In choosing to express my inner geekdom, I presently have SIX books by my bed that are by or related to Mr Tolkien (I have about 12 bed-side books in all just now), and last night I read something that kind of pinged me inside somewhere. Here's the quote:
Actually, 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 some samples of final victory.
Now, I don't think I've ever before come across anyone telling me that this is a (or The) standard Christian worldview - I suppose in the circles in which I've moved, the emphasis has tended to be that because God is living and active now, everything of His in the world is in the process of redemption (ie. everything's getting better). But now I'm not sure.
Everything in creation is decomposing (everything physical, I mean); I know that. We are in a world where humans are constantly trying to make things that last, whilst concurrently destroying (or at least messing up) the only things that actually do last - creation, friendship, God, etc.
Elves in Middle-Earth had a weird role. They had LIVED in paradise (the High Elves had anyway) and seen perfection. They remembered it. But they weren't a forward-thinking people - all their songs and ideals came from millenia previously, and it was all they could hope for to 'preserve all things unstained,' as Elrond said. I think all of us instinctively recognise something about the good old days which made them good in contrast to now, but we're told that we are silly to think like that. I'm not so sure.
Through the ages of the world we have fought the long defeat. [Galadriel]
The idea of the long defeat is definitely not very triumphant, in the Pentecostal style of Christianity. The Rohirrim ride 'for ruin and the world's ending', not for a present victory, which is only a fool's hope (says Gandalf). Recently, I've been noticing the sensation of 'hanging on' quite a lot: kind of a helplessness; the world's wheels are turning and I just need to keep going, keep hanging in there.
When he needed to, Sam saw a star through the smogs of Mordor and 'the beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him.' I need that. Just plodding through smogs is CRAP, however heroic a story we paint ourselves into. We need to know that we win, in the end, or even after The End. Otherwise, what's the point?
How can you prove a victory before
It's won? How can you prove a man who leads,
To be a leader worth the following,
Unless you follow to the death - and out
Beyond mere death.
David Rowe : http://misterdavid.typepad.com/