The Long Defeat - Agape and the Long Defeat - George Hunsinger


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"As the result of a reader survey, J.R.R.Tolkien was once recognized as “Author of the Century.” Karl Barth, in turn, has often been regarded as the most important theologian of the 20th century. This paper will bring the Author of the Century into relation with the Theologian of the Century. It will do so by reflecting on the eschatology of agape, a relatively neglected theme. Tolkien’s Lord of the Nazgūl will be considered in relation to Barth’s concept of das Nichtige (the power of “nothingness”). Tolkien’s eschatology of the “long defeat” will then be regarded in light of Barth’s exegetical discussion of 1 Cor. 8a, “Love never fails.” from video introduction.


What is the Long Defeat? We live in a world that attempts to condition everything, but who conditions the conditioners? The result of our attempts is not the perfection of man, but instead as C.S. Lewis observed, we have the abolition of man.

There is a growing tendency in our world to make politics into a religion. People respond today with anger when they lose elections, or court cases, among other things. Why? It seems their core belief is found in the “arc of history bending toward progress”. Humanity and society are perfectible, and it is our duty to perfect it. Many still feel that mankind can unscramble the eggs and make the world a utopia.

J.R.R. Tolkien borrowed from the Norse mythos of the “twilight of the gods,” in which the Elves of Middle-earth fight what they call “the long defeat,” both against the evil forces of Morgoth and Sauron, and against the decay of all material things. In Tolkien’s creation the immortal elves themselves do not age, but the world does which wears down their immortality. In an effort to stave off the inevitable the great elf-lords Elrond and Galadriel use their remaining power to preserve their havens of timelessness, Rivendell and Lothlorien.

If we look to the history of our world and to the Fall we will quickly realize that the story of our fallen futile world is in and of itself a “long defeat.” But this leaves out the Cross as the pivot of history. Our redemption has defeated the long defeat as it has defeated death and evil.

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