Salt of the earth: Part 11

So much death! Why? Evil oppresses us and seeks to squeeze the last drop of hope from us. But we will not be overcome!

Glenn L. Schwanke

“So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?”

So spoke Théoden, the once mighty king of Rohan. He stood mute. He was little more than a husk of a man who held his right arm tightly against his side to stem the flow of blood caused by a spear that nearly killed him. Then came those words that fell from his lips like a whimper.

And the look on his face? It was the haunting image of a man beaten down by life, his eyes betraying a sadness that welled up from the very depths of his soul.

Why? The impossible had happened. Rohan’s army, though aided by the Elven elite, had all but been annihilated. The impregnable fortress at Helms Deep had been overrun by the hellish hoards called the Uruk-hai—nightmarish creatures of immense strength who were “bred from the heats and slimes of the earth” in the pits beneath Isengard, home of the evil wizard, Saruman. One last massive oaken door was all that protected the few surviving defenders. But as the Uruk-hai smashed their battering ram into the door with infernal might, the oak groaned, splintered, and shattered. And Théoden’s courage and hope vanished.

Just a movie of fantasy?

At least that’s how I remember the scene from a movie that is, perhaps, little more than dusty ancient history to anyone under the age of 40. For you see, I’m envisioning a scene from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (2002). The movie was based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous work Lord of the Rings, which was published in three volumes from 1954 to 1955. So, of course, the movie is little more than fantasy.

Well, maybe not.

Tolkien once shared this insight about his epic novel. “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious . . . work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism” (J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter 142).

Overcome by evil

Why am I taking you down this memory lane of movie trivia? Because Théoden’s words came flooding back into my consciousness this past week. “So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?” I recalled the words the minute I heard about the Valentine’s Day school shooting. Seventeen people were gunned down, both high school students and staff, at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida, located in the greater Miami metropolitan area. The alleged shooter: a troubled 19-year old who had earlier been expelled from the school.

The shooting has prompted the usual response in our nation. Calls for more gun control. Passionate pleas for more help for those who are mentally unstable. Demands for better security at our schools. A tighter monitoring of threatening posts on social media combined with some type of proactive action on the part of law enforcement. Outrage. Disbelief. Helplessness. Hopelessness. And a numbness that nibbles away at our collective heart and mind, as we wonder, “Why so much death . . . such reckless hate?”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas (17 killed, Feb. 14, 2018); the Route 91 Harvest music festival at the Las Vegas strip (58 killed, Oct. 1, 2017); Sandy Hook Elementary (27 killed, Dec. 14, 2012); Virginia Tech (32 killed, April 16, 2007).

Our country struggles to find answers to such reckless hate but can’t because we live in a nation that has accepted the notion that people are basically good inside. But I pray you and I know better. These atrocities and so many more that could be listed are the inevitable, nightmarish products of a human race that was plunged into sin by our first parents in Eden.

Why “so much death”? The apostle Paul explained, “So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, so also death spread to all people because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Sins happen because we are a race of sinners. And sadly, we’re experts at it.

Why “such reckless hate”? Our sinful natures have helped. There is a hellish army headed by Satan that relentlessly seeks to batter us Christians down. As Paul warns us through the inspired Word, “For our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). After a while, even the strongest Christian may sigh with a whimper, “Too much, Lord, it’s no use! I give up.”

Do you want to know why I thought of Théoden when I heard about the Valentine’s Day shooting? Because I looked in the mirror and saw him. Inside I heard him. “So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?” Broken. Empty. “Overcome by evil.”

Or maybe not.

Overcoming evil with good

If you remember the Two Towers movie, then you know the battle was not lost at Helms Deep, but rather won. Just as the enemy was about to burst through the door, Gimli the dwarf whispers, “The sun is rising.” As a ray of light breaks through the window, the reenergized survivors ride out into battle, guided by the promise given by Gandalf, the white wizard. “Look to my coming at first light on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the east.”

That’s “the story and the symbolism.” Here is the fact. Our riding out into the wearying, daily fight of faith will not somehow turn the tide of this war with evil. Jesus won this war long ago, all by himself, when he shouted from his cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

Here is the fact. You and I look to the dawn of the third day that we know as Easter. There we see a rolled away stone, an empty tomb, and angelic messengers who announce, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has been raised!” (Luke 24:5,6).

Not death, not hate, not a world filled with devils, not even hell itself can conquer us! Rather, “Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Jesus’ victory gives us the strength to be salt for yet another day. Not bitter, but bold. Not hopeless, but confident that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

And in this way, dear friends, we will “overcome evil with good.” Victorious salt amid so much death!

Contributing editor Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, also serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.

All Scripture references are from the Evangelical Heritage Version.

This is the eleventh article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

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