Christian Eschatology and Emotional Healing

March 18, 2016

heavens gaze

My Obsession with The Lord of the Rings

             I almost never watch a movie more than once.  I know; that makes me a weirdo, but I don’t care.  Whenever I watch a movie (which happens more and more infrequently as I get older), I cannot help but live the story that is being told.  And I have found that, for me, most stories told in modern cinema are not worth reliving.

            There is, however, one exception to my general rule.  I have watched all or part of The Lord of the Rings many times over the almost fifteen years since the first installment was released.  I will continue to do so to the end of my days.  For me, it is a story worth reliving.  After all, it narrates in exquisite fashion a story much like the Christian story—one in which good and evil are locked in mortal combat and in which much love, courage, friendship, and sacrifice are needed to assure good’s ultimate triumph.

 

The Aftermath of Good’s Victory over Evil

            But there is another reason why I return again and again to this remarkable saga.  Have you ever noticed the complex and even contradictory emotions that inhabit its ending?  You can even hear them playing “hide-and-seek” with one another in the music.  Sure, there is relief that a truly wretched foe has been vanquished and that the “fellowship” has once again been reunited.  There is certainly joy that noble Aragorn has taken his rightful place as king and that noble Arwyn has taken her rightful place at his side.  Yet, there is also a profound awareness of all that has been lost in the process of achieving victory.  And, for Frodo at least, there is an abiding sadness that no momentary jubilance can heal—and a restlessness that eventually drives him from his ancestral home forever.

            It seems to me that this emotionally conflicted portrait more accurately reflects the reality of good’s triumph over evil than do the utopian fantasies that often populate our imaginations. I love The Lord of the Rings because it has helped me recalibrate the way that I think about Christian eschatology.  It opens my eyes to things that have always been present in the Christian witness about the end, but which those of us who follow Jesus have often overlooked.

 

The Real Road to Healing

             For example, I am sure that we are all familiar with the promise of Revelation 21:4 “There will no longer be any death.  Nor will there be any mourning, crying, or pain.”  But this absence of death and its negative emotional consequences is predicated on God’s presence and on His actively “wiping away every tear from their eyes.”  The implication is that we will not enter the new heaven and new earth burdenless.  Rather, we will be relieved of our burdens only when we come face-to-face with the living God and with the new creation that He has crafted for our healing, protection, and sustenance (cf. Rev. 21:9-22:5).

            In other words, “heaven” will not be a place where we go to forget our troubles and fade into an emotionless oblivion.  As we will discover in next week’s blog, this would seem to be dramatically out-of-step with a biblical understanding of God’s creative and redemptive purpose.  Rather, the new heaven and new earth is a place where the sadness of the present age accentuates the joy of God’s new creative work, where the reality of sin and death is seen more clearly because Christ’s victory over them is experienced more directly. 

            There will be much to mourn on the great day “when [our] faith shall be sight”—more indeed, I think, than we presently realize.  Nevertheless, everything we mourn will give us a deeper appreciation for Christ and for what he accomplished on the cross.  More importantly, God himself will be with us, and we will experience Him in a way that we cannot now comprehend or imagine.  Only then will we know the full weight of Paul’s words in Romans 8:18: “For I do not consider our present suffering worthy of comparison to the glory that, in the future, will be revealed in us.”

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