Three and one half hours of Elf blood and Orc guts—so ended my
first cinematic trilogy. 'Return of the King' was the final installation
of J. R. R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series, an epic work replete with
medieval honor, Christian imagery, good triumphing over evil, and violence
in a radically racialized, simplistic world. Although I am glad I persevered
through more than nine hours of thrilling, sometimes touching film, I am
also grateful there is not a part IV.
And thank God I do not live in Tolkein’s (or the movie director Jackson’s)
world of Middle Earth. It’s not that I am horrified by Wring Wraiths and
Balrogs (though I certainly am!) so much that I reject the simplistic, fundamentalist
worldview of good versus evil, Gondor versus Mordor, Men (sic) versus Orcs.
Perhaps better stated, I reject the audacious assumption that I can so easily
judge who is good and who is evil. In Tolkein’s Middle Earth, it’s easy to
discern good from evil: men (sic) are good and Orcs are evil. If you’ve met
one Orc, you’ve met them all, and there is no chance of metanoia, change,
or redemption. Of course there is the occasional man (sic) or even wizard
who becomes corrupted by evil, but by and large we know who is evil and what
to do with them. Knowing that someone is completely evil “justifies” killing
I am grateful that I live in a world much closer to that of Saul, David,
and Jonathan. In this always relevant story from first Samuel, King Saul’s
servant David has just killed Goliath. The people shower David with love
and gratitude. Saul resents the special attention given to David. Saul becomes
jealous of David because he fears David may rival him as the king. Saul plans
to kill David until Saul’s son, Jonathan, convinces him he has no just cause
to kill his servant. With Jonathan’s help, Saul and David reconcile.
I easily relate to Saul, David, and Jonathan, and I admire Jonathan’s skills
in conflict resolution. Although Saul is prepared to kill David out of what
seems to be petty jealousy, Saul is not one-dimensionally evil. I can understand
why Saul would resent David, and I admire that he was willing to listen to
Jonathan’s rational argument. Upon hearing that Saul was planning unjustly
to kill him, one could argue that David might have been justified in killing
Saul first. But David was willing to listen to Jonathan and to wait patiently
while Jonathan first talked with Saul.
Jonathan was willing to risk his own safety by calmly yet directly speaking
truth to power. He did not allow either side to dismissively demonize the
other. Instead, through direct communication, wit, bravery, action, and love,
Jonathan prevented more bloodshed, more violence, more simplistic answers
supposedly justified by absolutist thinking. One only need consider any of
the violent hotspots around our communities and world to see how tempting
yet tragic it is for us to simplistically demonize those with whom we disagree.
Once we stop seeing gradations of pink and only see red or white, good or
evil, violence is sure to follow. Saul and David are fortunate Jonathan sees
Tolkein’s world of Middle Earth may offer more certainty, but I believe our
world full of diverse color and complexity ultimately offers more forgiveness
and redemption. Thank God for the Jonathans in our lives and world.
Loving God of peace, justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation, help us to
celebrate the Jonathans in our world and to act like Jonathan in our many
relationships and roles. Help us to appreciate your grace present in all
things, all people, all relationships. Amen.