I make a habit of re-reading Tolkien’s The Silmarillion every year. The book achieves everything that high art must achieve: it uplifts the reader with all the beauty and promise of creation, afflicts him with the profound tragedy of sin and evil, and orients him to a hope “that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach,” as Tolkien wrote. In one of the loveliest and most tragic scenes in The Silmarillion, a grand alliance of Elves and Men--powerful and terrible in the first flowering of their youth--marches against the fortress of Morgoth, the black foe of the world. Unknown to them, however, Morgoth has penetrated their councils and laid a trap baited with deceit and sealed with betrayal. The kingdoms nearest to Morgoth’s land are laid waste and their armies shattered. Hurin, mightiest of the warriors of men, gathers his household about him for a desperate rearguard action to preserve the secret location of the elven city of Gondolin, the last hope of all people of goodwill. As all the men of his household fall around him, he chants, “Day shall come again!” with each stroke of his weapon, until he is overcome and captured.
Wesley Hill and others have called this theme in Tolkien’s writing “The Long Defeat”: the thought that the Christian struggle against sin can feel much like a hopeless rearguard action, but that amid it all there exists a final hope that cannot be destroyed by any temporary setback. This hope is, as Peter described it, “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading--kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Paul said it differently but no less certainly in Colossians 1: the intent of Christ in delivering a people from the domain of darkness and transferring them into his own kingdom is to present them “holy and blameless and above reproach” before the throne of the Father. This he has accomplished “in his body of flesh by his death.” Thus, Christian, your glorious, imperishable hope is that you shall be presented blameless before the throne of the Father. How do you get there?
Paul tells us: we must “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which [we] heard.” Similarly, Peter says we must endure to the end so that “the tested genuineness of [our] faith… may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” But endurance demands resolution we often lack and strength we cannot supply on our own. How can we endure and stoke our hopes through the long defeat? Colossians 3:1-2 provides the answer: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Stoking up our hopes through the long defeat means intentionally setting the mind on the object of our hopes, the Lord Jesus Christ. Each day we must chant to ourselves the supremacy of Christ in creation and redemption, by considering texts like Colossians 1:15-20. We must set our minds on that hope which is high and clear and imperishable, forever out of reach of the shadow: that Jesus Christ is the firstborn over all creation, that in him all things are created in heaven and on earth, that he sustains all things and holds them together by his very word. And more than that, Jesus Christ is the firstborn from the dead. His resurrection announces the final defeat of death and inaugurates a new creation. His death as the perfect God-man brings peace and reconciliation to all creation through the blood of the cross. Careful meditation on this reality will strengthen our arms and firm our resolution to continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, unswerving from the hope of our confession.
Christian, if you are wearied by the long defeat, driven back and nearly snared by the world, the flesh, and the devil, then hold fast. Consider the exceedingly great promises of the gospel. Set your mind on the exceedingly supreme savior. And fight the good fight. Day shall come again.