The voice of Saruman and the laughter of God

I went for a long walk the other day, partly for the exercise, but also because my prayers are more fluent when I’m walking.  I was feeling distressed, struggling with doubt and confusion.  While walking I prayed “Lord, I need you to cut through this fog.”

I then remembered my favorite moment from “The Lord of the Rings” book series.  In “The Two Towers”, the army of the traitorous white wizard Saruman is defeated and his own powers are waning.  The true white wizard Gandalf, Théoden, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli—leaders and warriors of Middle-Earth—approach Saruman’s great tower doors to finally manage him.  The doors open, Saruman appears, and he then attempts one last act of trickery.

He speaks to them sweetly of how his presumed injustices have been misunderstood, misconstrued, how Gandalf was meddling in their affairs, how peace was yet possible with his assistance.  As he slowly and craftily speaks, things seem less clear to many listening.  Perhaps Saruman’s atrocities were justifiable; possibly their war against Sauron was petty.  Maybe Gandalf had been manipulating them all along for his own ends.  The moment is treacherous and their minds are shadowed.

“Then Gandalf laughed.  The fantasy vanished like a puff of smoke.”

Clouded and confused with sinister suspicions they knew not how to resist, the mirthy laughter of their powerful friend was all it took to remind the fellowship of what was real and true.  In the moments that followed, Saruman learns his bewitching voice has lost its harnessing power and he is no longer master of others, nor of himself.  Leaving him to his tragedy, the band of warriors depart his door to continue their mission to save Middle-Earth.

I remember tearing up the first time I read that chapter.  It resonated with my faith; I felt protected.  My heart glowed again recalling the scene while walking and praying for God’s hopeful clarity.

When King Saul haunted David’s steps, hunting him all the way to his home to kill him, David prayed for God’s deliverance from the unleashed dogs who voraciously hounded him.  Trying to clear from his mind their menacing arrogance, David prays “But You, O LORD, laugh at them; You scoff at all the nations.”

While Israel’s monarch breathes out violence, David turns his hope to Israel’s true King, whose sovereign designs hilariously overrule Saul’s petty plans.  We also can prayerfully perceive that hope.  When you feel darkness encroaching with devilish intent, it can help your heart to hope “He who is enthroned in the heavens laughs”.

When you are clouded with the disorienting and disrupting fog of fear, doubt, confusion, and chaos, may hope help you hear your Father’s mirthy, deep bellied and boisterous laughter.  It will echo through the valleys, dispel the daze, and light up the dark.  May it awaken you to what is real and grant you sight in light of what is true, that your Father is protecting you.

How Christ-on-the-cross shows God cares

Several months ago, an older woman who knew I was a Christian approached and asked if she could speak with me; she proceeded to share many different themes that all of us could relate to—moments of hurt, long periods of loneliness, pent-up anger, health issues, financial difficulties. Sometimes she would cuss as she spoke, apologize, cuss some more; other times she would break down crying. She hadn’t really asked me a direct question, so I just sat and listened to her, let her get it all out.

Eventually she stopped and asked, rather pointedly, “Does God even care?”

I know that question occasionally occurs to all of us in our lives. And I know that our customary “God is there”, “God cares”, “God provides” responses can sound insubstantial; they are true, but can sometimes seem intangible. What good are spiritual realities that have no material or physical expressions? The Scriptures show us God understands this tension, this need for connection to substance. His grace-filled resolution was to incarnate his very essence, God into flesh.

It is in the person of Jesus that “God is there” and “God cares”. In Jesus, God identifies himself with the whole of humanity, living out the same human experience we each trudge through day in and day out. Though he was God, he did not make his human existence more comfortable for himself; quite the opposite actually. He lived under the same conditions each of us human beings must endure throughout our lives and was spared none of its hardships and horrors. He willingly took them upon himself so we can know God cares. What I attempted to convey to this lonely, panicking woman in my answer was that Christ-on-the-cross, in suffering, abandonment, and death, is probably the clearest and most substantial expression of just how much God does care.

It is in Jesus’ suffering on the cross that God joins humanity in our suffering. In our unbearable moments of pain, suffering, fatigue, and sorrow, Christ-on-the-cross is God saying “I will go through this with you”, “You are not alone in your pain.”

It is in the Father’s abandoning of Jesus that God joins humanity in our abandonment and loneliness. In our moments of loneliness and perceived or actual abandonment, Christ-on-the-cross is God saying “I, too, know the pain and panic of abandonment.”

It is in Jesus’ death on the cross that God joins humanity in our death, that cumulative consequence for all that sin has wrought. In the moment of our death, Christ-on-the-cross is God saying “I, too, entered this terrifying and inescapable unknown.”

This probably is not the answer we hope to hear in our wearisome moments, but I believe it’s the answer we need. As “God with us”, Jesus is the clearest picture of God at work.  His birth, his life, his teachings, his actions, how he interacted with others, how he suffered and died—these are all earthy, tangible expressions of God caring for us.  When we wonder “does God care?”, in all these moments, Jesus puts a face to the mystery and shows how God is answering the question.  But this earthy expression is still not without divine mystery.

It is here in Jesus’ crossing of death’s threshold we see God’s great care for us wonderfully displayed, not in how our identities are similar, but how they are not. By entering death, Jesus’ divinity is unleashed in all of his brilliant glory, majesty, and power. We are saved, not just by how he identifies with us, but because of who he actually is—the sovereign LORD of life.

With Good Friday approaching, the time is opportune to contemplate how, in Christ, we are not alone or abandoned. In Christ, God’s caring presence is constant.  My prayer for us throughout Passion Week is that, through Scriptural and prayerful contemplation, all of what we are aware will be saturated with the sanctifying presence of Christ through whom God is always working his salvation in us by how he care-fully identified with us on the cross.  Comfort of Christ to you.