I recently finished reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. What a literary masterpiece! To my shame, I’d never actually read the entire trilogy all the way through. However, for whatever reason, I decided to pick up my copy of the trilogy again in 2019, and I’m so glad I did so. I love Tolkien’s ability to create an entire world to immerse yourself in, complete with its own history, races, places, characters and even songs. More than that, I love how Tolkien interweaves truth, goodness and beauty into his story. In this post, I simply to want to share one part of the story that struck a chord with me.
At the very end of his epic saga, in Return of the King, Tolkien has the four hobbits, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, return to their beloved Shire. Yet the Shire is anything but welcoming to these heroic hobbits. Instead, led by the defeated, but still spiteful Saruman, bands of ruffians have turned the Shire upside-down. Not only have they erected ugly buildings and contaminated the land, but they’ve also brutalized the local hobbits and keep them subdued with loads of rules and threats. The formerly idyllic Shire has become a dreary, deteriorating prison.
Yet, the four hobbits who have journeyed far and battled hard are undaunted. They know the Ring has been destroyed. They know Sauron and his minions have been thoroughly defeated. They know that King Aragon is on his rightful throne. And these undeniable facts give them courage and hope. The Shire is not what is should be, but it can be rescued and renewed. So, with mercy and tenacity, the hobbits and their local comrades band together and fight back. The ruffians are either killed, captured or sent fleeing. Saruman also comes to a grizzly end at the hands of his wretched servant, Wormtongue. In the end, the clever hobbits are victorious, and the Shire is saved.
Now, all of this makes for a wonderful yarn at the end of an already epic story. However, I’ve often wondered why it was part of the story at all. Why didn’t Tolkien just end the story with the Ring being destroyed, the forces of Sauron being defeated and the Fellowship of the Ring being honored for their gallant deeds? Why not end the story with Frodo and Sam venturing back into their beloved Shire and finding it as peaceful and refreshing as they had dreamed? Why not roll credits right there? Tolkien could have taken that narrative route, but I’m glad he didn’t. Instead, by ending the story the way he did, he conveyed even more truth about the world we live in.
In sending the hobbits back to a scared, suffocating Shire, Tolkien reminds us that the presence of sin and evil in the world stretches to every corner of God’s good creation. No part of Middle Earth was unaffected – and no part of our world has been left untainted by the unholy invasion of sin. Since the Fall, Romans 8:22 reminds us that “…the whole creation has been groaning together…” This world – and the people in it – is not what it supposed to be like. There is no place, there is no job, there is no hobby, there is no church, there is no marriage, there is no family, there is no human heart where sin is not present and insidiously working to dismantle everything good God has made. And this remains true even when we know the King is on the throne!
For instance, even though the hobbits know that the decisive battle has been won, even though Aragon, the rightful king rules, it doesn’t mean that there still isn’t a war going on. It doesn’t mean that there is not a very real enemy like Saruman who seeks to disrupt, dishearten and destroy as much as he can with the time that he has left. In the same way, in our world, even though Jesus won the decisive victory at the Cross and gloriously overcame the grave, even though He ascended and rules on high, it doesn’t mean that Satan is suddenly a harmless kitten. No, 1 Peter 5:8 describes him as a prowling around like a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Certainly, those who know Jesus as King and have been rescued by His blood are secure in Him (John 6:39), but like the hobbits in Tolkien’s tale, we must still be watchful. We must vigilant. By the Spirit’s power and through the careful wielding of His Word, we must courageously stand and resist the advances of sin and evil in our lives, even in those places where we might least expect it. More than that, we must actively choose to be agents, not of corruption, but of Gospel healing and redemption in a world that so desperately needs it.
In the end, praise God that our ultimate hope does not rest on our ability to eradicate sin, but rather on His. Our sure hope as Christ-followers is found in the One who has already defeated Satan, sin and death by the perfect, atoning sacrifice of Himself. Yes, Jesus is the One who even now is actively carrying out His redemptive purposes in this broken, but still beautiful world. Jesus is the King who reigns over all and will return, in the words of Sam Gamgee, to make everything sad come untrue. So, until that glorious day, let us fight the good fight. Let us finish the race. Let us keep the faith. For one day, with all the saints, we will surely experience in fullness the happy “ending” we’ve always longed for.