For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. Ecclesiastes 1:18
Increasing true wisdom heightens one’s sensitivity to the effects of the fall, of man’s fallen nature, of sin.  One need not possess full and true wisdom to understand that something has changed, something significant, that something more seems to be coming. Only those in active denial of truth fail to see this.
We can sense that many of our most foundational domains, professions that have long served the cause of truth have abandoned us - preachers, teachers, leaders, scientists, journalists.
We know something of what was. We comprehend that science, our highest form for rational inquiry about the physical world, was grounded upon a system that demands proofs, examination, and challenges to assumptions. Science itself was born of debate, of ideas that challenged the common and general assumptions. We understand science.
We have also come to understand scientism. We watched men argue from authority, summoning the name of science, like a high priest of a mystery religion, go unchallenged. We saw drastic changes take hold without any dissent, without any pause to challenge assumptions or claims. We saw those that dared challenge assumptions and claims to authority silenced.
The silencing of dissent, of questions, of those that dared claim that perhaps the facts point to alternate conclusions, this was accomplished in the main by journalists - and the handmaiden of lies, social media companies, and armies of active deniers and rhetoricians. This group, the fourth estate, that proclaims a professional ethic of truth-seeking, those with mighty pens and voices, heard far and wide, have lied to us often, more than they have sought truth of late. If before 2020 we doubted that these lied to us, few men of reason and honest reflection so doubt now.
The knowledge that these two groups, scientists and journalists, essential pillars in a just and vibrant culture, have fallen so far, is enough to cause much vexation. But we see more also.
We have watched the bureaucrats, politicians, academia and much of the visible church acquiesce not simply to the lack of questioning and the application of honest skepticism – we have observed these deal in the same word-play, the same rhetorical arts used so blatantly now by journalists and men that hold power.
Even without the full wisdom of Solomon, without the blessing of full and complete discernment, many see these facts, they understand what these facts mean, at scale at least. Such knowledge increases sorrow, for it must. We may not fully understand what is occurring nor why things have happened the way they have, but we know the air is filled with lies and deceptions, we know that truth has been abandoned by institutions charged with defending it. We know many of our countrymen are hopelessly lost to deception and whatever they are told by these institutions. We know, because history tells us it is so, that those facts alone are dangerous, troubling and sorrowful.
Sorrow begets grief. Psychologists would describe for us the stages of grief. Psychology is a pseudo-science that very often deals with things that it cannot understand because of the presuppositions built into psychology itself. But very often, it does an adequate job of at least framing a phenomenon, even if it is ill-equipped to ever explain it. Psychologists have, it seems, sufficiently described how man generally deals with grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.
One need not look long or hard across social media over the last twenty-four months to observe people in these various stages. Most readily recognize that a vast swath of those around us reside firmly in the denial phase. They know, they have to know because the evidence is simply overwhelming, that something is happening and that truth has been sacrificed for that ‘something’. There is no avoiding this evidence, there is either acknowledgment or denial.
Many that remain entrenched in denial do so because of hatred. They hate those, the types, that scream the emperor has no clothes. They double down, retrench, and fortify the lies, they play with words, use ridicule and rhetorical devices to obscure reality.
Believing something that conflicts with observable reality, psychologists speak of that. When a mass of people believes something that denies reality, this has a term too. They may yet change long-accepted definitions from within their trade, say that it does not apply here, or merely attempt to claim the phenomenon does not exist at all. Memory-holing a thing does not make the thing truly disappear. Historians can tell us something of what has occurred in past cultures where such circumstances of mass deception combined with paranoia and reality denial existed. We can see that probably well over half of our population lives in this very sort of state now, it is succor to them, they build and repeat narratives that support their denial. It makes them feel safe, it diminishes the questions that gnaw at their psyche and soul.
But some moved past denial. In early to mid-2020 anger was observable in many of these. Friends were lost, families separated, as angry warnings and rants flooded social media and supper tables. To those that saw the reality of deception saying that to others was important. Righteous anger is important, even if it is often poorly expressed. Many others took longer, into 2021, these had lived under another sort of denial, one that told them a hero would save them, that a storm was coming. Their anger took longer to manifest.
Few remain in anger long, it is an untenable position, it consumes those stuck in it. We seek relief. We attempt to bargain our way out of it. To some, this is to seek a new hero, or perhaps to dust off an old one. Others seek to unravel the mystery, to understand it in its full detail so that we might defeat it. Conspiracy theories are part of bargaining. Buried amidst real facts, these theories weave fabulous narratives that explain it all. There is great value in the real facts that truth-seekers uncover. There is great danger in attempts to pinpoint the groups or individuals that theoretically manage it all.
At some point in the bargaining process, many come to see the dark reality. The circumstances that made 2020 possible are intricate, the situation developed over generations. The very air we breathe and water we drink was poisoned over time, metaphorically. It was no small undertaking, and it is bigger than mere fallible humans. Humans it seems have merely played their part, acting on their fallen nature, but it is much bigger than some group of humans.
We have little left to turn to. Organized Christianity has failed profoundly, with only islands of resistance and truth here and there. The media, political parties, and science itself have been turned against the truth. Those fixed in denial claim as their own some of the most powerful tools available to mankind, they proclaim that they critically think, that they love their neighbor, that they follow facts. They even control the dictionary now, changing the definition of words to support their denials. Most Americans, of a certain age, read Orwell’s 1984 in high school. We understand double-speak and the memory-hole.
Observing reality, this change, in its full and horrendous manifestation is terrifying, it is sorrowful. It is depressing, and many now tetter on the edge of bargaining toward depression. What can we do, what can be done? We are but little people, often alone, unheard, ridiculed, and powerless.
Accepting reality, the dark horrid truth of it all is the only way through it. Remaining in the previous four stages means living in a lie, being unhappy, and ultimately remaining useless and ineffective.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote of a time just as now. One central theme in The Lord of The Rings is that almost to a man (or Hobbit, Dwarf, or Elf) all in his story they all believe each action they were about to embark upon was likely to fail, had little chance, and would end in their death. And yet, they acted. They accepted the brutal reality but marched on.
Anyone that reads the LOTR and believes it is a story of heroes saving the world, misses the entire point of the tale. It is about people, doing what must be done, often ordinary and powerless people. It is a story of accepting a dark reality, but not surrendering to it, it is about maintaining hope, faith, and truth.
- When the fellowship formed and vowed to take the one ring to Mordor, all there knew Boromir was correct, “one does not simply walk into Mordor” and yet, begin the walk they did.
- When Théoden, King of Rohan is reminded that riding into Gondor to honor ancient alliances and stand against evil will mean defeat and death, Théoden agrees and proclaims that they will ride anyway.
- When Frodo loses faith in Sam and bids him to leave his side, Sam remains, just out of sight. When Frodo is too weak to traverse the mountain, Sam carries him. His devotion and steadfastness were undeterred by Frodo’s loss of faith.
- When Sam and Frodo were covering the last distance, in the midst of the great darkness and most vulnerable it was Aragon, leading the men of the West into a battle they could never win, but they could buy time.
The LOTR is not a story of wizards, white hats, and ‘others’ saving the world. It is about people, ordinary people placing one foot in front of the other and doing the thing in front of them that must be done. Ultimately, it is about little people doing big things. To Tolkien, we are all, or can all be, Frodo and Sam – in our own way. We perhaps do not have to take the one ring to Mordor, but we have to be clear-eyed to the reality of the world, we have to take that first step and then keep walking, carrying one another when one is weak.
Do not be troubled in dark times, even when, as in the LOTR Saruman turns to join the enemy as so many of our institutions and leaders have done. Even when evil men harken to the war drums of our adversary and live in active denial of truth and reality. Fear not. If you but seek truth, you will find there is one that walks with us, just as Sam did for Frodo, even when we lose faith.
We must take that first step away from our comfortable homes under the hill. We must declare that we will no longer live by lies, no matter the cost and no matter how perilous, and hopeless the journey seems. Little people can do big things, and even if they fail they can do the right thing.
 ESV Reformation Study Bible