How Do We Make Sense of Grief in This Life?

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In J. R. R. Tolkien’s novel The Two Towers, Sam and Frodo find themselves exhausted from their quest. As they confront the enormity of their task and the hardships both behind and before them, they reflect on what it means to be part of a heroic tale. Frodo recognizes that, in real life, such stories are much harder than they seem. The heroes don’t know what is coming on the next page. “You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: ‘Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.’”

At the same time, Sam realizes that it is within such stories that life is found. Those heroes didn’t choose their path; they simply persevered on it: “The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo . . . I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for . . . But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t.”[i] It was in playing their parts in these greater dramas that their living came to have significance.

Within the story of Jesus, we find the proper shape for the narrative of our lives. Our struggles are not the final act of a tragedy. Our sorrow is not a pit from which we will never escape. Jesus is fighting for the world, and his victory is sure. We know the ending, and that ending transforms our present struggles. They are given meaning and significance and will ultimately give way to the triumph of the Lamb.

To truly appreciate that, though, we need to appreciate the enormity of the victory Scripture promises. With that in mind, let’s flip to the final pages and see the true nature of the biblical hope: not souls in retreat but resurrected bodies in a resurrected world.

[i] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1954), 320–21.

Eric Tonjes

is pastor, writer, and co-host of the Simply Faithful podcast. He is also the father of three children. Elizabeth, his wife of thirteen years, passed away in 2020 after a long battle against a terminal illness.

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