“I am glad that you are here with me,” said Frodo. “Here at the end of all things, Sam.”1
I never expected to get a lesson on living mere hope from the concluding chapters of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but I did. The hero and his faithful companion, comprising the remnant of a fellowship that set out on a journey to destroy evil and see the return of their king, lay exhausted and helpless on an erupting mountain of volcanic proportions with no cause for hope of rescue. Yet in that moment they had the peace and security that only victorious soldiers must know when they, though dying, have saved people and nations.
What was their source of hope? Even though the world collapsed around them, they knew that evil was ultimately defeated. Though they expected to die and not find escape, they rested in hope, knowing the truth for which they persevered now reigned. That and remaining fellowship led them to express gladness and joy there “at the end of all things.”
Of course, as the story goes, the very climax of the eucatastrophe2 in The Lord of the Rings occurs just when it appeared that all hope was lost, as good triumphed in the form of rescuing eagles. The imagery of eagles in Tolkien’s work is remarkable for portraying this type of eucatastrophe. In Exodus 19:14, God refers to his deliverance of Israel from Egypt as his bearing them “on eagles’ wings.” Isaiah 40 speaks of eagles’ wings as a source of strength for the weary in a passage that almost depicts Tolkien’s scene exactly:
"Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint," (Isa. 40:30–31).
Of course Frodo and Sam do fall exhausted and are swept up on eagles’ wings to safety. When they awake, they find restored fellowship and the return of the king. I never expected to get a lesson on living mere hope from Tolkien’s fellowship, but there it was even in The Lord of the Rings.
In Tolkien’s story, there is great hope and joy for those of us laboring as Christians in an age of cynicism—and thankfully, as we have seen, that is only a reflection of the shining light of truth of these themes found in the Bible. Likewise, in 1 Peter 4:7, the apostle Peter explains that “the end of all things is at hand.” By that he means that he and his readers were living in the last days before the return of Jesus. Since that time until our very own, humanity has been living at the verge of the end of the world, but that is not a cause for despair or hand-wringing. Peter’s point was focused rather on how one is to live at the end of all things, and he spends the next few verses underscoring this for believers.
Peter explains that while a Christian should have his eyes fixed and his hope set on the soon and certain return of Jesus, he should be using his spiritual gifts, whether serving or speaking, all for the glory of God. What, then, is the source of our hope and on what task are we to have our minds and hearts set? Until the end, whether one eats, drinks, preaches, trains, waters, reaps, types, writes, shares, or disciples, he should be doing these things as the biblically prescribed means for carrying out the Great Commission to the glory of God. Such it is, too, with mere hope. Until Jesus returns, Christians should look down at their foundational gospel hope, look in at their fountain of living hope, look out at the need for a flourishing global hope, and look up and focus on future hope.
Excerpted with permission from Mere Hope by Jason G. Duesing. Copyright 2018, B&H Publishing Group.
1. J. R. R. Tolkein, The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings (Wilmington, MA: Mariner Books, 2012).
2. Eucatastrophe is a term coined by J. R. R. Tolkien to describe a happy ending. But it is not just an ordinary happy ending; it is the notion that when the night is darkest, at the very last moment, the sun rises.
Rather than reflecting resigned despair or distracted indifference, author Jason Duesing argues, our lives ought to be shaped by the gospel of Jesus—a gospel of hope. Read more in Mere Hope.