One of the first fantasy novels I read was ‘The Sword of Shannara’ by Terry Brooks. It’s now a classic, and it introduced me to the marvelous capabilities of SF fiction to ask truly difficult questions about meaning and the human experience.
The protagonist, Shea, is a pure-hearted young man without any real combat acumen, magical powers or wisdom. In fantasy lit, that pretty much makes him useless. But the secret of the whole book is that Shea’s innocence is actually what makes him so special. The fantastical world is under threat by the evil Warlock Lord, who is said to be vulnerable only to the Sword of Shannara (stay with me here). No one knows what the sword does, only that Shea is destined to use it against the villain. At the end of the book, Shea finally claims the sword from its ancient hiding spot and holds it aloft in his hands expecting something miraculous. Instead, he experiences something horrendous.
The Sword’s secret power is the power to reveal evil. Because Shea was among the most innocent people to ever live, he is able to withstand the sword’s awful judgment. Barely. Coming face to face with his own imperfections, deviance, and sin nearly cripples the hero but he is finally purified and goes off to defeat the Warlock Lord. That battle, incidentally, consists simply of Shea touching the villain with the sword, and watching as the Warlock Lord is obliterated by the truth of his wicked nature.
When we come face to face with Christ at the end, for the final judgment, I can’t help but feel that it will be something akin to the Sword of Shannara. We will, for the first time ever, be unable to hide our sin, justify our sin, or compare our relative sinlessness to someone more wicked than we are. We’ll just be standing there, before God, ashamed. I suspect that those moments—whether seconds or centuries—will be singularly painful, unpleasant, and inescapable. Sin is serious business, and there’s no way to avoid giving an account for who we are and how we’ve lived at the end. That judgment will be the final purification, the final rectification during which time our sinful nature will be completely burned off, judged, and removed forever.
Thank God for grace!