Lord of the Rings & the Power of Sin

It was only a matter of time before I wrote a blog which included Lord of the Rings. It is my favorite fictional work. Why? Because Tolkien did an excellent job of portraying the human condition, the plight of man, hope, providence, and a clear morality. He does all of this within a made-up world full of fantasy and magic. I have found numerous applications of different truths Tolkien wrote into his works. Through his work I have come to know myself, the world, and even God better because his world reflects our own. This was intentional by Tolkien as he described his work as inherently Christian.

The one scene that has continually been in my mind of late is Bilbo’s conversation with Gandalf about giving up the One Ring. The Ring can be adequately be explained as the manifestation of evil and sin in this fantasy world. Bilbo has held onto this sin for some time and it has affected him greatly. It has “grown” in his mind and his desire for it is never satiated. This is exactly what sin does to us. The longer we live with sin, the more power it has over us. Sin will never let go and it will increase our desire for it the more we give into it. Bilbo is almost completely under the power and influence of his lust for sin (the Ring).

Enter Gandalf. If there is a character in Middle Earth that most resembles the role of the pastor it is the Gray Wizard. His job is to go around and advise people to do the right thing, to speak prophetically to the world, and shepherd the people of Middle Earth in the right direction. For this role, Gandalf has made many enemies and is called things like “a disturber of the peace” and a “storm crow”. Through all of this, Gandalf remains steadfast in his battle again evil and sin even when others of his order become false teachers.

Gandalf approaches Bilbo to give up the Ring. He does this for several reasons, one of which is that he genuinely cares for Bilbo and he knows the Ring (sin) is destroying him.  It is in Bilbo’s response to Gandalf that we find an exchange which is very close to reality. Bilbo, like us, does not want to give up his sin, and he is quick to blame or attack anyone who might threaten his possession of the very thing which is killing him. Here is the exchange:

Bilbo: “After all, why shouldn’t I keep it (the Ring)?”

Gandalf: “I think you should leave the Ring behind, Bilbo. Is that so hard?

Bilbo: “Well no. And yes.”

Here we see how deceitful sin is and how it can control us. Bilbo feels he has a right to the Ring. He sees no reason he should not be able to do whatever he wants. He is so blinded by sinful lust that all he can think about is himself. This is the power of sin in our lives as well. 

Here’s the kicker. Gandalf asks, “Is it so hard to give it up?” Conceptually, the answer is no. But in reality, the answer is yes. You see Bible tells us not to sin. Conceptually, that is not a very difficult idea. How hard is it to not do something? But such thinking ignores the deceitful power of sin. It is hard to give it up, and it is hard to see past our own foolish and selfish desires.

As the exchange between Gandalf and Bilbo continues, Bilbo lashes out at his friend in anger, he blames Gandalf for Bilbo’s reaction, and even accuses Gandalf of wanting to steal the Ring for himself! This is not just fantasy, this displays the root many heart issues. We blame others for our sin and we often make any excuse under the sun in order that we  continue in our bad behavior unchallenged.

But here is the good news. The wise counsel of Gandalf wins out and Bilbo gives up his Ring. Sin is not all-powerful. It is not undefeatable. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is victory over the lies and power of sin. All we have to do is to listen to it, and obey it. We are called to leave behind the Ring (our sin) and walk in repentance. To own up to our faults and to trust the godly counsel we receive even when it is exactly what we do not want to hear. Bilbo was faced with a choice between death and life. He had been living with death for so long he thought it was his friend and life was his enemy. But by accepting the wise counsel of Gandalf, he chose life and left sin and death behind. 

As silly as fantasy literature can sometimes be, here is an illustration of an all too common problem in our world. Imagine if Bilbo had prevailed and kept his Ring despite the godly counsell he received from Gandalf, what would have happened to him? Well, the Ring (sin) would have achieved its purpose and Bilbo would have been defeated, captured, and he would have died in his sin. This is no mere children’s story. This is a mirror into the problem of mankind and we would be wise to see ourselves in it and to learn from it. 

What does this mean for the Christian? Listen to words of God! Turn from your sin so that you may find life. Invite counsel from godly individuals and then listen to it even if it is not what you want to hear. Do not live comfortably with death and do not be deceived by sin into thinking it is your friend when in reality it is killing you! Perhaps you do not want to hear that your “Ring” is not good for you, but you need to hear it! Christ came that we have life and victory over sin! Chose life, not death.