Fellowship of the Ring – When Good Men Do Something

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.

 

 

 

Fellowship of the Ring – Saving Middle Earth

Hobbits are peculiar people.  When reading Tolkien, I can’t help but compare them to how Christians interact with society today: both in our failures to society and our ultimate role therein.

In The Fellowship of the Ring (FotR), Middle Earth has sunk even deeper into to turmoil and Sauron’s hand is reaching further out from his stronghold in Mordor.  The realms of men are obviously affected, with the elves and dwarves beginning to feel the effects.  For the Hobbits, they live in perfect seclusion, not caring for the affairs of men and elves, and continuing to enjoy food and pleasure over adventure.  For the Hobbits, they would see Middle Earth come to ruin before venturing out of their holes, not seeing the fate of the world as tied to their own.  Thankfully, for the Hobbits and all of Middle Earth, there was one (namely Gandalf) to give them a push out the door.

Christians can be very similar in their interactions with the world.  Many Christians will proudly shout that we are “in the world, but not of it,” and will use this as a motivation to move out into the middle of the woods and grow their own food.  That isn’t to say that people really do that (I’m sure there are some) but they adopt a similar mentality.  There is the idea that when society finally does crumble, I’ll be fine because I exist outside of society.  Some might even say they have separated because society is corrupt and can’t be saved.

It is these ideas that prove more and more that we are a Christian culture that is biblically illiterate.  When we separate ourselves from the world in such a way, we cannot have read Christ’s Great Commission to the church, or even the gospel accounts of his life.  We surely can’t have read through the closing book of the Bible and saw how the Lord is seeing ALL things redeemed, not just those things which we as American Christian deem as good.  American Christianity has refused to see its fate tied to that of the rest of the country.  It will be the church’s inaction that will cause the fall of our nation.

The Hobbits (at least the 4 written about for the majority of the book) came to realize that their own fate was tied up in Middle Earth’s.  The same is for Christians.  Scripture calls us to be the light of the world, not to hide our light under a bush.  We can’t possible change society while hiding in the confines of our created utopia.  We first have to realize that anything that seems perfect isn’t, and that we, as the church, are to be God’s agents in seeing the world’s redemption.

 

More Posts Coming Soon

I have not stopped reading.

I have been unable to post as of late due to the busy nature of my life in recent weeks.  It also gave me time to receive the large print versions of the The Lord of the Rings.  I am thankful there are large print versions of these great works, and by purchasing used copies, I found those and The Hobbit for less than $30.

With that, there will be more posts soon.  Stay tuned.

The Hobbit – What Makes a “Good” Story

The Hobbit ends like all good stories do – the good guy wins and he restores that which was broken.  What makes that a good story?  I submit that what is good about it is the fact that it is the paradigm within which all things operate.  It is a paradigm we all recognize and hope for; when we read it, we resonate with it,

In the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity, we tend to think of everything through the lens of the Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration model.  It is the order of things you find in Scripture: God creates the world, man falls, Christ redeems, and in the end, He makes all things new.  All things, be it fantasy literature, art, music, politics, social networking, etc. fit into this model.  Someone creates them and provides order and structure.  They are fallen, in that sinful man who has sinful motives makes them.  There is hope for redemption for these things because of Christ’s death and resurrection, which not only happened to redeem fallen man, but his entire creation.  Lastly, Christ restores all things; he makes all things new and returns them to their original state of sinless perfection.  Scripture tells this story from cover to cover.  The rest of the world tells this story in one way or another, either because it knows it to be true, or because it longs for it to be true.

Tolkien’s The Hobbit is no different.  There is a created order to Middle Earth, and even a particular order presented with the history of the dwarves and their lives under the Mountain.  Smaug, the very embodiment of evil, disrupts that order by murdering the dwarves and hoarding their treasure.   The treasure belonged to the dwarves.  They are the rightful heirs.  In order to have that inheritance restored, they needed a redeemer.  Who is that redeemer?  Of course, it is none other than Mr. Bilbo Baggins.  His deeds restore the old order to the dwarven people, as well as to the men of Dale.  His deeds not only restored the people, but the land around them.  The prophecy of the dwarves homecoming said that the land would “be filled with new song and new laughter.”  What a picture of redemption and restoration!

One of the things I plan to do with this blog is as I finish a book, to trace this same pattern through the book.  My contention is that all books, whether those written by Christian authors (like Tolkien) or those written by staunch atheists (like Pullman) will sing this same song.  Tolkien knew his redeemed lived, and now rests with him.  Pullman longs for a redeemer, he just does not know it.  How great it is that he who created all things will see all things made new in the end!

The Hobbit – Thorin’s Treasure

As Thorin and Company come back into Erebor, something happens to them.  Their adventure is almost over (they do not know of Smaug’s fate) and they are weary from their long and difficult travels.  Their encounter with the treasure changes this.

The change is particularly significant with Thorin.  Others find him counting his money frequently, and the prospect of having to share one piece of gold turn a good dwarf to a bad one.  When the dwarves learn of Smaug’s fate, they become even greedier.  They refuse to help the people of Esgaroth in their time of need, and willingly choose possible starvation instead of sharing.

I think Tolkien presents us with this same pattern several times in the book.  You have Gollum, who values the ring above all things.  It drives him to kill, steal, and destroy.  There is Bilbo, who cannot stop thinking about bacon and eggs and handkerchiefs.  Money and treasure drive the actions of the dwarves.  The Mirkwood Elves value security and solitude and Beorn values his animals.  There is the idea that there are certain things that make these groups or individuals tick, and they will make whatever sacrifice they must in order to preserve that which is important to them.  The correlation is very present between Gollum and Thorin I think, especially when you consider that Bilbo stole each person’s most prized position.  Their reaction was similar in that they both wanted Bilbo dead.  The story of Gollum and Thorin end differently however, with Gollum chasing his prize to his death, and Thorin finally realizing the folly his prize drove him to.

Again, Tolkien speaks volumes into our own situation as a people who live in sin.  We all can say we have those things in our lives that push us.    For some it may be money.  For others, the desire for a perfect family drives them.  When you lose those things, or something threatens them, you lose all hope, or you express some other deep emotion.  For both Gollum and Thorin, they became murderous when they discovered Bilbo’s theft.  Thorin, a respected heir to the dwarven throne, became as low as a creature that slinked beneath the mountains eating goblins and eyeless fish.

Only in death does Thorin realize the folly of his ways, and he gives us his most famous quote, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”  There is some truth to that, but rather than food, Christ is where our treasure should be?  It is in Christ alone that we find satisfaction and contentment.  Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Running after gold (money), the perfect spouse, the best job, the nicest house will only earn you heartache.  You might find what you are looking forward, but in the end, you are only left with something that will not last.  In Christ, you have someone that will be with you for all eternity.

The Hobbit – Mirkwood and the Narrow Road

Typically, in fantasy literature, the presence of a forest represents mystery and a transition in the story.  Tolkien uses this device in The Hobbit expertly with Mirkwood, and even offers us something that speaks of our own lives.  Tolkien often said that he did not write an allegory when creating Middle Earth and the stories contained within.  Of allegory, he said, “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.”  That said, him being a Christian, it is easy enough to see his biblical worldview shine through in the pages of his books.

In The Hobbit, Tolkien never alludes to Mirkwood as a good place.  Even the great Beorn speaks of it with some trepidation.  As the party leaves the halls of Beorn, he warns them to stay on the path, for to veer from it meant certain doom.  Gandalf further affirms this warning, speaking of The Old Forest Road.  Dwarves built the road in ages past, but the road had become unusable because of its proximity to Dol Guldur, the fortress of the Necromancer.  Gandalf had the party take the path just north of the Mountains of Mirkwood.  It was a less beaten path, but the elves there seemed to hold some sort of magical protection over it.

Gandalf, upon coming to the beginning of the north path, left the party and sent them on their own.  As he departed, he left them with this comfort:  “We may meet again before all is over, and then again of course we may not.  That depends on your luck and on your courage and sense; and I am sending Mr. Baggins with you.  I have told you before that he has more about him than you guess, and you will find that out before long.  So cheer up Bilbo and don’t look so glum.  Cheer up Thorin and Company!  This is your expedition after all.  Think of the treasure at the end, and forget the forest and the dragon…”  What words of comfort from their leader!  It must not have seemed like comfort at the time, seeing as Gandalf left the dwarves with the Hobbit, whom they still did not trust.  Their trek through the forest would be long and wearisome, but at the end, there was a prize greater than any of their present afflictions.

Our own walks with the Lord on the earth are very similar.  Christ gives us a new life through the regeneration of the Spirit.  He makes us new: the old is gone and the new is come.  The Spirit within us groans for the place promised to us.  Yet, there is still Mirkwood to walk through.  Christ has gone away for a time, but he has left with us a Helper to walk us through this perilous life.  Though this earth before sin was Greenwood the Great, (Mirkwood’s name before the Necromancer) it is now Mirkwood, complete with peril on both sides of the track.  Jesus talked about this.  He said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  (Matthew 7:13-14)  We are sinful creatures that like to control our own fate.  We see the road with hundreds of years of footprints on it; we take it, because we know that it at least seems the safest.  Our sight on these things is so short, yet we readily trust our own instinct rather than the words of truth from Scripture.  Scripture says the way of life is narrow, just like the northern path.  Sure, sometimes it seems impassable.  There are times when we feel so famished that we cannot possible dream of another minute on the road.  We long to be back on the more-frequented path.  In The Hobbit, the dwarves throw aside the wise counsel of Gandalf and Beorn when the mirage of the wood elves tempts them.  The sleight of hand of the elves tricks them three times before they finally realized that veering off the path might have been a bad idea.  We are no different.  The Lord has made clear the road that leads to eternal life, but we want it the hard way.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)  The way is easy in that we do not have to do anything.  Like the dwarves, we will face hardships and sufferings, but we need only keep our eyes upon the prize and we will be safe.  Anything else leads us to destruction.  Scripture says that there is a way that seems right to man, but the end of it leads in death.  The way that leads to eternal life will not always seem right, but we can rest assured that it is.

The Hobbit – No Beautiful Things

Bilbo and his fellow adventurers find themselves in quite a predicament when they choose to overnight in a mountainside cave.  The cave turns out to be no cave at all, but is the front porch of the Great Goblin!  This gives Tolkien an opportunity to tell the reader a bit about goblins and their nature.

Goblins are an evil race.  There is nothing good about them.  One thing that struck me in reading about them was the way Tolkien’s described their evil.  He said, “Now goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted. They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones.”  Earlier, we learn about the dwarves, their solid craftsmanship, and their love of shimmering things.  The elves create “good” things as well.  We read about Orcrist and Glamdring – two very special blades crafted for the Goblin Wars.  Tolkien also treats us to their songs throughout the book.  However, when we come to goblins, we learn that they create no good things.  In addition, they create many clever items – items meant for the destruction of many and the torture of their prisoners.

Oddly, this reminds of me of certain criminal masterminds, both recent and of years past.  Ted Kaczynski, also known as “the Unabomber,” is a good example of this.  Harvard accepted Ted at the young age of 16, where he proceeded to dazzle his professors and fellow students.  He later received a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in mathematics.  How did he use this knowledge?  To kill people.  More broadly, think of the average computer hacker.  They are a dime a dozen today.  However, to hack well, one must have a basic knowledge of several computer languages, the ins and outs of their target, and the knowledge to deal with the information once they find it.  Situations like these remind me of the goblins – an innate ability to create and think, but using it for destruction and malevolence.

Why is that?  Why can we not all be dwarves and elves and appreciate good things?  Because our sick hearts will not let us.  We are born into sin, and that sin is an all-encompassing characteristic of our nature.  Sin taints our creative juices from birth.  Humanity demonstrates this in every workplace in world, with people using knowledge, creativity, and people skills to claw their way to the top of whatever world they live in – whether it is a thriving business or a church.  Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  Because of sin’s grip on humanity, everything we do, even our thoughts are “only evil continually.”

Often in response to this passage and others like it, I will hear the following rebuttal: “Well, what about <insert good deed here>.  That is a good thing done by a good person.”  Genesis 6:5 does not say that man only does evil, but that the thoughts of his heart are evil.  Even the good they do has a foundation of evil – filled with self-serving motives and secret agendas.  We know this.  We know our own hearts well enough to know this.  When we look in the mirror and are honest, it is just the plain truth.

What hope do we have then?  Are we doomed to be like the goblins, creating devices and situations that serve us only, along with our evil desires?  Praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ that he is making all things new, and that in him we are a new creation.  It reminds make of C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Eustace becomes a dragon because of his greed.  Eustace had been insufferable for the first portion of their journey, and his gluttony had finally caught up with him.  As a dragon, he was alone and miserable.  He finally saw the error of his ways, and Aslan mercifully changes him back to a boy.  How?  By tearing his “old self” to shreds.

Is that not what Christ does for us?  We like Eustace and like the goblins create no beautiful things without Christ.  Christ makes us a new creation through belief in him.  In that change, we are able to please the Lord with the beautiful things we make (or do).  Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  What a glorious thought!  That those who were once “only evil continually” have been made new in Christ.  Christ changes our hearts and minds to seek after him and see us to completion in glory.  Then, in heaven, there will be no evil things.

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