In J. R. R. Tolkien’s book, “The Lord of the Rings”, the character of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, is more carefully developed than in the movie adaptation. In the film, we see that he’s crazy. In the book, we’re also told why he has gone mad.
Denethor had a “palantir”, an ancient seeing-stone that early kings used to communicate with each other. Without telling anyone, Denethor looked into it, and the bad guy, Sauron, also in possession of a palantir, found out. So, Sauron started feeding images of his own terrible and growing strength to Denethor. By the time news came of a small and hidden hope against the bad guy’s impossible power, Denethor was too wrapped up in all the Bad News he’d been seeing to let the Good News give him faith. This drove him to abandon his leadership of a strategic city, cause trouble for those trying to defend it, and destroy himself.
In our own real world, it’s very easy to allow ourselves to be fed nothing but the Bad News: wars, terrors, and disasters are covered in loving detail by a myriad of news outlets. Through our own “seeing-stones”, we are fed carefully-selected truth. As we inevitably receive all this information, it’s important that we interpret it with our own knowledge of a hope: the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Kingdom has been here since the days of Jesus, who announced it everywhere he went. It’s a difficult concept to pin down, and so Jesus used parables to describe it, sometimes comparing it to things that are small, hidden and effective, like yeast and seeds. These are things that we can’t always see, but have faith in; and we have patience to let them take effect. This should be our attitude toward the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven whenever we’re faced with Bad News.
If I had to put a finger on that slow but persistent yeast that is the Kingdom, I would tell stories, just like Jesus. My own personal, current interest is in world events, and so I would point to particular examples of small, successful Non Governmental Organizations that are working all over the world to address site-specific issues, like clean water, microfinancing and education. None of these stories are spectacular, they are not stopping current-event crises, and they don’t make the headlines; but, they are relentless, like two small good guys sneaking into the bad guy’s backyard to destroy his best weapon. To find such stories, I often have to go looking for them. But we’re told to look for the Kingdom of Heaven, as if we’re jewellery dealers looking for the perfect pearl.
In Tolkien’s fictional world of Middle Earth, the good guys were frightened by the Bad News, but were willing to keep fighting because of a hidden hope. Here, in our real Earth, we can be informed by Bad News but not let it influence us. It can be hard to line up past and current events with the existence of the Kingdom of Heaven; but its significance is not that it is seen, but that it is here. In Jesus’ story, the jewelry dealer sold everything he had to buy the perfect pearl. The Kingdom is apparently worth giving everything up for, even our perceptions of what does and does not constitute Bad News.