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It is late in the forest realm of Lothlorien, most are sleeping, and Frodo Baggins has followed Galadriel to Galadriel’s mirror. Galadriel explains to Frodo that the mirror reveals the past, present, and possible future. Frodo peers into the mirror seeing at first nothing, then he sees those he loves enslaved and the places he has loved burning. The vision he sees in the mirror is completed by a darkness that is seen in the mirror as the ring around Frodo’s neck seems to want to leap off his necklace into the mirror itself. The old saying of Nietzsche lingers in the background of this scene where it is said that one ought not peer into the darkness too long, lest it peer back at us. As soon as the darkness is seen and realized it has become none other than the Eye of Sauron which fixes it’s evil, cat-like gaze upon Frodo just before Frodo turns from the mirror and falls……….

……. Smoke rises from the mirror where the Eye was seen as the flames have subsided, and a look of fear grips the eyes and heart of little Frodo who has seen some of the evil that could exist if his task is not fulfilled.

At least, that is how it appears in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (used because it is likely more widely known). In the book, both Frodo and Samwise peer into the mirror and see horrendous things which both weigh heavy on their heart making their task all the more important and equally formidable.

Tolkien reveals a stark contrast between that which is considered to be good and evil in The Lord of the Rings, as well as in his other works. In the films, it is clear from the beginning that there is a great enemy of Middle-Earth named Sauron the dark lord who has claimed dominion over the world. Yet, as surely as there are evil beings seeking power, greed, and authority over all things there are also those who are willing to stand up for what is good in the world, hence, the elves and men opposing Sauron in battle.

Tolkien uses evil in a similar way to that of the Bible. In the beginning of Tolkien’s world as mentioned in the previous post in this series there was Illuvatar (Eru) who is the parallel to God in the book of Genesis. Genesis 1 describes creation while the second chapter elaborates on the creation of humanity while highlighting an important imperative to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The third chapter describes the fall of humanity from the original purpose intended by the creator God on account of their mutual disobedience to God’s commands and lack of trust in His provision for them as their Sovereign.

Tolkien describes Illuvatar as having thoughts in the form of a great symphony where each individual part was equally important for the whole and each individual part of this divine music came into existence breaking into the nothingness with resounding beauty that was created by the greatest of composers. However, these thoughts all having a will of their own upon coming into existence could play a different part unintended if they so chose. Melkor, one of the original Ainur (these harmonic thoughts) wanted the power of Illuvatar to create something original and played a different sound. This sound disturbed the whole symphony and not only was it disrupted, but came to a halt. Tolkien begins his creative world in community, but the betrayal of Melkor in disobeying Illuvatar by not sounding according to his purpose created exile. Melkor eventually became exiled into the Void which in Tolkien’s world continued to exist apart from the world. Melkor, later called Morgoth (The Dark Enemy), deceived many in Middle-Earth promising godly things and providing only what something less than god could, and that was merely further exile and darkness.

Tolkien describes evil as being self-destructive in that evil cannot even get along with itself. This is visible in the films The Lord of the Rings where Merry and Pippin being held captive are able to escape while the orcs and Uruk-hai fight with one another. Later, Samwise, is able to rescue Frodo after being taken captive to the tower of Cirith Ungol because outside of his sheer bravery the orcs were fighting amongst one another once again. This is most clearly visible when Smeagol and Deagol are fishing when Deagol finds the Ring of Power. Smeagol fights with Deagol to get the Ring, then he justifies his own wrong doing by claiming it was rightfully his for his birthday. After, Smeagol is cast away from society as the Ring overcomes his natural existence supplementing an unnatural existence which is Gollum. Gollum is a creature completely dominated by the Ring who has such a disdain for all other forms of life that he calls all but himself ‘it.’ (Watch the films again to see Gollum call Frodo and Samwise an ‘it’ as opposed to a respectable form of life which would require names.)

Gollum carried the concept of Exile Tolkien illumines in his works as does Aragorn. Aragorn is the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor, but instead he lingers in the forests living a life that is nearly part mankind and part elfkind, except his disregard for both communities make him a part of neither in Tolkien’s story until he returns to community. It is within community that Tolkien sees true existence, true intent, true purpose for life. Groups of creatures in The Lord of the Rings can be seen as living in strong communities with one another with the exception of orcs who even apart from the scenes shown in the films kill each other frequently revealing their self-destructive, evil nature.

Tolkien reveals a world which very visibly displays good and evil forces at work in blatantly obvious ways. An example is the existence of The Dark Enemy trying to create better things than Illuvatar, but only creating evil things such as Balrogs (demons), trolls, orcs, etc. Uruk-hai, unlike the films, were not actually grown, but were bred by Saruman in cross-breeding mankind and orcs. Saruman’s lieutenant Grima Wormtongue is further evidence of the self-destructiveness of evil. Saruman and Grima hate one another, and in the end Saruman has his throat cut by Grima. As Ralph Wood rightly puts it, “there is no trust among the untrusting” (The Gospel According to Tolkien). The Ring itself causes all bearers to seek exile at some point. Bilbo seeks it in the early part of The Lord of the Rings while Frodo seeks it afterward and Samwise is expected to as well eventually.

All of this exile, self-destructiveness, false creation, death, and torture come through the one original betrayal of Melkor who is like a fallen angel comparable to Satan in our own story. Melkor’s rebellion came before humanity as Satan’s rebellion came before humanity. We are not told much of the creation of angels and the spiritual world prior to our own creation. We are told what is necessary and relevant to our understanding of God and relationship with him and can only peer through slight cracks in the sidewalk to see otherwise. Similarly, in Tolkien’s world knowledge of the holy is retained by elves, but is largely forgotten and lost among men. It is apparent in the film trilogy The Lord of the Rings that elves are the most pious of the created order existing in Middle-Earth.

Our world today is not unlike Tolkien’s world, is it? Our world is a little larger, but horrific things happen all around us. If Tolkien has lived throughout the whole of the 20th century, his stories could have been much more violent and contained greater evils than they do. For Tolkien did not imagine many of the evils despite his great imagination that have come to pass in the last century. Many claim progress and modernity to be ultimate goods in our world that all should strive toward. However, history has revealed that modern times have been the most evil and violent times of all history. Civilization and technology and industry have not been able to combat war, disease, suffering, genocide, etc. Frodo was so consumed by the Ring of Power as Gollum was that he eventually lost sight of the good things of the world such as the taste, smell, touch, to the point that he felt that he was in darkness, alone, with the Eye of Sauron. Evil consumes, destroys, pillages, rapes, abuses, burns as the eyelid of Sauron, and can deceive even the best of us all. Melkor introduced evil into Tolkien’s story which affected all of creation. Satan’s rebellion has brought deception into the Garden, sin into humanity, and continual evil which plagues the earth as locusts on a field. Evil is like a decay that eats away at all goodness and life while bearing the fruit of death and forgotten memories of what was once good and living.

We can all be consumed by evil and we all bear with us a burden of some sort. What is glorious about the cross of Jesus Christ is that Jesus has taken upon himself the sins of humanity past, present, and future for the sake of redeeming us from the punishment of sin amidst a holy God in order to turn away and follow Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the prophesied and promised Messiah. Our King has already conquered, but not yet completed his conquest. We await the return of our King for the complete destruction of evil and sin. However, as with Tolkien’s world there are some members of humanity who rebel with the Evil One, some who reside in darkness despite knowledge of the light, and then there are some who are faithful to the one true King. According to Tolkien, we are called out of exile into community and that community is a community of grace. We deserve the punishment for our sin by nature and choice, yet, by the grace of God we have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ who was offered on our behalf as a propitiation.

All that said, there are still struggles that all of us have which are known and unknown to those around us. Sometimes our struggles can consume our affections and detract from the glorious purpose intended by our creator God. Our desires do not have to be for a plain gold ring with ancient elvish-like markings upon it when heated by flame. Our desires can be anything, they can even be subtle, and do not necessarily have to be for bad things. However, sin can corrupt any thought, desire, or intention we may have apart from the truth of God’s word and we can be blinded by our own ambitions, our own struggles, our own thoughts, our own wants, and the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ can disappear due to our own selfishness and sin.

Sin blinds us from the truth which reveals with all the more importance the necessity that we share in our common humanity for the grace of God revealed in scripture and brought to us by the Holy Spirit through faith.

What is your all-consuming desire if it is not God himself through our intercessor Jesus Christ who is God?

Don’t share it on this blog, but I do challenge you to pray about this desire. Do not pray for the sake of my saying it, but pray because you desire to repent of this sin and to turn from it and follow Jesus Christ more fully. Do not pray once, but remember your request and seek God daily with your request in addition to uplifting our glorious Lord for who He is and what He has done. Remember, as the Israelites do the great work of our God.

The Psalms speak frequently about the great faithfulness of God and the great unfaithfulness of ourselves. There is a pendulum of faithfulness to unfaithfulness, yet, at the end of this swing there is hope for a renewed faith, a renewed covenant relationship with the creator God.

May we all be cautious as we stare into the abyss of our lives and our own sins and the evils of this world, lest the darkness stare back at us and remove us from our humble position of prayer and supplication and praise before our almighty God.

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