Imperfectly Ideal

One of the things I find most endearing, and most solidly Christian, about J. R. R. Tolkien is his avoidance of ideal types of good in Middle Earth. Evil, yes—Sauron—but not good, the ideals of which, like Elbereth, are beyond its borders. I hate hagiography because what is normally assigned to that category is full of idealism—exaltative lies about its objects—so there is little in it to which our needy souls can attach. The Bible contains none of it, where even the greatest of the saints, Abraham, Moses, David, Joseph, Mary, Peter, and Paul, for example, are presented with sins and flaws alongside their exemplary faith.

Only Christ is immaculate, but the Evangelists, as I have noted, have given us a portrait of the Lord that makes it easy to regard him as imperfect, and more than imperfect, if we will—insensitive, vindictive, racist, sexist, a scofflaw and disrespectful son, for example, so that accepting him as the spotless Lamb of God can only be done as an act of faith, based in either religious imagination or the mystery of communion with the Person himself. Only the second gives rise to true faith.

S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.

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