English philosopher Edmund Burke is quoted as saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” In the early goings of The Fellowship of the Ring (FotR), we see a perfect picture of the opposite of this. The great wizard Gandalf and a Tookish hobbit make a decision that will not only change them, but all of Middle-Earth.
I was particularly struck when I read through the section detailing Gandalf’s long awaited return to the Shire. He had been away for 9 years, and it had been 17 since Bilbo disappeared. It was obvious, even to the oblivious hobbits, that the world was headed toward a bad end. Dwarves and elves were traveling west at an alarming rate, and news from the outside world was easier to come by, and all the news was bad. There was an evil gathering in the southeast, and the whole of Middle-Earth knew it. With that, Gandalf comes back to the Shire with a heavy heart, but determined.
Before he left 17 years previous, Gandalf’s instruction to Frodo concerning the Ring was to “keep it secret, and keep it safe.” Gandalf knew there was something to that Ring that was unlike any other, and his recent dealings with a “stretched” Bilbo confirmed his suspicions. Gandalf spent the next 17 years researching near and far for information concerning Sauron and the Ring, and eventually learned that Sauron had finally caught wind of words like “hobbit” and “Shire” – words that were previously unimportant to him. Gandalf loved the hobbits, so in order to save them, and all of Middle-Earth, he knew what must be done.
He traveled to the Shire and relayed the information to Frodo. The conversation says much about our own peril in the face of a sinful world. Gandalf finished his story with, “Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again.” Frodo, overcome by what he heard said, “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” Gandalf’s answer speaks highly to his character and passion in seeing the world be made new again. He said, “So do I…and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Wow.
When I read this, it conjures very vivid images of my own struggle with my sin and the sin of the world. When I look around, I can see how one would be tempted to “hole up.” I only see misery and death – even the good things of the world are tarnished with imperfection. What I see in the world pales in comparison to what I see in the mirror. In the mirror each day, I see a man who is called “pastor,” but who hardly acts the part. I love to put my own sin in an envelope, hidden in a box – secret and safe – so that the world does not see how bad I really am and so I can even look myself in the mirror. Even secret and safe, the evil is still there. More than that, I am pursued by an enemy who would see my destroyed, and he would use my sinful nature to help me meet my demise.
What is the answer? Like Gandalf and Frodo who chose to face evil head on and see it finally vanquished, we must do the same thing with our own sin and with the sin and death that we see in the world. As believers in Christ, we have the option to simply wade through life, pointing fingers at all the bad things, and even keep our own sin lives secret and safe, or we can be aggressively pursuing their end. Through the gospels transforming power and the Word of God, we have the tools to combat our sin. With the Church, Christ has given us the vehicle to see his kingdom come, and the reach of sin and death be lessened. Granted, as Gandalf tells us later, “there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured.” Will will never be free of sin and death this side of heaven, but we do not have to accept them as our end on earth. Jesus Christ came that we might have life and have it to the full. Through his Holy Spirit, we experience a newness of life and growth in grace as believers, in which we see the evil of our sin nature slowly be healed through the process of our sanctification. In a sense, Frodo’s journey to Mordor mimics our own journey on this earth – one that would see us do away with the sin in our lives. Unlike Frodo, we do not succeed here, but through Christ, we have the victory for all eternity.