Posted by: Billy Marsh | March 31, 2008

The End of History is Heaven

The Silmarillion

I wouldn’t push the inferred meaning of the title of this post too far for two reasons: (1) When I say “history,” in this context I’m referring to life on this earth as it now exists, awaiting the return of the Lord. Thus, the “end of history” for any given person would mean death prior to Christ’s coming or having a front-row seat when Jesus descends from the clouds; (2) I’m not a Tolkien scholar, though I have read most of his major works. So, since in this post I’m commenting on The Silmarillion, there may be other of his works in publication that have more to say about the history of Middle-Earth which do not end where The Silmarillion does.  

I just finished up reading The Silmarillion which was given to me at Christmas by my family. At first I was nervous about reading it since all I’ve ever really heard it described as was as a “boring history” book. Actually, before I became more acquainted with its form, I always thought of it more so as a textbook which functioned as a guide or encyclopedia for Middle-Earth than a story. But, as I began the very first chapter, I realized that I had many misconceptions about the nature of Tolkien’s life’s work which were unfortunate.

The book is a majestic and sweeping account of the ancient history of Middle-Earth. Almost all of the asides in the narrative have an epic quality. To my delight, The Silmarillion’s final chapter recounted the events of the Third Age in a chapter called, “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age.” If you’ve seen Peter Jackson’s movies, some of what occurs in this chapter makes its way into the first film during that unforgettable introduction to the historical context of The Lord of the Rings. Yet, as if I wasn’t already moved enough by Tolkien’s uncanny writing ability and story-telling expertise, I was brought almost to tears as I read over the final lines of that chapter and the book as a whole.

As I’ve mentioned before, in my opinion, one of the major facets of meaning in Tolkien’s work is the hope of heaven, especially in the face of tremendous suffering and persecution. Interestingly enough, I originally was prepared to publish this post yesterday, but didn’t for really no reason at all. However, during today’s church service at Redeemer, I realized why. Our pastor, Tim Presson, drew from this very theme in his sermon for an illustration out of Tolkien’s work in The Lord of the Rings. And I agree with his conclusions wholeheartedly. Tim did an incredible job of summarizing this aspect of Tolkien’s work and applying its message to the meaning of the sermon text, namely, 2 Timothy 2:10.

So, what was so intriguing to me when finishing The Silmarillion was that the end of history is presented as the beginning of eternal life in heaven. After reading 300 plus pages about the constant turmoil and strife of the life of the Elves, it was a joyous experience to observe their departure from the “Bent World” away into the distant seas and to a place where unending peace and rest and inexpressible joy awaits their weary souls.

Likwise, I simultaneously (not intentionally) stepped my way through Revelation this past month and couldn’t help but draw some connections between how The Silmarillion ends and how the history of this earth in its corrupted state comes to consummation in Christ. When Jesus returns and has final victory over all this world, we are left with a glorious scene and promise in Revelation 21 and 22. I would encourage you to read the passages below, and I hope and pray that you will find encouragement in your daily struggles and strife knowing that because of the resurrection power of Christ and the salvation that is in his name through which God imparts to us eternal life, we can endure this life with an unwavering faith and an unshakeable hope because of the promise of the life and the world that is to come for those who have been ransomed by the blood of the Lamb.

White was that ship and long was it a-building, and long it awaited the end of which Cirdan had spoken. But when all these things were done, and the Heir of Isildur (Aragorn) had taken up the lordship of Men, and the dominion of the West had passed to him, then it was made plain that the power of the Three Rings also was ended, and to the Firstborn the world grew old and grey. In that time the last of the Noldor set sail from the Havens and left Middle-earth for ever. And latest of all the Keepers of the Three Rings rode to the Sea, and Master Elrond took there the ship that Cirdan had made ready. In the twilight of autumn it sailed out of Mithlond, until the seas of the Bent World fell away beneath it, and the winds of the round sky troubled it no more, and borne upon the high airs above the mists of the world it passed into the Ancient West, and an end was come for the Eldar of story and song (366). ~ The Silmarillion, J. R. R. Tolkien

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. ~ Revelation 22:1-5

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