My son considers the final chapters of The Lord of the Rings evidence that Tolkien did not know when and how to end a book. On the other hand, I have always loved those chapters. I find the passages deeply moving each time I read them. In a book rich in art and story they speak to my heart while tying important threads of the work together, completing the grand pattern woven of many tales, valuable to the telling of the greater story.
Part of the attraction for me, as with other great books with which I have enjoyed many a memorable experience, is that I am reluctant to close the cover and say goodbye. These final chapters of The Lord of the Rings are a prolonged goodbye in a trilogy that is at its core a farewell to a whole world that Tolkien spent his life elaborating and never finished.
Like other great books of art, the work brings into bold relief important themes of reality. In this life we experience a continuing series of goodbyes. They fill our hearts with a tenderness, with a longing for lingering.
For those who consider this life all that there is, goodbyes have a dreadful finality without remedy. The dear one is gone, the experience has ended, something cherished is lost. These are finalities that are hard to face. People avoid them or refuse to recognize them when they cannot be avoided.
Notice even in our language of parting that our words have a lingering quality about them, as if there were no break, as if there were an enduring connection, another day. We do not seem to have a parting phrase that means, “so it ends,” or, “it is over, done.” Instead, we use words like, “goodbye,” a contraction of “God be with ye,” as if to connect us by our wishes and thoughts to the one leaving. Similarly, “farewell” carries with it our interest in the future success of our family member or friend. And, “until we meet again,” expresses the expectation, however forlorn, of another day in each other’s presence. Those words, however, cannot mend the finality of it all if there is nothing beyond this life.
If this life is all that there is, there comes a time when there will be no other day of meeting. This life is then full of endings that are absolute and unalterable, the greatest of which is our own ending, when with our departure all existence ceases for all that it concerns us. The awesomeness of that leaves a longing for something more, something to convey meaning that otherwise would not exist. If when we die all is done, if there is no more, then how does anything matter? We intuit, “there must be something more.”
Indeed there is. Rather than finality governing mortality, the defining characteristic of this life is that so much around us is so very temporary. As it should be. This life was designed as a temporary existence, a brief exception to the order of the universe, ever changing with the movement of time. Mortality was not designed to be the end of anything, the only finality being when mortality itself comes to its conclusion and this world is brought back into the realm of the eternities, where real, unending life prevails.
Jesus Christ descended from the eternal worlds into the world of mortality in order to preserve all good things forever. An angel, a messenger from the eternal worlds, explained it to the ancient prophet Nephi as “the condescension of God,” whereby Jesus, the Savior, experienced all things mortal, and suffered for all things mortal, including death itself, gaining power to preserve all of this world worth preserving and worthy of being brought into the eternities (see 1 Nephi 11:26-33). With His resurrection, Christ left mortality, creating the avenue for all of us to leave it as well and bring with us all that we had gained from our mortal experience.
Most important of these gains are our relationships with each other. Most important among these relationships are those of the family, of parent and child and, highest of all, of husband and wife. All that matters, and these relationships matter most, is preserved through Christ.
Without Christ, as everything perished it would be lost. People would die and would be eventually forgotten, their works decayed and vanished. Memories would fade. Relationships would end. All would end, constantly, until the end of the earth itself, a pointless and meaningless existence. Without Christ and His atonement, there would be a dreadful finality to every parting, every last touch, every last glance, every last memory clothed with a hopeless END that nothing could cure. With Christ, every good thing is saved.
By receiving Christ, since entering into His eternal order through the ordinances that He prescribed and authorized, I have the promise that the farewells have become temporary. The goodbyes and the partings have an end. Even death itself is swallowed up as a transient phase of life. I have no fears of losing any good thing but rather peaceful confidence of inheriting all good things forever.
(First published May 26, 2013)