Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"Pre-Evident Grace" -- a.k.a. The Real Meaning of Foreknowledge

This was a post I made in the comments on one of Elizabeth Prata's recent posts about Calvinism. I had remarked that the Bible itself was the strongest argument for the doctrines of grace, because after you hear all the preachers make their case, you are left with the undeniable fact that the Bible says God elects people for salvation not based on what they do. In fact, the Bible says faith is a gift, so how can faith be something you give to God to make Him save you? It can't.

I ended my first post by saying that those who don't accept Calvinism, ultimately, then, are not treating the Bible as if it is inerrant or authoritative. Someone replied that non-calvinists can believe the Bible's inerrant. I agree, it's possible, but here is what I had to say:

If you believe the Bible is inerrant in theory, then show that you believe it in practice.

When the Bible says this: "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. " (Romans 8:29-30),

then acknowledge that God decides where someone will spend eternity BEFORE the call (contemporaneous with regeneration and initiation of conversion), and before they become a believer who has faith in God (which is justification). The eternal destiny is set before belief begins. How then can anyone say that God decides to save people based on what they will believe? You can say that God knows the future, that is undoubtedly true -- BUT it misses the point that the logical sequence of God's actions from God's perspective are laid out in these verses, and it shows that God follows a sequence.

Foreknowledge is, (and this is yet another exciting proof of the doctrine of Illumination, because I had reasoned to this before) as John MacArthur recently said in a radio broadcast, not a mere knowledge of the future. In fact, the verse specifically does NOT say that it is the *future* that God knows (He does know it, but it's not the context), it is **those He justifies** that He knows.

This is an article from Grace To You confirming my statement about JMac's view.
What then is foreknowledge? God has an intimate relationship with certain people, others He does not. And as a merciful God, He would never enter into close communion with someone and then cast them off afterward. The point of foreknowledge is to show that God doesn't choose people based on their belief in Him -- He chooses people based on what sort of relationship He is going to have with them. Those whom He will be to as a Father, those He will secure eternally for salvation, and ensure that before earthly death, that He will justify them by faith and give them the right to be called children of God.

When I understood this passage, I understood why I naturally comprehended the qualities of God like omniscience, omnipotence, goodness, Biblical infallibility etc, long before my crisis of faith that led to my conversion whereafter I *consciously* apprehended the Gospel and can claim salvation by grace through faith. I was a nominal believer before, but I can see God's hand in my life keeping me from the kinds of behavior patterns (sexuality and drugs being obvious examples) that beset so many others I've heard stories from. I was morally upright, in a limited human sense, and it was by the grace of God, because I was not spiritually regenerate, just well behaved and with a good brain. I believe that God, knowing that I *would* be brought into a right relationship with Him as His child, extended "pre-evident grace" (if you will humor me making up a new word) to me even during the time of my life that I lived without the full knowledge of salvation.

That is foreknowledge. It is not "knowing that I would choose Him." It is knowing that He would choose ME, and ensuring that as a consequence, He would lead me by His Spirit to come to an eventual understanding of the Gospel that I might be saved through the hearing of the word preached.

If someone insists that Romans 8 implies that God saves men based on knowing that they will believe on their own, then they are not honoring the Word and even if they insist that it is infallible, they are not submitting to what it plainly says and are not in practice treating the Word as if it is true, or authoritative.

That is my lengthier treatment of this matter. I hope I neither seemed too harsh or too soft. It's a serious issue but it doesn't make someone a heretic -- it does require your repentance, though.

Thanks for reading.

~ Rak Chazak

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Josh Duggar

I can't bring much in the way of breaking news, but I will attempt to give a summary of the public statements and share a few worthy insights (not all mine--actually, none are originally mine, because it all comes from a Biblical worldview)

First off, for consideration: how Josh -- and every one of us -- should respond, inwardly, to being publicly attacked for any reason.

For the record: this man was chronically depressed because of extreme
mockery in the newspapers and even other pulpits. So he knows what it
feels like.

The political punditsphere was quick to respond, and the arguments are useful in provoking thought:

Matt Walsh wrote for the Blaze, making two main points:
* empathy: as a parent, is your first response to throw your child in jail? "I guess I'm just a horrible person then."
* hypocrisy: are the same people going after Josh Duggar also going after Lena Dunham, who publicly admitted to even more deviant behavior, and is thoroughly unrepentant about it? No? Well, why not? Is it perhaps because of the messages they promote on television?
"1) The Duggars are Christian. The Duggars are conservative. The Duggars don’t believe in gay marriage. Someone in the Duggar family did something terrible.
These are all facts. None of these facts conflict. None of these facts disprove any of the other facts. From the way liberals always react in these situations, you’d think that a Christian committing a sin somehow delegitimizes the faith itself, but that’s not quite accurate."
All reasonable statements, which appeal to logic.

In a similar vein to Lena Dunham, Rob Lowe tweeted about past indiscretions he'd committed, and this was after the Duggar story had broken. He was promoted as a beacon of hope in every media outlet I saw.
"In 1988, before Lowe got sober... he was filmed in a sex tape with two females and one of them was 16, according to CBS."
Is there a difference between 12 years and 25 years? Further, is there a difference between fondling (Duggar) and penetration (Lowe)? Or is the former simply more scandalous because it's new news, not old news?

I also saw an article on Stephen Crowder's website, by a contributor Krystal Heath, which made a similar statement initially, but emphasized more Christian-sounding language toward the end. Used the 'sin' word a bit more as well as forgiveness. This is good, but still not quite as incisive as what I read from Todd Friel.

If everyone who hears of the story reads just one article, this is the article everyone should read
"There are two groups of people who should not be shocked to discover that a member of the Duggar family is a sinner: Christians and non-Christians. Surprisingly, both camps seemed to be surprised by this revelation."
"There are two groups of people who should not be shocked to discover that a member of the Duggar family is a sinner: Christians and non-Christians. Surprisingly, both camps seemed to be surprised by this revelation." 

Without copying the entire article, here's the final paragraph:
"Josh tendered his resignation to the Family Research Council and they accepted it. While none of us know all of the details, if Josh were in my employ, I would not have accepted his resignation. 
I would have shouted from the rooftops, “If you think Josh is wicked, you should meet the rest of us! That is why we are Christians! We need forgiveness for being wretched, vile, wicked rebels. If you are a rebel too, Jesus died for you! Run to Jesus! Join the wretched club.” 
Let’s not squander this opportunity to share the great good news that Jesus died for perverts, liars, thieves, drunkards, abortionists, Wall Street fat cats, skid row bums, suburban housewives, blue collar workers and every sinner who will come to Him in repentance and faith. 
Josh Duggar’s story is more than a Gospel tragedy; it is a Gospel opportunity. Don’t waste it."
The Duggars' initial response to the accusations were reported here, and the full copy is on the "Duggar Family Official" Facebook page.

They did point out that they hope people can see that being a Christian doesn't mean being perfect,
"We have challenges and struggles everyday. It is one of the reasons we treasure our faith so much because God’s kindness and goodness and forgiveness are extended to us — even though we are so undeserving. We hope somehow the story of our journey — the good times and the difficult times — cause you to see the kindness of God and learn that He can bring you through anything. "

Perhaps the best possible short response, to anyone who would accuse Josh or the family in person (and even any of us 'other' Christians, if we are confronted by an accuser), would be this go-to:
"Just think, if God can forgive me for what I've done, then He can forgive you too. No one is ever too far from grace for God to save."

For the fairest and most complete telling of the story, actually letting the Duggars speak instead of just their social media critics, I found this Fox News link to where Megyn Kelly interviewed them.

For the complete article with several short video segments of the interview of Jim-Bob and Michelle (the parents), go here.

For the interview with the girls Jessa and Jill, which was just done last night and posted, go here.

One note: the girls feel victimized by the people attacking their family, not their brother. They have asked people to stop. Everyone who claims to be interested in their welfare should listen to them. Failure to do so will betray the truth, that you are interested in destroying the family in any way you can.
The behavior of social media antagonists who have attacked the Duggars persistently is aptly explained by God's Word. Romans describes the tell-tale behavior of people in a society who have denied God.
Romans 1
"28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them."
Romans 2 follows up by saying "and such were some of you." God can extend grace even to people like Josh. And God can extend grace even to people who slander Josh's family. None of us are deserving of praise, for all of us have sinned: some publicly, some privately, some knowingly, and others unknowingly. I daresay most of the critics do not realize that their speculation about Jim-Bob's alleged inappropriate handling of the issue constitutes GOSSIP, something the Bible condemns as a sin that we who commit it deserve hell for.

What an encouraging thing it is that God saves sinners. That means we all qualify.
~ Rak Chazak

PS I had more thoughts initially, but this works best as a summary post. More may follow later.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Subjective Experience vs. Materialistic Determinism

What if everything in the universe obeyed strict mathematical laws, and nothing -- not even personal volition, not even subatomic phenomena -- allowed for random chance?

Chance, here defined, is actual uncertainty about an event, such that if you knew the location, velocity, energy level and exact dimensions of every particle in the universe, and modeled reality in a hypothetical supercomputer, that you would not be able to predict the future with accuracy.

Materialistic determinism requires that if you somehow knew everything there was to know about this exact instance in the present, then you could know everything about the future and even the past, simply by mathematical modeling of the pieces that make up the universe. Their obedience to physical laws guarantees that you can know exactly how they will interact, with no randomness, leaving nothing to chance.

Generally, when we say that something is random, or a result of chance, it means that we can't predict it with the models we have and the knowledge of the universe that we possess. This is randomness from a human perspective. But real randomness -- absolute randomness -- does it exist?

Let's suppose it does not, and engage in a thought experiment.

***   **   **   ***        ***   **   **   ***        ***   **   **   ***

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Bayes' Theorem

I ran across something that I wanted to share, some time ago. I figured I'd read it and write a handy little summary if I could, but I'm distracted by the need to commute and so I don't have the time to attempt to reacquaint myself with probability statistics. I do nevertheless find the field interesting and it has useful connections with the field I'm going into, so it'll be valuable to dust off my STAT book one of these days.

Bayes' Theorem is explained somewhat here:

It is a mathematical method for assessing the likelihood of one event based on the probability of a related phenomenon. As it turns out, a professor once wrote an analysis of the statistical likelihood of the Resurrection based on the prevalence of eyewitness evidence. As of this post, this link to it was still active:

I'll leave it at that, because I can't assess it very much nor give the holistic explanation I like to do, without further review of statistics. My thought process is logical but not mathematical. My visual-abstract reasoning needs to put in more effort to convert the numerical representations into "brain language." In essence, I'm translating mathematics into words and images in the process of learning it. But I may one day return and give more capable explanation of this interesting topic.

But suffice it to say: based on the number of direct eye witnesses to the event, as demonstrated by the recorded history, we can be perfectly statistically persuaded that the Resurrection took place. With the strength of mathematical analysis behind our conviction.

~ Rak Chazak

Poem: Do Us Part

This is best understood in light of the insights I shared in The Extrapolation Principle, and Intimacy in Heaven.

Do Us Part

You and me
not forever but together,
that's how it's meant to be.
True love will stick
but knows its place
our human bonds will yield before
eternity's embrace.
Another's love
is lovely, sure
but even though it's the best thing we know
I promise you there's more.
Keep in mind
symbols are signs
and marriage is a symbol
of a grander still design.
we just can't foresee
how much better, in heaven
our love and joy will be.
Let us not
be easily caught
by believing that receiving
earthly joy is the best thing we've got.
Lift your eyes
eternity is out of sight
in more ways than one, we face a ton
of surprises when we arrive.
Our intimacy
will surpass physicality
this poem will end, but I and my friend
will love better than we ever dreamed...
Matthew 22:30 "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven."
~ Rak Chazak

PS background: the "You and me indefinitely" was initially inspired by a rejection of the Francis Chan book "You and me forever," which is ostensibly a book about how to make the most of Christian marriage. I might suggest to Mr. Chan and wife that telling the truth about the place of marriage in the context of God's divine plan would be a good place to start.

PPS something "indefinite" is something that doesn't have a defined limit (or a known one, from human perspective), yet which nevertheless is not practically infinite in extent. Our lives in eternity will go on forever, but the amount of time we've spent there will always be a finite number, even if it's 10^100^100^100^100 years and beyond. In a similar vein, human life and marriage has a distinct beginning and therefore the time from the beginning to the present is always definite -- but the time from the present to the unknown future ending (when "death do us part") is uncertain from our point of view of not knowing the future, and so the word 'indefinite' rather than 'forever' is better to describe something that has no foreseeable ending, like a committed earthly marriage. 

What's the Social Gospel? (case study: United Methodist Church)

It's not the Gospel, for one.

It is the reduction of "Christianity" to an outward faith devoid of almost anything Christian, let alone Biblical, except for the occasional references to a God or Christ in an attempt to infuse their agendas with strength. In that sense, it's no different from any worldly religion invented by greedy men to pursue their agendas with a "god says you must."

The United Methodist Church is running an ad campaign called 'rethink church.' It, and the site they redirect you to, is a perfect example of the social gospel.

See here:

On the second link, you'll see a dozen or so 'social justice campaigns,' and notice that nowhere in all of it is there anything hinting that people's eternal destiny is a concern, or even in mind.

Clicking the link to "spirituality," out of curiosity, I find this:

They briefly mention "anxiety, sadness, anger, shortcomings, guilt, shame" but don't connect it to sin and certainly don't tell about the remedy for sin, or how God sees sin or what He did for sinners. Nope. Instead they say that their goal is to 'find ways to connect with God' and find 'spiritual self expression.' 

We don't assume everyone's connection to God looks the same. Or should! We're reaching out to share God's love by meeting people where they are, and sharing our hearts in the process.

We welcome dialogue. We're respecting other people's beliefs and opinions about God, while maintaining our own practices and Wesleyan perspective.
We don't think church should just be for a certain kind of person. We think it's important for every person to have a place where they can express their spirituality.
The only thing they get right anywhere on this entire site is the tidbit that Church is not a building, it's a gathering of believers. But since the UMC doesn't identify what a believer is, their definition of church becomes functionally meaningless.

The Social Gospel denies and ignores sin and presumes to address physical difficulties, like hunger, housing, income, deforestation, etc as the greatest human ills and their sole focus.

It fails to save anybody. It accomplishes nothing more than making many people feel a little more comfortable on their economy-class flight to hell.

Further reading:

~ Rak Chazak

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Personal Life Update: Timing is Everything

I got a big envelope in the mail today.

It was from my student loan servicer. It was dated two weeks ago, and it warned me that they'd need documentation within the next two weeks to renew my Income-Based Repayment Plan. Hey, thanks for that notice! ;D

As it turned out, I had already sent documentation, so this made me a bit worried. I'd sent it quite a while ago, so hopefully it hadn't been lost or intercepted on the way. I called the number. After putting in my information, the electronic voice said that my renewal request had been received -- four days after the slow-moving envelope was sent -- and approved.

Problem solved.

Most stress can be prevented or resolved, it truly seems, simply by second-guessing what you think.

~ Rak Chazak

Review: Fury

It fits easily on the (imaginary) shelf of war-movies I'd like to have as reference for future teenagers to help them understand the severe reality of a world in conflict beyond our present scope of peaceful experience. The only difference between this and other movies I've seen is that you see a lot of the inside of a tank.

As usual, my reviews are almost always plot-spoilers by default.


Could also have been called: Crouching King Tiger, Hidden Panzerwagen

 "That's an SS officer. You kill every one of them you can."
Synopsis: A green-as-grass private gets tapped as a replacement to be the front-gunner in a tank with hardened soldiers, and becomes the only survivor of a one-against-hundreds standoff against an SS platoon.

There's not much to say, so I'll start with basics:

* no sexual nudity. However, numerous references to sexuality and implicit intercourse, mostly confined to a few scenes in particular after a town had been liberated from the Nazis
* of course, there's cursing. Less of it than in Gone Girl, for comparison (Gone Girl was far more profane than most war movies I've seen).
** A younger child might not pick up on the sexuality. But a younger child shouldn't be watching it for the sake of the gruesome deaths depicted, unless (my opinion) he's already been exposed to it through school or other children or the secular media. The longer you can keep them innocent, the better. Pre teens/early teens are probably the most appropriate age (given the culture we're in) to begin showing war movies to.
* there's a few psychologically intense aggressive scenes. Brad Pitt's character forces the rookie to execute a German soldier, and Jon Bernthal's character slaps the rookie around right after the Nazis bomb the town they were in.

That last part is pretty much the main thing I want to highlight. All other aspects of the movie are interesting in the sense of warfare tactics and getting a broader concept of the dynamics of a prolonged invasion. But the middle of the movie was a bit confusing, initially. Almost like a detour.

Brad Pitt and the rookie go visit with a woman and her cousin (who he sees through a window) and the film devotes many minutes to a real-time portrayal of the tension when they first arrive, to Pitt washing himself, and to setting the table and eating. The rest of the tank crew comes in and act upset that they were left out, and misbehave in various 'passive'-aggressive ways. Michael Peña's character tells a story about how it took them three days to bury the dead and shoot horses amid flies on a battlefield earlier in the war. Jon Bernthal's character tells the rookie he should "share" the girl he met, which Pitt replies to by threatening to break his teeth. Bernthal then spits on the girl's food. Much of the cinematography shows awkward silences. Nevertheless, it was clearly intended to show that the rookie and the girl made friends, and had a bit of pleasantness and hope amid the war, to be uplifted by.

And then as soon as they walk outside, artillery or rockets impact the town and the girl is buried, clearly dead, in the rubble of her building. Rookie loses it, screaming and punching Bernthal's character who almost selflessly, in a strange way, instigates him to punch him in the face, and then grabs him tight and shouts in his ear, "that's WAR!"

While it likely wasn't Pitt's character's expectation that they would die, his choices and Bernthal's seemed to conspire to make the rookie suffer loss so that he would become battle-hardened like they, and finally want to kill Germans.

That seemed to be the purpose for the uncomfortably long dinner scene. As setting the backdrop for, and helping the audience empathize with, the rookie's loss so that they would understand his anger, and so that they would understand the hatred/will to fight that drove the tank crew to risk their lives to kill their enemies so that others would have the chance to live.

Viscerally feeling disgust and anger over the evil things others do is one way war movies (and to some extent action movies, but usually less confrontationally) do to help you get into the mindset and understand that an action is justified, or at least rational. Fury did this effectively, on a very personal scale.

~ Rak Chazak

PS As an afterthought, this was the only example I've seen in years of a secular movie making a distinction between going to church and being saved. It's right there in the dialogue when "Bible," Shia LaBeouf's character, first meets the rookie. It might surprise you to see it on the screen. If it turned out that it didn't do superbly at the box office, then I would suspect the open religious language between the characters to be the most likely culprit. In this society, no one wants to see people quote Bible verses as if it's a reliable document. They want to see bad guys misquote Scripture so they can hate them better, they don't want them to use Isaiah to comfort each other before a battle in which they would likely die. That's my suspicion.

Review: The Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 1

I caught the last half of the first Hunger Games movie as a flatmate was watching it on Netflix one day, in my last year of college (first go-round). When the second film, Catching Fire, came out, I included it in a multiple-movie review I posted here. I realized that it was serving as an introduction to propaganda and deception to young people who may not have ever read Orwell's Animal Farm or 1984, let alone studied the politics of Communism in school. The last century of American -- and World -- history is a black hole for many people, seeing as the public education system goes up to the Great Depression and stops there.

That's why these films interest me, and I've been curious to see what sort of messages they're sending, subtly or overtly, to their fans.

The Hunger Games III: Mockingjay Part One

Could have been called: 1984, by Sun Tzu

POLI 201: Propaganda in Warfare
Synopsis: An unwilling hero learns how to fight with words rather than bow and arrow.

Observation One:

The dystopia is far more openly acknowledged now than in the first two movies. You had to look a little closer to catch hints that the characters were "on to" the fact that they lived in a tyrannical serfdom run by a centralized autocratic police state. It should have been obvious that something was wrong, and felt uncomfortable, but if you're not thinking about what you're seeing, you can miss it. Not so much in this movie. The rebellion is openly talked about and you see vivid examples of atrocities committed by the Capitol.

This is good. For the less conscious viewers, even if they're just floating along with the narrative, they should get something out of it. The Capitol's actions will come as more or less of a surprise based on your relative youth and experience or knowledge of totalitarianism, in fiction or reality. Naivete is best dealt with through shock. The film does a fair job at delivering on that.

Observation Two:

You don't get to control your heroes. Once you choose them, don't expect them to follow your script.

There is a scene where District 13(?)'s leadership is attempting to film a propaganda video with Katniss, the main character. They give her a script to speak and it comes out awkwardly wooden, with no heart to it. Woody Harrelson's character stands up and explains that he thinks the moments that made everyone love Katniss in the past were unscripted, when she did what was natural to her. So their solution to generating an Agitprop clip was to send Katniss to an actual conflict area. Subsequent to witnessing an atrocious act by the Capitol, she passionately delivers one of the most memorable dialogue sequences in the film.

It's true in politics, it's true in war, it's true in everyday life. And it's nowhere more true than in the case of putting your faith in Christ. No matter what foolish people may try to do, or other foolish people might accuse Christians of doing, no one gets to tell God what to do. No one can put Him in a box, or give Him a script to follow. Once you decide to stop trying to be God for yourself, you've let go of your chance to run the show. Now it's your turn to follow the leader. And the leader might not do things you expect or want them to do. The leader might require things of you that make you uncomfortable. That is the nature of following a hero.

This means that (lesson one) you need to be very careful who you select for yourselves as your heroes and leaders.

When you give someone power and influence, (speaking of humans here) you can't take it back easily. They can do lots of good or lots of bad in the mean time. And as for God, whom you don't give power, but merely submit to -- when you give your life over to Him, you don't get "takebacks." Your life is set to change dramatically and it might surprise or upset you, but you need to acknowledge that you don't have control, and stop resisting. You made your decision, and now you must follow through, so follow your Leader.

Observation Three:

The final observation is simply a reflection on the fact that the police force/military in The Hunger Games is composed of soldiers in white armor called "peacekeepers." Their primary function seems to be beating, executing, and shooting people in the back. For those who haven't read 1984, it's reminiscent of "Newspeak," where the government of Oceania attempted to manipulate and redefine the English language to limit how people were able to think or speak about things. Calling soldier-hitmen "peacekeepers" is an attempt to force every reference to them to imply that they are good, helpful, useful, important, and not at all a negative force. Talking about them in a way that suggests they are evil requires extra effort. But for the people who are aware of the truth, every reference to a word like "peacekeeper" is carried on a wave of sarcasm, and thereby undergoes still further alterations of meaning.

When words are used in a certain way extensively, then by way of gaining that association as their primary meaning, they lose their secondary (or even what used to be their primary) definitions. In the end, other words must be used to refer to something with the same intention that the now altered word originally conveyed.

Gay used to mean happy, lighthearted. No one uses it to mean that anymore.
Awesome used to mean terrible, frightening, and yes, awe-inducing. But most don't use it that way anymore.
Likewise, terrible used to mean causing fear, not necessarily something bad. You could describe yourself as terrible if you wanted to present yourself as an imposing figure.
The justice system is the place where people go to seek justice. But it doesn't always dispense it -- so there's a sense in which one could refer to it in sarcastic tones.
Girlfriend -- a friend who's a girl, right? No, now it almost always connotes a sexual partner.
Politically charged terms, like 'free market,' 'social security,' 'birth control,' 'husband and wife,' 'peace treaty,' etc all contain examples that someone could well argue do not represent what the word implies.

Something to think about. How are words changing, and why?

~ Rak Chazak

Monday, June 1, 2015

Review: The Hobbit, Battle of the Five Armies

I will try my hardest to keep my posts short, if only so that I can post them before I run out of time (a guy's got to sleep, you know). I have three short points to make.

The Hobbit III: Battle of the Five Armies

Could have been called: Big Ideas As Displayed By Little People

Aesop's Fables meets World of Warcraft
 Synopsis: A self-obsessed Dwarf king and self-righteous Elven king almost completely lose sight of everything that's really important in life.

Observation One:

Thorin Oakenshield gets struck with what's figuratively referred to by the old dwarf as "Dragon Sickness," which is apparently a literary device of JRR Tolkien's to represent hubris (greed borne of pride). He becomes obsessed with his own greatness and riches, and begins to see everyone around him as an enemy, a threat. He singlemindedly pursues the 'heart of the mountain,' ignoring the welfare of needy refugees and foolishly attempting to fight off an army of Elves with only 13 people (is that term applicable to dwarves? I'm not that into the lore).

It serves, through Bilbo and Dwalin's perception of him, as a poignant (and almost awkwardly lengthy, in terms of screen time) reflection of how people around us -- or ourselves -- can become self-destructively prideful in pursuit of greatness, glory, power, autonomy -- whatever you see the Heart of the Mountain as representing.

But the best part was the way Thorin recovers. Many other movies have done poorly with portraying a character who's fallen into a ditch, typically showing a spontaneous and total conversion upon the sudden realization of a one-liner that another character conveniently spoke to them at just the right moment. Reality is nothing like that. What the Hobbit did better was to show the character's transformation as taking place within his own mind. Ultimately, other people can only support you, but repentance is something that happens on an individual level. Thorin is walking in the hall of the castle and multiple thoughts are shown going through his head. The cinematography represents the collective weight of these as guiding him to a realization and awareness of what he's done wrong, and as he feels sincere remorse over it, he is shown seeing himself sinking into a pit. The best thing the director did was to, without any dialogue, have Thorin grab his crown in disgust and throw it down.

That is the root truth. Repentance and restoration comes from dethroning ourselves as the kings of our own lives. Thorin Oakenshield fancied himself a great king now that he had a crown, but Dwalin said that "you have always been my king," and that now he had become something shameful. When Thorin's life had been about a greater purpose than himself (reclaiming his people's heritage), he had been a lightning rod for his friends to rally in support of. But when he thought that because he wore a crown, that he now had authority, and his purpose became to seek his own ends, then his friends were grieved.

The symbolism is apparent; we become restored as heirs to the kingdom when we cease trying to be king and put others before ourselves. At the end, Thorin sacrificed his life to fight the enemy, laying it down for the sake of his friends. That's not to equate the character with a Christ-figure. Tolkien, catholic though he was, differed from C S Lewis's more overt Christian themes and in his own stories attempted to bury them more deeply in the narrative. Being willing to give ourselves for others is a theme consistent with Biblical Christianity, without needing to pigeon-hole the characters in LOTR or the Hobbit as representing Jesus or Satan.

Observation Two:

When Thorin lies dying, he calls Bilbo his true friend. In context, Bilbo had found the heart of the mountain and hidden it from Thorin, and then sneaked out of the castle and given it to Thorin's arch rival, the Elf lord Thranduil. Bilbo's hope had been that when Thranduil would offer it to Thorin, the latter would be willing to give aid to the refugees and return the treasures belonging to Thranduil in return for that which he wanted so badly.

As it turns out, Thorin refused, showing that pride is always stronger than greed. The desire to have things is really an outgrowth of the desire to have power, which is an expression of the desire to be in charge, make the rules, be your own King... Only somebody who's willing to step off the throne can be reasoned with.

At the end, Thorin gratefully acknowledged Bilbo's trustworthy friendship. He had not been a 'yes man,' doing what would make Thorin happy, or doing what would evade his wrath. He had been willing to risk his hatred, or even death, to do the right thing. Whereas I suspect neither Tolkien nor Peter Jackson had this intent in mind, I saw this as easily representative of the fact that telling someone the truth -- i.e. the Gospel when they don't want to hear it -- is always the right thing to do, and if they are later converted, they will be grateful that you did the hard thing and stood against them and were not willing to compromise.

Observation Three:

The dynamic between elves and dwarves has served in the Lord of the Rings series to provide commentary on how people from different social classes, cultures or "races" could initially have animosity toward each other but eventually come to see each other as friends and respect each other despite coming from or going to very different places.

The fact of elves being functionally immortal (living tens of thousands of years if not prematurely killed in battle) made for interesting analysis of some things Thranduil said with respect to Kili and Tauriel's budding romance. At one point in particular, he told her it wouldn't be worth it for her to go after him to save him, because since he was mortal, he would die anyway, indicating that he thought her efforts were futile. A similar dialogue occurs regarding Galadriel and Aragorn in the LOTR movies. "They are mortal."

Again, it's not a perfect analogy, and I'm not trying to construct one. What I have been doing here has been to use themes in the movies to stimulate contemplation of similar themes in the nonfiction world. In this case, the comparison of dwarves, elves and men on the basis of mortality and disposition makes me think of the differences between the Gentiles, Jews and the Saints as described by Romans 9-11. In reality there is overlap. More similar to the movie, in reality we all interact, even though we note differences between each other.

Elves (saints) and humans (gentiles, incl. professing believers) are superficially similar, whereas dwarves (Jews) are obviously different from both, as well as withdrawn, stubborn and consumed with yearning for the return of their long-ago glories. Men and dwarves are both quite capable of forming romances with Elves, but because only the Elves are immortal, romances with non-elves are guaranteed to result in a long separation, and the knowledge of their mortality induces heartbreak even before their death occurs. Thranduil (compare to a Christian who has no compassion for the Lost) rightly discourages Tauriel from pursuing romance with a dwarf ("a house divided against itself cannot stand"), but he does it with no love in his voice. At the end of the film, it seems as if he has a bit of a wake-up call, a hint of temporal redemption for himself, when Tauriel says "why does it (love--or the loss of a loved one) hurt so much?" and he replies, "because it was real." Perhaps the lesson here is that even if a lifelong love -- marriage -- cannot be, that does not mean that those who are promised immortality should not love or show love to strangers, those who are outside their earthly or heavenly society.

If you as a Christian watch the movies again, and put yourself in the shoes of the often snotty and self-righteous, self-concerned Elves ("the elves are for the elves," to borrow from a twist on a C S Lewis' Narnia line) and imagine the dialogue between elves and dwarves, or elves and men, to be as dialogue between a saved Christian and unsaved of various stripes, then it might be uniquely convicting for you, or at least very thoughtful, in ways you may or may not have already perceived.

That's the thought I leave you with.

~ Rak Chazak