Mordor and Evangelism – Part 1 of 2

 
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Mordor is a scary place. There really isn’t much more to say about it. It’s the land of Sauron—with that ever-searching eye, hordes of orcs, trolls, giants, ring wraiths, and an insanely large spider. It’s a land filled with the stench of decay and death. It’s a land where goodness, truth, and beauty are forsaken for evil, falsity, and ugliness. Mordor stands in stark contrast to high-elven society, bucolic hobbit villages, austere Rohan vales, and the mechanical mines of the dwarfs, overcoming the differences of Middle-earth’s inhabitants through pure fear.

Mordor’s bleak existence and the successful salvific mission of Frodo and Samwise is what makes Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings such a psychologically enjoyable epic. It taps into that deep mythic desire we all have for an orderly and just world. A world where the good guys win and the bad guys pay. Much has been written about the psychological and mythic archetypes weaving their way through Tolkien’s trilogy. I seek not to add directly to that literature. Instead, I want to make two comments on how Mordor psychologically affects the evangelistic and apologetic task. Reason one will be discussed below with reason two being taken up next month.

For the record, I do not sharply divide the concepts of evangelism and apologetics. I view them more like a gestalt puzzle where one moment you are viewing a rabbit and then the next you are viewing a duck. The vagaries of human interaction often trigger various gestalt leaps between evangelism and apologetics. I understand evangelism as the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins to the sinner. It is the declaration of the Word applied to the sinner sitting in front of you, often for the first time.

This proclamation is often met with resistance from the sinner and a rejection, via various reasons, of that Word. In listening to the sinner boldly pronounce his God-given right to refuse the Word, one finds precisely where apologetics becomes necessary to the evangelistic task. Apologetics thus becomes an attempt to remove those reasonable (and often unreasonable) obstacles.

Mordor deeply affects the evangelistic task in two fundamental ways. First is the very fear of Mordor itself—the sort of fear that gives even elves pause. The evangelistic task is a messy affair. It requires conversing with people who are not necessarily like me, often diametrically opposed to what I know is good, true, and beautiful. Yet, I am called into this darkness just as Frodo and Samwise were called into Mordor. I cannot avoid it.

Oswald Bayer discusses the nature of the Christian life as radical discipleship through struggle. I am called to leave wife, children, parents, and friends, everything that is stable in my life to follow Jesus. Where does Jesus lead me? He leads me into the depths of darkness; He leads me into Mordor.

This is a fearful proposition. Mordor and its inhabitants are hell-bent on destroying me, yet I must meet them on their turf. I must meet them in their heart of darkness, as that is the only place the cross makes alive again. What makes me able to do this? Here is where the psychology of Mordor truly becomes frightening. I am Mordor. That stench of decay and death as well as the love of evil, falsity, and ugliness is my nature. I share with the unbeliever a common human nature that willingly rejected the Garden in favor of a volcanic wasteland.

I am working with the reverse of the more familiar notion of being able to stand before God because of Christ’s blood covering our hearts. Just as Christ is pure, I am pure before the Lord. However, just as my fellow human stands before me condemned by their sins, I stand before my fellow human condemned by sin, two dark souls traveling toward death.

This is the common ground I share with Mordor and its inhabitants, making me more than well-qualified to descend into Mordor bringing the only message with the power to turn Mordor—to turn me—inside-out. There is nothing in my words that makes the evangelistic task easier or less frightening. My words, however, ought to prompt that sense of urgency to share the message of Christ with others. To join Frodo and Sam in what truly is a mission of utmost importance, bringing the light into the heart of darkness. It is a light that burns bright even when I lose my way in Mordor, succumbing to the fear and ultimately death entailed by life.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 28

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:37-39

Dr. Daniel Deen is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University Irvine. He earned his Ph.D. from Florida State University in 2015. His philosophical thought leans toward virtue epistemological perspectives in religious and scientific epistemology, with a strong penchant for dialogue between science and religion, Christ and culture.