What follows is an excerpt taken from a sermon given by Dr. Alister McGrath, professor of science and religion at Oxford University on October 26, 2014.
The need for hope remains important to all of us.
We need hope – not a naive and shallow optimism, but a robust and secure confidence that there is something good – that there is someone good – who will triumph over despair and hopelessness.
Many felt the desperate need for hope during the First World War – including a Second Lieutenant who took part in the Battle of the Somme. He went on to become a fellow of Oxford University in 1945. His name was J.R.R. Tolkien.
His epic work, The Lord of the Rings, written during his tenure at Oxford, speaks of the role of the weak and powerless in changing the world for better. That’s why Hobbits – such as Frodo and his sidekick, Sam – are so important. They are the little people, and in the end they are the ones who make the difference.
But there is another theme in The Lord of the Rings that speaks powerfully to us.
As the work nears its end, the victory of evil seems inevitable. A dark mood settles over the narrative. And then everything changes. An unexpected event enables the ring to be destroyed, breaking the power of evil. Tolkien called this a eucatastrophe – a dramatic, unexpected event, which disrupts a narrative of despair, and redirects it towards the good.
For Tolkien, the best and greatest example of this radical upheaval of a story of hopelessness is the resurrection of Christ – a dramatic event that brought first astonishment, and then hope – a real hope, grounded in something and someone trustworthy. That is the hope that is to be seized and acted upon, which keeps us going and keeps us growing even in the darkest of times.
The Christian hope of heaven raises our horizons and elevates our expectations – inviting us to live life on earth in the light of this greater reality. The true believer – like the Hobbits in Tolkien’s story – is not someone who disengages with this world in order to focus on heaven, but someone who tries to make this world more like heaven.
The hope we find in the power of Christ’s resurrection can never be taken away from us. We must not despair. “The word of our God will stand forever” – and we will stand with it. [end excerpt]
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13
Be brave, Nick