Death as Both the Gift of Men and the Doom of Men

We here at InkleDeux support JRR Tolkien. He is one of our lead inspirations behind the name InkleDeux as we take inspiration from the original Inklings, so it’s not a shock, or at least it shouldn’t be, that I like to take thoughts from his writing to dive much deeper into. Tonight, the thought that won’t leave me alone is his concept of the doom of men. I love it because of the brilliant subtlety of his approach, where death is both described as the gift and doom of humanity.

In what context can it be said that death is a gift? Well, in Tolkien’s writing, man’s fate is unique. The elves live forever, but they live forever in the created world. They are bound forever to this created world, even in its perfected form in the west. Man, however, at his death leaves this created world in order to return to the Creator. As great as creation is, it is never going to be as great or as incredible as the One who created it. This is just as true for us in the real world as it is for the people of Middle Earth, but our death is also a blessing in a different way for us. Our world is broken, and if we were to experience this imperfection without death, that would mean an everlasting life of decay and decomposition. Instead, we are pilgrims passing on to our forever home.

At the same time, even in Middle Earth, man came to view death and mortality not as a gift, but as a doom. It’s a very human instinct that Tolkien understood well. Intellectually, we may know that being permanent in this impermanent world would be terrible, but its what we know. The imperfect, damaged world we have is at least a known quantity, whereas the life beyond is unknown. We cling to what is safe and known, and so we envy the long lived, we cling to life not as an incredible gift from God, but as something which is due to us from God. It becomes ours, and so those who would end it, even God, are an enemy to be feared.

While both of these are present, it’s important for us to recognize that they are not equally valid and sane responses to death. We can’t continue to operate out of our fear, but instead from our trust in God who has never failed us. We are invited to make use of our life here on earth to prepare for the far greater life which waits us on the other side of death.

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