Over the holidays, my wife wanted to watch the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, so we did so as a family. She has the box set of the director’s cut, which means something like 11 hours of total run time, across 6 DVD’s. (Lest you think that our family has superhuman stamina to watch all of this at once, we actually watched one of the films – 2 DVD’s each – on each of 3 successive evenings.)
Between the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien and the directing of Peter Jackson, it was interesting to see how plot lines fit together across the series. Originally, I had watched the movies in the theater, and not only were the theater versions shorter, but they were also released in separate years, so I would forget some of their contents from one year to the next. Having the entire plot line accessible over a 3-day period showed how things tied together from the start to the end.
I’m not necessarily recommending this movie series as the ideal activity for your family and friends. There is a lot of violence, and not everyone is into sword fights and long emotional scenes. Others may not have the fortitude (or even the time) to watch these extremely long movies.
Still, there’s a key plot element that is used multiple times in this trilogy, which can also be found in other movies and books: The protagonists are repeatedly placed into an impossible situation, and after some initial progress in the battle, they begin to be overwhelmed. All hope seems lost. At the lowest point, as they are about to be overrun by hostile forces, or defeated entirely, another army (or rescuer) appears, turning the tide of the battle. Typically, this “reserve force” was one that we encountered earlier in the story, but the author and director drew our attention into the moment, and tried to make us forget about the possibility of the heroes being rescued by someone else.
I think that this is sort of the situation in which Elisha’s servant found himself, in the following passage from the Bible. The context is that the king of Aram (present-day Syria) got tired of Elisha prophesying his battle strategy (with God’s help) to the king of Israel. So, the king of Aram sent forces to surround the town where Elisha was staying (see 2 Kings 6:8-23 for the entire recounting, including a surprise ending).
When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha.
“Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” Then Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” The LORD opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.
2 Kings 6:15-17 NLT
Like an author drawing our attention away from the next plot twist, the attention of Elisha’s servant had been drawn away from God’s power. Instead, he was focused on the immediate situation, where it seemed that they would be overpowered by a military force that was substantially greater than just him and Elisha.
I think that evil forces sometimes do the same to us: By distracting us with the problems of the day, and the issues that we are facing right now, we are led to forget the faithfulness of God and the magnitude of His power to save us. Yes, the battle ebbs and flows while good and evil fight in this fallen, broken world. In the end, though, we know that Jesus will be victorious over evil, casting away the contamination of sin and leading His people (anyone who believes in and follows Him) to an eternal home where there is no more sorrow.
Does it matter, though? If Jesus will win in the end, does our distraction with the cares of the moment have an impact on us, or on the world around us? Even if we get discouraged and forget about the ending, won’t the ending still be the same?
I think that it does matter. For one thing, when we believe that we are alone against opposing forces, we tend to be timid. We may wish to surrender, or – if we are feeling like martyrs – rush in with the expectation of defeat. Typically, though, not much is accomplished by someone who already expects to be defeated. Defeated people aren’t going to invite others into becoming part of Jesus’ victory, and aren’t motivated to tell others how to become part of His kingdom.
On the other hand, when we know that we have a winning force on our side, we are emboldened. While being arrogant isn’t smart, much good can be achieved when we know that victory is only a matter of time. We can confidently reach out and tell others – often through our own personal testimony of God’s intervention in our lives – about the guaranteed victory of the future. We can share the good news about Jesus with others, and welcome them into the Kingdom of God.
Do not despair. There may be tears and sorrow in the valleys, but the army of God will prevail against the curses of sin that are attacking us. Don’t let anyone tell you that the battle is over, until you see Jesus with your own eyes.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.