be misused. Notice how he identifies himself as a sinner turning blessings into evil behaviour, just like some beggars turn generosity into destructive addictions. Only from that perspective, as a recipient of God’s goodness, is he able to apply the lesson to himself and fulfil his duty, giving freely and without suspicion.

Do you agree with Spurgeon’s reasoning? What do you do in these situations?

Quick Quote 2 – the joy and tragedy of marriage

All human marriages begin with joy but end in tragedy. Whether it is divorce or death, the human bond of love is eventually torn apart. The marriage of Christ and his church, however, begins with tragedy and ends with a joyful and loving union which will never be rent asunder.

Carl Trueman, Reflections on “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?”

The Riddle of Strider

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

If you recognise those words, you probably know they refer to Aragorn, or Strider, a key character in The Lord of the Rings.

At the start of this verse, Tolkein cunningly subverts our expectations by altering a well known phrase. We’re all familiar with the saying ‘not all that glitters is gold’, and for years I thought the first line of the above poem was simply a rephrasing of this well worn proverb. But when I looked more closely, I realised that Tolkein has altered the meaning. Rather than saying that not all gold looks valuable, he says that everything that is golden looks as if it isn’t valuable. His phrase is all-encompassing. All that is gold does not glitter. Everything worth having looks worthless, and anything that looks valuable is a fake.

Aragorn is not recognised for who he really is, so he goes by the name of Strider, or Longshanks. Neither seems intended as a compliment, and the locals in Bree where we first meet him don’t trust him at all. He wanders perpetually, never settling, seemingly having nowhere to call his home. But Tolkein warns us not to be deceived by appearances. This traveller has purpose. Not all those who wander are lost.

As the story develops, we see that Aragorn’s age and experience have made him stronger, and his awareness of the past have given him an ability to resist the comings and goings of others. While others around him wither, or are destroyed by frost, Aragorn knows he is the heir of an old, old kingdom. He puts down deep roots into his heritage, the kingdom of his forefathers, and he is able to be sturdy, dependable, and above all, strong.

Having said that, when Frodo first sees a hooded man in a corner of a room, there is nothing to suggest the presence of a king, much less the presence of a long-awaited heir. Here is a man seemingly at a loose end, wandering the earth with nothing to live for, his life nothing more than ash. But from those ashes a fire shall be woken, and a light from the shadows shall spring. The man sitting hidden in a corner, hiding away from the adulation that most kings crave, will one day be the source of fiery light to many.

There is a blade which will bring this about. It is a broken blade, a useless and defeated blade, but a blade which is imbued with resurrection hope. When it is renewed, the crownless wanderer shall settle in the home he had all along, as the rightful king and the one who brings peace.

As Aragorn says, “I am Aragorn, and those verses go with that name.” But it could equally well describe another. There is another king who laid aside his crown and wandered the earth with nowhere to lay his head, but he was not lost. He was old, from before time itself, and he knew the eternal purpose for which he had come. His flame was cruelly extinguished, leaving nothing but ash, yet from that ash awoke a new flame, greater and more terrible than before. The Sun of righteousness rose from the shadow of death, and there was healing in his wings, because, as Aragorn showed, the hands of the king are the hands of a healer. The broken blade of his body was renewed, and once again the crownless is king. Now those who recognise him must follow in his footsteps, wandering the earth, yet they are no more lost than Aragorn. We, like little Aragorns, are moving towards a home where they will be given crowns and will reign. But we merely imitate the One great and true Aragorn, the man Jesus Christ. In his kingdom, the last shall be first, and although the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, in the kingdom of Christ it is certain that all that is gold does not glitter.

Quick Quote 1 – Rob McKenna was a Rain God

I’m planning to share with you some of the things I’m reading as I read them. I will only comment briefly, if at all, but hopefully you’ll be able to share with me the things that make me laugh, think, or otherwise react.

Today’s offering is a short paragraph about a lorry driver. It comes from the inimitable Hitchhiker’s Guide series and gave me a good laugh.

As he drove on, the rainclouds dragged down the sky after him, for, though he did not know it, Rob McKenna was a Rain God. All he knew was that his working days were miserable and he had a succession of lousy holidays. All the clouds knew was that they loved him and wanted to be near him, to cherish him, and to water him.

Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All The Fish

I wonder if the disconnect between what God wants and what worshippers offer exists in reality as well as in fiction. What do you think?

Blog reboot

As I write, it’s a rainy February afternoon in 2014, but the striking thing about this blog is that the last post is dated July 2011. I’ve been busy with all sorts since then, and I still am, but I have decided to give blogging another go. This time round I don’t intend to take quite the same approach. In the past I’ve often tried to write something that reflects a well thought through, settled opinion. Now I intend to use my blog more to process partial thoughts, and invite the input of others. There will probably be more quotes, and reflections on what I’m reading and watching, and most posts will probably be quite short. Think of them as starters, then come and join the conversation!