Faith Lessons from The Lord of the Rings
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
December 14, 2003

 

Main Passage: James 4:1-10 (NLT)

 

In just 3 days, the story will be complete. Actually, the story was completed 48 years ago, but in 3 days the final part of the trilogy will be released on the big screen. I’m talking, of course, about The Lord of the Rings.

J.R.R. Tolkien released his first fantasy work called The Hobbit way back in 1937. It was a pretty straight forward fantasy-adventure book. But it spawned a work of much greater depth and complexity. And in 1954 and 1955, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was first published. It didn’t take long for the trio of books to achieve cult status, making Tolkien a star in pop culture. Particularly during the 1960s, people fell in love with the stories. A common graffiti of the day stated that Frodo Lives, and a popular T-shirt declared that “Tolkien in Hobbit-Forming.” Since then, the series has outlived it’s cult status and has become widely recognized as classic literature, among the best written in th 20th century.

The book series has always been popular, but that popularity has only been heightened over the past two years with the release of the trilogy in the theatres. The first of the films, The Fellowship of the Ring, now sits at 12th on the all-time domestic top grossing films. The second film, The Two Towers, sits at number 7. Internationally, they sit at numbers 6 and 4 respectively.

The final film of the trilogy will be released this Wednesday and I have plans to see it on Friday. And the hype over this final series is extraordinary. There’s even talk about Academy Awards.

But then, you probably already know how popular the series is. You’ve seen the commercials, you’ve heard the talk, you’ve discovered all of the toys and collectibles. In fact, I would expect most of you have seen at least one of the films. Many of you saw the second film as recently as yesterday. How many of you have seen at least one of the films?

So you know about the series. You know the films. But what you may or may not know is that the author was a devoted believer in God.

Over the years, there have been several debates about whether or not the series is an allegory for Christianity. Do the characters of Middle-Earth represent different Biblical people? Did Tolkien set out to captivate people with the message of salvation through a story about a Hobbit? According to Tolkien himself, no. That wasn’t what he was trying to do. Tolkien repeatedly denied that.

But the fact that there is still speculation that The Lord of the Rings is an allegory for Christianity is interesting to me. Obviously people are seeing some Christian themes contained in its pages. Let me read you a few quotes:

The Lord of the Rings is not, as some have suggested, a covert allegory of the gospel. Tolkien clearly denied that idea… Tolkien was telling a story, not proclaiming a message. Nevertheless, a message does come through—As with any artistic effort, what Tolkien believed was part of him, and that belief became part of what he created.”
~ Kurt Bruner in Discovering Timeless Truth among the Hobbits

“He wanted the mythological and legendary stories to express his own moral view of the universe, and as a Christian he could not place this view in a cosmos without the God that he worshipped.”
~ Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien: A Biography; pp. 102-103

“Tolkien could not create from nothing. Only God can do that. But he was able to sub-create an entire world using his imagination, his beliefs, and his experiences in the world around him.”
~ Joseph Pearce

Tolkien himself explained…

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Christian work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien (in a letter)
Carpenter, Humphrey, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien,
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston , 1981; p. 172

And he added…

“God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves.”
~ J. R. R. Tolkien

Okay, so even though it perhaps wasn’t the original intention to write a Christian allegory, several of the basic themes of Christianity can be found throughout the series. When I sat down to see what themes I could identify, I actually came up with 10 different themes. If we were to cover them all this morning we’d need an extra hour. But while I appreciate your attention span and your thirst for knowledge, I don’t want you to be “Tolkien” for granted, so I’m a-“Frodo”’ll have to limit us to four themes this morning. (Sorry, force of “Hobbit”).

 

Basic Themes of The Lord of the Rings:

 

1. The Trap of Temptation

In The Lord of the Rings, the Ring represents evil. And everyone in the story knows this. But throughout the entire epic, even the good characters struggle with the temptation to use the power of the ring for themselves. Not even Gandalf or the Elfish princess Galadriel is exempt from the temptation of the Ring.

Take a look at these scenes from the movies showing the power of the temptation…

SHOW VIDEO CLIPS (Scenes from LOTR when characters struggle with the lure of the ring)

That’s the power of temptation. That’s the hold that temptation can have on you. Let me give you four facts about temptation.

 

Four Facts about Temptation:
 

a) Victory over temptation becomes difficult when sin becomes precious.

Particularly in the case of Gollum, you can see how someone can be completely trapped by temptation. Gollum had once possessed the ring. He even came to call it his “precious”.

The more you give in to temptation, the greater its hold on you. Even Bilbo, after he gave up the Ring, continued to struggle with it because of the hold it had on him. It’s possible to overcome temptation and the bondage of sin even after a prolonged exposure to it, but only through the power of God. And even then it can be difficult.

There’s something else we can learn from Gollum. And that’s this:
 

b) Temptation promises what you most crave, but it takes what you can’t afford.

It will leave you as an empty shell of who God meant for you to be.

“Tolkien’s Ring is an image of the unwholesome, perverting power of evil and self-serving sin—a progressive, growing, encroaching power that starts small and ends big.”
~ Jim Ware

The apostle James described it like this:

James 1:14-15 (NLT)
Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires. These evil desires lead to evil actions, and evil actions lead to death.

It starts small, inoculating you with ever increasing doses until it is all-consuming.
 

c) Temptation warns you that evil is nearby.

SHOW VIDEO CLIPS (Bilbo gives Frodo Sword FOTR2, Mount Moria FOTR2, Aragorn FOTR2)

Frodo was given a sword. It was a special sword in that it glowed whenever an Orc was nearby. For our purposes here this morning, an Orc can be best described as a servant of evil.

This sword glowed when an Orc was nearby. It gave Frodo and his companions a “heads up.” It let them either brace themselves for an attack or run away. They would be fools to ignore the warning of the glowing sword or to pause to admire the beauty of the glow.

But how often do you and I ignore the warning signs that evil is nearby? How often do we feel tempted, but we ignore that feeling or even enjoy it? Temptation is not evil in and of itself, but it signals that we’re headed for evil. And with God on our side, temptation can not overcome us… unless we allow it to.
 

d) The closer you get to evil, the stronger temptation becomes.

In The Lord of the Rings, it’s a necessary part of the story that Frodo head for Mount Doom. But you know what? That’s in the story. You don’t have to head for Mount Doom. You don’t need to hang around evil. The closer you get to it, and the more time you spend around it, the stronger the temptation to give in to that evil becomes. So when you’re tempted, resist it and get out of range as soon as possible.

[Genesis 39:1-18]

We’ve talked about this before. In the Old Testament book of Genesis, a man named Joseph becomes a servant of a man named Potiphar. One day, Potiphar goes away and Joseph is left alone with Potiphar’s wife. Potiphar’s wife is attracted to Joseph and has been for some time, so she tries to seduce him. Do you know what Joseph does? He literally runs from the room. When you encounter temptation, don’t just sit there. Run away from it.

“Temptation will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”

 

2. The Value of Community

I was sitting in Tim Horton’s the other day [big surprise] working on this part of the message, and I heard a song being played over the sound system. I think it was Willie Nelson, and the lyrics said…

Bells will be ringing the glad, glad news
Oh, what a Christmas to have the blues
My baby’s gone, I have no friends
To wish me greetings once again


And I thought, “What a sad, sad statement… ‘My baby’s gone, I have no friends...’” Well, in the Church as well as in The Lord of the Rings we learn the value of friendship… the value of community.

The first book of the trilogy is titled, The Fellowship of the Ring. What’s the big deal with a fellowship? Why is it important that this fellowship be formed?

PARTICIPATION


“In the unlikely heroism of the small and the weak, Tolkien’s pre-Christian world becomes most Christian. Their greatness is not self-made. As a fledgling community the Nine Walkers experience a far-off foretaste of the fellowship that Christians call the church universal… They are united not only by their common hatred of evil, but by their ever-increasing, ever more self-surrendering regard for each other.”
~ Dr. Ralph Wood

The Apostle Paul wrote about the community of the Church and he described the foundation for this community…

Ephesians 4:4-6 (NLT)
We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all.

Let me give you three of the values of community…

 

Three Values of Community:
 

a) You can share the load

In the novels, every member of the fellowship plays a vital roll in getting the Ring to its destination. No one member would have been able to do it alone. In life, we all need each other. We invest our lives in others, and they invest their lives in us. In this way, we all win. While one of us alone may not be able to withstand the weight of life, together we can prevail… we can support each other and share the load.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NLT)
A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
 

b) You can hold each other accountable

SHOW VIDEO CLIP (FOTR1 53:40-54:50 - Sam stops Frodo from putting ring on)

In that scene, Frodo didn’t really want to put the ring on, but he was about to give in to the temptation. What stopped him? Sam. Sam was there to hold Frodo accountable. In the church, one of the greatest relationships you can build is one of accountability. In an accountability relationship, you and your friend can share about areas where you are weak, and you can check up on each other to see how you’re doing.

Galatians 6:1-2 (NLT)
Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ.

Let me add, if you’re struggling with a temptation, the best thing you can do is tell someone about it and ask them to hold you accountable.
 

c) You give each other hope

The fellowship kept going and didn’t give up because they weren’t alone. Even at the end of the first movie when the fellowship was separated, Sam went with Frodo because he had made a promise not to leave him. And even though the fellowship was separated, they all knew that they weren’t alone but that they were still all working together to get the ring where it needed to be. So you see them press on in the second movie, with each person playing a pivotal role.

There’s a prophet named Elijah in the Old Testament who lived during the reign of King Ahab. Ahab had turned his back on God and had caused most of Israel to do the same. Elijah found himself in a land where his message was rejected and his life was in danger. And what made this an entirely difficult time for him was the fact that he felt alone.

1 Kings 19:3-4, 9b-10 (NLT)
Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the desert, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors…”
But the LORD said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I alone am left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”


Elijah felt completely alone and he wanted to die. Do you know how God responded? God informed Elijah that he wasn’t alone. He told him that there were 7000 others who hadn’t bowed to false Gods and who were preserved for the only true God. And that gave Elijah the hope he needed to keep going.

Let that be a source of hope for you today. Understand, you are not alone. You are a part of the Church, along with millions of others around the world.

 

3. The Impact of the Ordinary

Talking about the people involved in the Fellowship, Ralph Wood says…

“They are not tragic and death-defying warriors like Ajax or Achilles or Beowulf; they are frail and comic foot-soldiers like us. The Nine Walkers – four hobbits, two men, an elf, a dwarf, and a wizard – constitute not a company of the noble but of the ordinary.”
~ Dr. Ralph Wood

Who were the members of the Fellowship? Can you name them?

PARTICIPATION
[Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Boromir, Gandalf, Frodo, Sam, Pippen, and Merry]

In this group we have a wise and powerful Wizard, we have a hard-fisted ax-wielding dwarf, we have the handsome, mysterious swashbuckling prince, we have the graceful, swift and noble Elf, we have a rugged, brave warrior, and then we have four little hobbits. Who would you choose to bear the ring?

Frodo wouldn’t have been my first choice. But this boy-ish little Hobbit is the hero in the story. In fact, it’s almost a joke. I mean, how ridiculous given all the available options to give the ring to Frodo!

I don’t want to give anything away for those of you who are looking forward to seeing the third movie, but from what I understand heroics are going to continue to come from the most unlikely of sources. The ordinary are still going to do the extraordinary.

“With God, the ordinary can do the extraordinary.”

1 John 4:4 (NIV)
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

Philippians 4:13 (NLT)
For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.

Your potential does not rest in who you are. It rests in who God is. He can do incredibly more than you could ever ask or think. He’s the God who makes the impossible possible.

“This idea—that God uses small hands to accomplish great deeds—could almost be called the heart and soul of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It’s Moses and Pharaoh, David and Goliath, Gideon and the Midianites all over again. But the mission of Frodo and Sam isn’t just your typical “underdog” story. It’s something much more. In a way, it’s a desperately needed reminder that God’s ways are not our ways—that when the power of evil confronts us with overwhelming odds on its side, the answer is not to fight fire with fire, but to look for deliverance in unexpected places. Hope and salvation, Tolkien seems to say, often arise in small, unnoticed corners. Like a hobbit-hole in the Shire. Or a manger in a Palestinian stable.”
~ Jim Ware

Isaiah 55:8 (NLT)
“My thoughts are completely different from yours,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”

 

4. The Ultimate Triumph of Good

I have not read the third book. And as of today I have not seen the third movie. Yet I have always known that Frodo and his companions will be successful. I know that in the end, they will win. I don’t know how it will happen, but I’m pretty sure the ring will be destroyed.

You know what? That’s a theme I find in my own life, too. Regardless of what difficulties I may encounter, regardless of how hopeless things may seem, I know that I’m on the winning side. I know that in the end God will prevail over all the darkness and I will be able to spend eternity with Him in Heaven.

1 Corinthians 15:16-22 (NLT)
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ have perished! And if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world.
But the fact is that Christ has been raised from the dead. He has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again.
So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, Adam, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man, Christ. Everyone dies because all of us are related to Adam, the first man. But all who are related to Christ, the other man, will be given new life.

We recently introduced a new song here at Sunrise. Most of you already knew it from the radio…

I Can Only Imagine
by Bart Millard & MercyMe

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk by Your side.
I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When Your face is before me.
I can only imagine.


That is the hope for me and every other believer who has placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. In the end, we win. Good will ultimately triumph. So no matter what junk we have to endure for this present age, there is a time coming when all of that will be swept away and we will be left standing in the presence of Almighty God. And what a day, glorious day that will be.

“When all seems hopeless, hope remains.”




 

 

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