So far we’ve looked at how Christian living can be strengthened by following Tolkien’s vision for living like free peoples of Middle-earth by understanding God’s sovereignty over all affairs good and bad and also the value of friendship, fellowship, and food. Now we will look at how Tolkien’s portrait of weakness and strength provide wisdom for finding our place in the one big story.
Third, to live like free peoples of Middle-earth, you must understand weakness as strength.
If you read The Silmarillion (Tolkien’s longer history of Middle-earth’s first and second age), you will find many great deeds by elves, men, and dwarves. These are tales of gods, kings, warriors--Beowulf-like feats of bravery. Hobbits are nearly unknown in these tales.
In The Two Towers, Sam and Frodo are trying to enter Mordor and discussing the great tales (the kind found in The Silmarillion) and their place within those tales. It’s a longer passage, but I want to quote it in full because it’s so brilliant.
“I don’t like ahere at all,’ said Frodo, ‘step or stone, breath or bone. Earth, air and water all seem accursed. But so our path is laid.’
‘Yes, that’s so,’ said Sam. ‘And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same – like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?’
‘I wonder,’ said Frodo. ‘But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.” . . . .
“And then we can have some rest and some sleep,’ said Sam. He laughed grimly. ‘And I mean just that, Mr. Frodo. I mean plain ordinary rest, and sleep, and waking up to a morning’s work “in the garden. I’m afraid that’s all I’m hoping for all the time. All the big important plans are not for my sort. Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We’re in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: ‘‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!’’ And they’ll say: ‘‘Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, dad?’’ ‘‘Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.’’ ’
‘It’s saying a lot too much,’ said Frodo, and he laughed, a long clear laugh from his heart. Such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth. To Sam suddenly it seemed as if all the stones were listening and the tall rocks leaning over them. But Frodo did not heed them; he laughed again. ‘Why, Sam,’ he said, ‘to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you’ve left out one of the “chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. ‘‘I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, dad? That’s what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?’’ ’
‘Now, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam, ‘you shouldn’t make fun. I was serious.’
‘So was I,’ said Frodo, ‘and so I am. We’re going on a bit too fast. You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: ‘‘Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.’’ ”
“Maybe,’ said Sam, ‘but I wouldn’t be one to say that. Things done and over and made into part of the great tales are different. Why, even Gollum might be good in a tale, better than he is to have by you, anyway. And he used to like tales himself once, by his own account. I wonder if he thinks he’s the hero or the villain?
‘Gollum!’ he called. ‘Would you like to be the hero – now where’s he got to again?” The Two Towers, “The Stairs of Cirith Ungol”
What we see in this passage and through out The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is that weakness is strength and strength is weakness. For instance, Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, and Aragorn are all fearful to touch the One Ring. They fear their strength when connected with the ring will turn them into new dark lords. Boromir nearly went mad because of the Ring. Imagine if he would’ve weilded it. But here you have these lowly hobbits possessing the Ring with evil only slowly affecting them primarily because they are weak (in the best possible way) and good-hearted.
That turn is what buys the fellowship enough time to start their journey towards Mordor without being immediately captured by Sauron in The Lord of the Rings. He cannot fathom strength in weakness. And neither can Saruman for that matter. He chides Gandalf for being so closely entrenched in the lives of hobbits. He cannot fathom the hardiness of hobbits, but Gandalf all along sees something there. There is more to mine out of the contrast of Gandalf and Saruman. One lives among ordinary people. One holes him self in a tower and amasses riches for himself. One is sacrificing for others. One is setting up his own kingdom. One embodies weakness. One embodies selfish strength.
What I also love about the passage above is the way Sam and Frodo talk so frankly about ordinary people finding themselves in an extraordinary tale. Isn’t that all of us in this Christian life? We do not seek out adventures. We are commanded to live ordinary lives and be faithful in our sphere of influence. We are to raise families, fellowship with other believes, hear the word, eat the body and blood of Jesus Christ. From the very start, we are part of a very great tale. We are connected in an unbreakable way to a Man who embodied strength in weakness. That confounded the wise of his day. They couldn’t grasp it. We need to return to that principle. We do not battle from majority status, innate strength, and pull-up-your-boot straps fortitude. We battle with love, sacrifice, and weakness. Those are our weapons.
Paul gets at all of this when he admonishes the Corinthians.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
If you wish to live like a free peoples of Middle-earth, embrace weakness as strength. Embrace ordinary living. Embrace your place in the story. All while understanding God is in control. All while enjoying friends, fellowship, and food. All while living freely. Next Wednesday we'll wrap this series up by examining the place of sacrifice in Middle-earth and Christian discipleship.