One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.
It’s no secret to just about anyone who knows me that I love The Lord of the Rings (LOTR). My first impression of the famous trilogy doesn’t come from the brilliant movies by Peter Jackson nor from the book, but my first impression in between the release of both when a cartoon version of the trilogy was released which was a bit quirky, and had some odd music in it. I don’t even know when it was released, my guess is sometime in the 70s. Upon the release of the first movie by Peter Jackson, the craze swept the nation in the US and all over once more for new generations to enjoy the LOTR. Books were featured prominently at Barnes & Noble, people were dressing up like characters from the films for Halloween or even for the opening night of the theatric release, trailers were gracing the internet and tv, and names like Aragorn, Gandalf, Frodo, Samwise, Legolas, Gimli, Merry, Pippin, and Boromir became household names (well, at least at my house). I picked up the books after the first movie release and poured through them, amazed at the detail in the books by J.R.R. Tolkien. New languages were invented, new peoples, new poems and songs, and a new world was created by Tolkien which is quite apparent in the detail of the books.
The story is something that everyone can latch onto. There’s love, there’s bravery, there’s courage, there’s little people entrusted with big responsibility, there’s betrayal, there’s defeat, there’s victory, there’s loss, there’s hope, and the list goes on. The story is about Frodo Baggins who accepts the responsibility to take the evil ring forged by “The Evil One” (Sauron) back to the place where it was made to be unmade in order to set the world to rights and put a stop to this evil threat once and for all. The quest that Frodo enters into becomes so treacherous and difficult, that he realizes that he might die trying to destroy the ring. In the midst of his quest, the ring consumes him and Frodo grows closer and closer to the ring until he becomes more obsessed with the ring itself than with the quest to destroy it. Frodo became deluded by the ring to the point that he eventually rejected the purpose that he set out for to begin with. Frodo needed his best friend Samwise to push him and encourage him and help him when he became most deluded by the ring or discouraged by his disbelief in his ability to accomplish his purpose. However, even Samwise wasn’t able to help in the end. Frodo takes the ring for himself, but has the ring stolen, then there is a fight to the death which sees Frodo decide if he can’t have the ring then he would rather see whoever else have it destroyed along with the ring. He sees the ring destroyed, but not for the same reason and intention as when he set out to destroy it. Frodo accomplishes his purpose and his lauded and praised by many, but Samwise, who alone was with him to the end, knew his heart and his struggle to destroy the ring.
Now, J.R.R. Tolkien was a Christian and he saw the quest by Frodo as the quest to put sin to death in the life of the Christian/believer. It is a difficult and treacherous journey with the challenge of the sin overtaking the person every step of the way. However, the quest is given to each person and each person has the responsibility to destroy the evil they bear or the evil they bear with them will destroy them, as it did Frodo. The concept sounds a lot like what Christians call sanctification, the process of seeking to put sin to death in our lives and becoming made alive by Christ. It is a lifelong process that is never complete until Jesus returns, but every Christian is on. However, the quest of Frodo is not the process of sanctification, it is the quest to claim victory over The Evil One, victory over not the individual sins and struggles of the person, but to claim victory over all sin in the world (Middle-Earth). Because we identify so well with Hobbits in Tolkien’s world and with the trials and struggles of Frodo along the way, it is easy for us to put ourselves in his place and think, “We are Frodo in the story. We can overcome evil in the world ourselves. No matter how small and unlikely someone is, they can overcome it.”
The story, as beautiful and grand as it is and as many who have equated the atoning of sins to Frodo and his quest to destroy the ring, is not entirely an accurate representation and parallel to Christianity. Some would say, “Well, that’s the nature of fiction and what Tolkien and Lewis call ‘myth,’ which is different than what people in the modern world simply call myth.” In part, well said and true, but that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that we tend to see ourselves on a quest and journey in life, like Frodo, seeking to atone for and make right the evil in the world by our actions. The reality of the Christian faith isn’t that we are Frodo in the story and quest to destroy the ring, but that Jesus Christ is our Frodo. Jesus has stepped into our world in order to put sin to death. He is the One who came to destroy evil in the world, and He dealt a lethal blow to evil in the world by claiming victory over sin Himself. However, that victory today is realized by faith in Him, but will one day be seen in it’s fullness when Jesus returns to claim His final victory.
Jesus is not merely our Frodo, He is Aragorn, He is our King. When the King returns, He will set the whole world right. He will bring about not merely peace in the hearts of all who believe and have faith in Him, but will bring about peace on earth as the Kingdom of God in it’s fullness is established and The Evil One is no more. When our King returns, there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more suffering, no more hate, no more hunger, no more thirst, no more evil. Jesus destroyed the power of sin at the cross, but the reality of sin will be no more when Jesus returns. It is like the initial victory at Helm’s Deep over the evil forces of Saruman, the battle was won, but the war was not over. So with Jesus, the victory over sin is complete, but the victory is merely the beginning of the end of sin in the world, not the end itself. That will come about when Jesus, our King, returns.
So when we think of The Lord of the Rings, although it is easy to put ourselves in the place of Frodo Baggins and identify with him and we are indeed meant to, the truth is that in our life of faith as Christians, when we get out of the story of Frodo and into our own story, we are not meant to lean on our own ability to atone for and claim victory over sin but we are meant to look to Jesus Christ who is our Savior, who took our place in a quest that we cannot endure and cannot accomplish, but only He can and has in living a life perfectly obedient to the Father’s will to the point of death on the cross wherein He took the wrath of God against sin upon Himself substituting the justice of God’s wrath being poured on us with God’s grace being poured on us who believe not in ourselves, but in the only One who atoned for the sins of the world – Jesus Christ the Lord.
As we are on the journey of sanctification, putting sin to death and being made alive in Christ, for those of us who believe the Gospel, we are not to turn toward ourselves, but we are to turn to Christ. It’s not that Jesus atoned for our sins in the past but after we become Christians we need to atone for them ourselves or try to defeat sin some other way, but because Jesus is God, He is eternal, therefore, His sacrifice and atonement for sins is eternal. We don’t need to concern ourselves with “sacrifice and burnt offerings” before God, we have a perfect sacrifice that is the only power over sin that we as sinners can claim in our lives. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in all who believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
That doesn’t mean since we have power of Jesus within us, we are perfect people or we shouldn’t struggle with sin in our lives. It means that the power to overcome sin in our lives is in Christ and we have that power by faith in Jesus by God’s grace, free gift, but so often we behave as though we don’t have that power by faith but we are that power ourselves. There’s a difference. We are not the answer to the problem of sin in the world and in our lives, God is. He was in the past, He is in the present, and He always will be. That is the beauty of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus. In fact, the name of Jesus mean “God saves.” Jesus is the answer to the human problem of sin and evil in the world. God’s answer is that God loves us that He was willing to take the penalty for our sin upon Himself so that all who would have faith in Jesus might have the eternal life of God in Jesus Christ gifted to them, their sins forgiven, and be reconciled to God and one another.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, ESV)
We are promised these things and believe them by faith, but when our King returns, when what we believe will come about in the world comes to fruition, we will no longer need any faith for we will see what we believe, what we have hoped for, what we have struggled through for with our eyes. We will see and as we will see, we will no longer need faith. Until that day comes, may we have faith that just as surely as the initial victory of Jesus over sin has already happened at the cross, that the final victory will come as God has promised according to His Word. As we have faith, may we trust and believe not in ourselves until that day comes, but may we look to Christ, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith. Amen.