Lessons from Middle Earth

[Jesus said], “A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”  (John 10:10, Message)

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (The Return of the King), Lady Éowyn desperately desires to be allowed to join in the fight against the evil Sauron. Soon-to-be-king, Aragorn, however, does his best to discourage her, desiring her to retreat to safety. Éowyn assures Aragorn she is neither afraid of fighting, nor dying. We pick up the conversation there:

‘What do you fear, lady?’ [Aragorn] asked. ‘A cage,’ [Lady Éowyn] said. ‘To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.’

Life is filled with the enemy’s subtle and, at times, not-so-subtle, attempts to keep believers “caged” i.e. enslaved to that which ruled us before we professed our faith in the liberating work of the King.  We hear the call of the King but, due to the cares of this world, coupled with the sometimes exhausting “weight of everyday life,” we are tempted to remain where it is sheltered, predictable, “safe.”

As with Lady Éowyn in the fields of Dunharrow in Middle Earth, there comes a time when all of us approach a crossroads – and a choice.  The choice cannot be ignored.  For not to choose is to choose.  As the Ring came to Frodo, so this crossroads comes to us – demanding a response.  Sometimes the “safe” way is, indeed, the right way; other times it is not.  When Luke recorded that Jesus “steadfastly and determinedly set His face to go to Jerusalem,” (to face crucifixion) this was certainly not the “safe” way.  When one thinks of Christ – and, in turn, Christianity – rather than focusing on the mild, almost demure, Jesus we see illustrated on the pages of Children’s Bibles, it would behoove us to consider C.S. Lewis’ (Tolkien’s friend and Oxford colleague) description of Aslan (representing Christ) in Narnia:

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought [Aslan] was a man. Is he— quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver ; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

As I contemplate the response to Aragorn from Lady Éowyn – when convicted that the “safer” way is not the right way, the following biblical implications come to mind and give me courage:

1. Participating in the battle gives us purpose in the victory:  And this is what Éowyn so desired. No doubt, in the world of sports, there is greater reward for those who played on the field/court/diamond than those who were forced to only observe from the sidelines. German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, could have lived a long, prosperous life had he chosen to remain teaching in the U.S. during WWII. However, in a letter to Reinhold Niebuhr, Bonhoeffer wrote, “I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”  Paul makes it clear to young Timothy that, during his life, Paul was no spectator:  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

2. Somewhere, there lies within all of us a longing for adventure:  Author, John Eldridge, once wrote, “Life was never intended to be a problem to be solved, but rather an adventure to be lived.”   When Jesus bid the disciples, “Follow Me,” He was not suggesting they were about to enjoy the fruits of retirement.  Rather, the adventure of their lifetime lay before them.  Jesus was appealing to that which is hardwired into all of us.  Perhaps, this is, in part, what is meant by Solomon’s words, “God has placed eternity in our hearts.”

3. Tolkien’s story of Middle Earth lets none of us off the hook: The greatest adventure in human history was not fairy tale, but true. There is no greater Adventurer than God Made Flesh.  From Paul’s story of Jesus’ adventure from heaven to earth, to Jesus’ story of His return to heaven, and final return to earth – our souls are awakened to a desire to follow this terrifying, unpredictable, heroic, loving Lion from the Tribe of Judah. The story of Jesus Christ (God’s pursuit of sinful mankind) not only supersedes all other literary adventures, but it actually places us in the story. As such, we all are a part of a grand tale of peril, rescue and redemption. Jesus, Himself, then reminds us that the tale is far from over. “As the Father has sent Me,” He says, “so I send you.”

Concluding thought…

Adventure”, by definition, suggests “risk”: British theologian, J.I. Packer, wrote, “The Christian’s life is not a bed of roses; it is a battlefield, on which he has constantly to fight for his life.” Packer’s words certainly square with Scripture. Lady Éowyn knew well there would be great peril and risk, but her longing for the adventure coupled with her trust in her king reduced, or altogether removed, her fear of said peril and risk. I resonate with Lady Éowyn . Personally, I have no interest in “letting the battle pass me by.”  Certainly, the battle will, at times, be dangerous.  Certainly, there will be moments of unspeakable pain that will (that have) tempted me to give up. But I will not. I trust my King. As for me, I’d rather risk much in battle, than waste away “behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”

Join me.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick