Sunday, September 23, 2007

Marred Arda and Tolkien's Hope for the Future

Incomparably greater than the power of Sauron, concentrated in the One Ring, Morgoth's power (Tolkien wrote) was dispersed into the very matter of Arda: "the whole of Middle-earth was Morgoth's Ring." [Dust Jacket of Morgoth's Ring, Houghton Mifflin, 1993]

For those of you who are not familiar with Morgoth, he is very much to Arda (the physical world, of which Middle-earth is a part) what Satan is (in the Christian Concept) to Earth. Without going into too much detail, Morgoth (The Enemy) was a "god" (somewhat similar to the concept of an archangel in Christianity) that rebelled against the will of the One (Eru, also called Illúvatar). As Satan is responsible for introducing evil into this world, so Morgoth was responsible for introducing evil into Arda.

In Christianity, the relationship between evil (sin) and death is clearly stated: "through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned ... For the wages of sin is death ..." [Romans 5:12; 6:23] Because Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, sinned, sin and death became the inheritance passed on to every generation since. Not only were human beings affected, but everything in the world: "the creation was subjected to futility ... the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs ... [Romans 8:20, 22]

In Middle-earth, death is often seen as the "gift of Eru." The Elves are forever tied to Arda; Men are not. They are meant to spend eternity not in Arda, but beyond it. This matches the Christian concept that we are "not of this world" but have our "citizenship in Heaven" and are waiting for the Heavenly City where we will dwell forever in bodies designed for the celestial, rather than the terrestrial realm. (See John 17:14-16; Philippians 3:20 and 1 Corinthians 15:40.) It could be debated whether this "gift" of death was "God's original Plan" or an "unfortunate necessity," but such matters are (thankfully) beyond the scope of this Blog entry. I leave that to the Theologians to debate.

"Half-Elves" such as Aragorn were apparently allowed to choose the gift of death, and were even allowed to die at will. Arwen was also given this gift. In Appendix A (I--v) of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn lays down and dies of his own accord. Awen does the same shortly after. The reasoning Aragorn gives Arwen for laying down his life at that point is (to me at least) troublesome:

Take counsel with yourself, beloved, and ask whether you would indeed have
me wait until I wither and fall from my high seat unmanned and witless. Nay,
lady, I am the last of the Númenoreans and the latest King of the Elder Days;
and to me has been given not only a span thrice that of Men of Middle-earth, but
also the grace to go at my will, and give back the gift. Now, therefore, I will

Is Aragorn saying that a life is worthless once you lose your virility and intellect in old age? Is not human life precious even if the mind and body have lost their strength?

I have been thinking about life and death recently. Friday was the 79th anniversary of my Father's birth. He died in 1992 at the age of 63. My granddaughter, who had been born prematurely, had her first birthday Saturday. My father for many years was required by his employer to have an extensive annual physical. Modern technology never discovered any indication that he had any trouble that would have led to the sudden massive stroke which killed him. However, modern technology probably saved the life of my granddaughter.

Last December, my mother-in-law had a massive hear attack. Her husband gave her CPR, and they finally restored her heart rhythm at the hospital. However, too much damage had already been done, and she died several days later. Watching her slowly slip away was not a pleasant experience for the family.

When my mother was born in 1933, she weighed less than three pounds. Her twin brother was quite a bit bigger, but he died. Most modern technology did not exist, but she lived.

A few weeks back my mother fell and broke her hip. Because of her heart condition and previous reactions to general anesthesia, surgery was problematic. However, the alternative of letting her suffer in excruciating pain for the rest of her life was not an option. Several times we thought we were going to loose her, but she is still alive. She is extremely week, and her Alzheimer's has apparently been exacerbated by what she has gone through, but she is still with us.

We humans do not have the power to will our own deaths as Aragorn, any more than we have the power to extend our lives beyond the limit He has set. I do not know why God has allowed my mother to live, graced us with a beautiful grandchild or took my Father Home at such a (relatively) young age. But I trust Him that he knows what He is doing. I would not want the power to choose death for myself or anyone else--I am not wise enough.

As Aragorn (whose Elvish name Estel means "hope") says goodbye to Arwen, he gives these words of hope:

In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound to the
circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Farewell!

More on the concept of Hope in Middle-earth next time.

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