In the recent and controversial Noah movie the character Methuselah, the oldest living man in the Bible, made an appearance. In the film, he is shown not only as strange shaman-type figure, but as the man who remembered, and could relay, what had happened from the very beginning. While the film gets much wrong, it does get his ability to do this – by virtue of his age and experience – right.
In the completely fictional story of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, we are told something similar. According to the movie version, as regards the story of the Ring (the Fall!) “some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth… the Ring passed out of all knowledge” (“much that once was is lost for none now live who remember it”). And yet, the immortal elf Elrond, for one, continued to know in great detail and certainty the true history and its great significance – the True Myth.*
Enter LC-MS President Matthew Harrison. In a recent Lutheran Witness article from April (and also on the LC-MS blog), he brilliantly points us to the significance of a modern day Elrond:
“I had the pleasure of preaching the 150th anniversary of St. John’s, Corcoran, Minn. As I was preparing for this occasion, I learned that the founding pastor was—you guessed it—John Fackler! Imagine my surprise when, at the luncheon after the anniversary services, I met Myrtle Klemp, who, still spry at 99 years of age, told me, “I was baptized by Pastor Fackler! I knew him well as a child.” Amazing!….
My father-in-law is 90 years old (a decade younger than Myrtle). He was born in 1924. Transposing this century onto the first, Jesus would have begun His ministry in 1930, was crucified and risen in 1933. My father-in-law has vivid recollections of events from the late 1920s. He is also a WWII veteran and remembers helping to liberate Paris, returning home for a brief furlough after victory in Europe and preparing to ship out to the Pacific when the atom bomb was dropped. In this year of 2014, there are people all around us who are completely cognizant of events from 1930. Myrtle has vivid memories from before 1920! If I were to assert that the first resident pastor of St. John’s Corcoran had been a thief or a drunk, a man who pastored that church in its early years, Myrtle would vigorously assert by personal experience that such an accusation is completely false.
Yet no one from within the Christian community took it upon themselves to write a refutation of the events recounted in the Gospels or Acts or even St. Paul’s letters. Yes, there were some kooky Gnostic writings that were obviously spurious and written by individuals in heretical communities, most written well beyond the lifespan of actual eyewitnesses. But no legitimate insider wrote something that said, “Hey, folks! I was with Jesus! I knew Paul! And these Gospels and letters of Paul are bogus! It didn’t happen that way!” In fact, the essential criterion for acceptance of a New Testament document by the Church was whether or not it was known to be the product of an apostle or directly based upon apostolic witness (e.g., Luke/Acts).
This indicates that what I know to be so by faith—that is, the words of Jesus, the accounts of Jesus, His death and resurrection, and the words and works of the apostles— is entirely true and accurately given in the New Testament. Amazing. Joy indeed!”**
A final thought about all of these matters. While I, like many Christians, find parallels in the Lord of the Rings stories with the Bible, I always come back to the fact that there is no prayer in these books. For all that it may have in common with Biblical themes – and Tolkien made it clear that this was not meant to be like Lewis’ Narnia – there is no prayer much less “prayer without ceasing”.*** As with Plato’s deity, there are hints of a mysterious Providence, but nothing really akin to Personal God who is able to be known, loved, depended on.
How different it is with what is in fact the Greatest Story Ever Told – where God, though His Holy Spirit, has not only provided a chain of reliable messengers to pass it on, but has sealed it in His own written word, and enscripted us into His service to continue in its train – as it carries us, and the world, with it. Whether with joy or sadly, reluctance.
May we all look with anticipation to the Return of the King! Come Lord Jesus!
*In like fashion, there are echoes of the true history in our world – echoes of the historic space-time Fall and echoes of the Promised Deliverer – the “True Myth” as C.S. Lewis said. Who knows how many there have been who are like Elrond – perhaps like Melchizedek – have been raised up and supported by God throughout the ages?
** Interestingly, the news of Jesus Christ’s life and resurrection can be contrasted with the message of Genesis 3 in particular, with it’s account of judgment and promise. This would have been “front page news”, and events that would have been potentially knowable and accessible to every man, woman and child on earth. The resurrection, of course, was more local news, and news, it seems, that many would have tried to keep hushed up.
*** A student in my class just commented last night: “Too often we think we can handle these situations on our own, and don’t pray about it until we reach our limit. I know this is true for me, and I’ve heard it from others as well. A time of trial can be an opportunity to draw nearer to God.”