death

Image from Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

I love the book and movie series, Lord of the Rings.  LOTR’s author, JRR Tolkien, was Catholic.  The world of LOTR is deeply imbued with Christian realities.

One of my favorite moments occurs in the third installment, Return of the King.  A hoarde of orcs and other monsters lays siege to the last human city, Minas Tirith.  If Minas Tirith falls, the despotic armies of Sauron (the big bad guy) will level the rest of the kingdoms like a streeet paver.

Enter the armies of Rohan.  Rohan had just (barely) survived an onslaught of orcs in their land.  They hemorrhaged soldiers at that battle and have little strength. But they rally to help Minas Tirith because the cost of not helping is too great.

The fields of Pelennor around Minas Tirith are engorged with orc battalions.  As the armies of Rohan form a battle line, they know they have little chance of surviving. “Death!” is their battle-cry.

At first, the orcs hardly acknowledge this ragged group.  Mockery is the most attention paid to Rohan.  But the king of Rohan mounts up and kicks his horse into action.  The king and generals jut out ahead of the charging soldiers like the tip of a spear.  The armies of Sauron quickly try to form a line.

This part of the movie is stunning.  As Rohan hurtles at Sauron’s forces with no thought for their own lives, you can watch the smug confidence evaporate from the orcs’ faces.  It’s as if they realize Rohan is no longer afraid of death.  This was their only real weapon.  Terror fills the orcs’ faces.  They know they are beaten even before the first swords clang.  (See a clip here: https://m.youtube.com/?#/watch?v=8Tgi-j56ueU.  Be advised: This clip has war violence and images may frighten some people).

Hebrews says the devil enslaves us through our fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15).  Death enslaves us because self-interest is fundamentally involved.  Surviving is our most powerful instinct.

Certainly, Hebrews is referring to physical death.  But its application is far more pervasive.  Are we afraid of being passed up for that promotion at work?  Do we refuse to apologize first?  Do we follow God’s call when it means giving up pursuits we’ve dreamed about?  How do we react when someone spills on us?

Every day death comes at us in all shapes and sizes.  How do we respond?  The enemy would like our minds full of what we stand to lose; he would like our minds full of the fear of death.  He loves to have this choke-chain around our necks.  A few quick jerks on the chain is all it takes to keep us from following our true Master (Luke 9:23).

Paul said, “I die every day!” (1 Cor. 15:31).  This kind of attitude wipes the smile right off the devil’s face.  When our actions aren’t dictated by the avoidance of death, loss, or inconvenience, the cards aren’t in his favor; the ace of spades up his sleeve is worthless.

But let’s be honest: Living selflessly, unhindered by the fear of death, is easier to write about than to live out.  Is it possible?  Given the reliability of human nature, no.  But things that are impossible to men are possible with God (Matt. 19:26)

Christ in us is our hope (Col. 1:27).  Jesus does not fear death; He holds the keys! (Rev. 1:18).  Jesus set His face like a flint as the cross approached (Luke 9:51).  Will he flinch when faced with the slights, griefs, and sufferings that our circumstances present?  Hardly.  We can charge anything that stands snarling in our path knowing our King goes before us and within us.

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