A Dialogue from Lord of the Rings
Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam: I know.Â It’s all wrongÂ By rights we shouldn’t even be here.Â But we are.Â It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo.Â The ones that really mattered.Â Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end.Â Because how could the end be happy.Â How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened.Â But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.Â Even darkness must pass.Â A new day will come.Â And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.Â Those were the stories that stayed with you.Â That meant something.Â Even if you were too small to understand why.Â But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand.Â I know now.Â Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didnât.Â Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam: That thereâs some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And itâs worth fighting for.
What keeps heroes going in their fight? What keeps regular day-to-day people faithfully carrying out their duties? It is hope; it is a vision. It is the conviction that what they are accomplishing is worth accomplishing, even if they do not actually get there. I saw a Japanese anime recently that actually got part of it right. After an entire season of episodes, one of the two main characters is shot and appears to be dying. As the current season ends (with maybe no other season to come), the other main character is distraught because he is unable to keep his promise to the possibly dying character. In that anime, the stereotypical evil character is laughing because he has apparently made it impossible for the male lead to save the female lead, after many episodes of struggle.
Then the female lead speaks. She says that she is satisfied. He has struggled to save her. He has done what he said he would do. She considers that his striving has satisfied the core of his promise to her. Not surprisingly, as the episode ends (and the series might not be renewed), the male character is not satisfied. But, it is the stereotypically evil character who is deflated. He thought he would bring both of the leads to despair. But, he has not. The lead who would have the most about which to despair, the female lead, is not only not despairing, but is satisfied that the promise has been faithfully kept. The male lead may be partially distraught, but is gaining strength. But, she may never get there.
Of course, this is but a weak analogy. Many of the saints died never having seen that which they were promised. This is one of the main points of part of Hebrews 11. “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised;Â they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance,Â admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. …Â Instead, they were longing for a better countryâa heavenly one.Â Therefore God is not ashamedÂ to be called their God,Â for he has prepared a cityÂ for them.”
The soldier who dies on the battlefield hopefully dies with the hope that they have helped bring about something better. In passing, this is why an unjust war is so terribly evil. It not only fails the test of being the lesser of two evils, but it also despoils the soldier who fights in that war of the hope that they were fighting for something better. To the evil of an unjust war is added the worse evil of despoiling the soldier of the very hope that what they suffer has a purpose. “That there is some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And that it’s worth fighting for.”
The same is true for the saint who dies while looking to the heavens. But, the same is true for you and I. We parent in hope. We work in hope. We go to church in hope. What we do from day to day gains its meaning from the hope that we leave something better. Perhaps we simply want to live some children better off than us. Perhaps we are more ambitious and wish to leave a community or a city or a country better off than us. But, behind it all is the hope that what we are doing helps something better to come about.
Notice that I did not make a religious comment on the above. And that is because hope is woven into the warp and woof of human existence. I believe that the ability to hope is one of the examples of the Image of God that is present within each and every human. Thus, to me human hope is an expression of the nature which God placed within us.
Hope can be the fuel that allows people to accomplish, or at least attempt, very difficult tasks. Thus, the soldier who sacrifices themself is hoping to protect his buddies and salvage the mission, with the hope of something better to follow. The immigrant parents who undertake an arduous trip to a possibly unwelcoming country want nothing more than a better life for their children. Even when hope is not directly connected to God, yet hope is a godly impulse that empowers us to accomplish what we normally could not.
Ultimately, hope is at its strongest when it is connected to God. When it is connected to God, when it is bounded by Scripture and Tradition, when it is empowered by the Holy Spirit, it is true hope. That hope can evangelize nations and move mountains. But, if you want a list of what true hope can accomplish, simply read Hebrews 11.
“But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.Â Even darkness must pass.Â A new day will come.Â And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.Â Those were the stories that stayed with you.Â That meant something.Â Even if you were too small to understand why.Â But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand.Â I know now.Â Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didnât.Â Because they were holding on to something.”