Is This All There Is?

“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”

A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” – Revelation 21:5

I read the entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (and also “The Hobbit”, of course) several times in my youth. I was fascinated by the ancient super heroes with mythical powers waging war against the powers of evil. As any reader of fiction knows, a good story needs tension between light and darkness, between good and evil, between hope and despair. Tolkien’s books lead this young reader on a wild roller coaster ride between those opposite poles.

At this point in literary history, I doubt it’s a spoiler to say that in the end, Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, and all of the “good guys” come out on the winning side, though it’s not without significant cost. My younger self enjoyed the magic; my older self enjoys the message of hope.

Hope is a fundamentally Christian message, and Tolkien’s faith infused his writing. But hope can be the hardest to have when you need it the most. Hope can seem silly when so very much is wrong in the world. I absolutely adore Sam’s question: “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” I know that question for Gandalf and Sam was “yes,” but I can only hope that it is “yes” for me and for you. We often asked a second question: “Is this all there is?”

Is this all there is to God’s world: pandemics, hurricanes, floods, war, political strife, economic uncertainty? Is everything sad going to come untrue, or is this all there is?

The power of darkness and suffering is not insignificant. But this I know: whether we believe in perpetual sadness or in inevitable goodness, we can only believe. The opposite of hope is cynicism, but cynicism is not a lack of faith. It is faith that everything will turn out badly. For all the things that Christian faith is, it is an ultimate hope that God has not ever been nor ever will be defeated. Light dispels darkness merely by the fact of its’ existence. 

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

So let us take heart in the face of all that is wrong. The promise of Scripture is that at the end of all things, God will set all things right.