One of my favorite scenes in the third installment of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – The Return of the King – is when Gandalf the wizard and the hobbit Pippin have a quiet conversation about death. The context of that discussion is when Gandalf and Pippin find themselves in the middle of the siege of Minas Tirith – the last defense against the evil armies of Mordor. The indestructible gates have been destroyed, the city has been besieged, and the last remaining soldiers and citizens are waiting for the enemy to break through the final barriers of defense.
It’s at this moment of despair that Pippin looks to Gandalf for comfort:
Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path… One that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass… And then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf?… See what?
Gandalf: White shores… and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: [smiling] Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: No… No it isn’t.The Return of the King, J. R. R. Tolkien
I hope this doesn’t strike anyone as morbid or fatalistic. The simple truth is, for believers, COVID-19 and all its fear-inducing uncertainty, the here-and-now is not our end game. In other words, what happens in this life is not the end. We are called to higher and better things than “the ashes and the dust” (Peter Gabriel – I Grieve) of this world. For those of us who have placed our faith in the one who “makes all things new”, we are promised an “eternal glory that far outweighs” all this “light momentary affliction.”
No matter how bad our present circumstances get, one day “the grey rain-curtain of this world” will “rollback”, and we will see the “white shores” and our “far green country under a swift sunrise.” The invisible will become visible, the eternal will become our every day, and the Light and Life of the world will be our light and life forever. And that isn’t so bad, now is it?
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.2 Corinthians 4:17-18