Despair: In the eyes of the beholder
Yes, I like the movies as well and they did a good job for the most part. Lately, I have been watching the Return of the King and it has once again called to my attention some aspects of the story which have sparked my intense interest in the past!
Let me just start by explaining that the movie fails in one regard. Denethor, the steward of Gondor, is seen by most movie viewers as being simply insane. What most people can't explain from just watching the movie, is the root of this "insanity." In the first place, he wasn't literally insane. The key item missing in the movie was the "palantír" or "seeing stone" in Denethor's possession. That's right, there is supposed to be another one in Minas Tirith.
I'm sure some of you are saying, "well, so what?" But let me explain to you the importance of this fact without going into too much detail about the history of the "seeing stones." Yes, Denethor having one of them is significant because that is how he learned of Aragorn's existence. More than that, he had come face to face with Sauron. Denethor was a very "wise" man in many ways. I've always looked at his two sons as having each inherited one of his father's two qualities. Boromir had his fathers leadership and valor in battle. Faramir was also a great leader, but less in the physical sense. He was extremely wise and intelligent. The book takes great pains to paint Denethor and Faramir as two very difficult people to deceive. Frodo couldn't hide the fact he was hiding something from Faramir. Pippin had a private interview with Denethor and dutifully kept all the secrets he was told to keep--and yet he had unwittingly given much away. That was the way it was with Denethor.
Yet, coming face to face with Sauron is no little thing even for someone as wise as Denethor. He had unwittingly played right into Sauron's hand whose tactics have become very clear: He does what ever he can to make his enemies despair. He does this by showing his own might (even if he has to exaggerate a bit) in such a way as to convince his enemy that all hope of resistance is vain.
This is a fascinating concept to me: a person despairing because he thinks he knows the future. Saruman and Denethor despaired after being convinced of Mordor's invincibility and inevitable victory. Remember in the movie, when Pippin saw into the seeing stone, how he was shown Minas Tirith in flames. Here is a prime example of Sauron's attempts to induce despair. Of course, Sauron didn't know who pippin was, so he could not have known that it was not worth the effort. But the fact remains that those most prone to despair are those convinced they know the future.
Why is this important to know? It's important because of one unchanging fact: We do not know the future and never can. Despair is for those who know, without a shadow of a doubt, what the future is going to hold--none of us are in that position! Let us then look on despair for what it is. It is completely off-limits to a follower of Christ! To despair is not only to take our eyes off the living God, but it is to steal from Him His lordship and sovereignty in our lives. When we despair, we trample holy ground and completely deny God.
How ironic then that Satan uses despair for our destruction. We look around at the world and see only "the signs of the times" and not lost souls to be brought into the God's Kingdom. We look at ourselves in all of our filth and sinfulness and think we ourselves are a lost cause. After all, if God's Spirit were really working sanctification in my life, shouldn't I be experiencing daily victory and be encouraged? Why am I failing so often in the same areas? Why am I fighting the same fight I was fighting before I became a Christian? Where is the hope?
I am struck at how quickly these doubts are shattered when we see life through lens of His covenant! He does not tell us to simply tough it out on our own. Instead He has marvelously provided a bulwark against this deadly despair.
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.
God provides us with the very evidence and tangible signs to encourage us. Just as surely as a man and a woman wear a ring to signify their oneness in marriage, even so I need only look to my baptism to remind me of who I am and where my citizenship lies. How foolish and blind of me to forget and despair!