October is arguably my favorite month, and I know I am not alone. The cooler, crisp weather that heralds the changing season is invigorating as it invites us to embrace the rhythm of God’s creation. And while I am learning the value of living in the present, October includes for me thoughts of past and future: memories of the summer just past and anticipation of the upcoming holiday season in the near future. And as I integrate these components into my October present, I find a constructive perspective to guide my days.
Jogging (with the company of our Doodle) is an integral part of my commitment to fitness, but the heat of summer usually suspends our twice-weekly outings. And so this past summer, I found myself retreating to Middle Earth (via film) as I worked through interval training workouts on our elliptical trainer. As The Lord of the Rings trilogy begins, there is an introduction that sets the stage for the epic good vs. evil struggle that follows.
Middle Earth is populated by a diverse group of intelligent beings: Wizards, dwarves, elves, hobbits, and men. When the evil Lord Sauron determines to put the whole of Middle Earth under his cruel rule, he crafts the “one ring to rule them all” as his ultimate weapon. Men and elves come together to challenge him, and the future of the land rests upon the outcome of the subsequent battle. After young Prince Isildur witnesses the death of his father, the King of Gondor, he grabs his father’s broken sword and severs Sauron’s ring-bearing hand from his body. Sauron’s kingdom implodes and disintegrates—for the time being. But the young prince disregards the advice of the elf lord at his side, and instead of destroying the evil ring, Isildur keeps it for his own purposes. Sauron’s ring has a will of its own, and it quickly slips away from the prince. Its location unknown for centuries, the continued existence of the ring enables Sauron to slowly regain his power even as the general population loses the collective memory of the long-past events that threatened their lives and well-being. It is only as the growing evil represented by the resurgence of Sauron’s sphere of evil influence becomes recognized does the folly of Prince Isildur become clear.
And this is the point in the saga that directs my thoughts forward from this past summer, through October, and toward the Christmas holiday that will soon be upon us. John the Baptist went about his days proclaiming the imminent appearance of Christ and the importance of repentance. During his public ministry, Jesus repeated John’s message, and the Apostles who continued Jesus’s ministry after His death and resurrection continued to call for confession and repentance. If we are to be ready for the coming of Christ—in our celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas and/or His second coming—we must be about the business of confessing and repenting. If any of us believe that we have not sinned, we are deceiving ourselves (I John 1:8).
This, then, brings us back to The Lord of the Rings. The dramatic plot rests upon the deadly consequences of Isildur’s choice, centuries in the making. Isildur did not experience any consequences of his choice apart from losing the ring; he could not have imagined the cost of claiming the evil ring of power. But consequences are not limited by our lack of vision or imagination. And it is not simply our human limitations of vision and imagination that can set us up to make poor choices. In the course of this powerful story, two elf lords make two observations about the race of men: Men are weak, and they desire power above all else. We see in Isildur the weakness that made him unable to resist the power pull of the ring that could and would only serve the evil purposes of Sauron.
The Lord of the Rings is a fictional narrative, but its author, J.R.R. Tolkien, understood very well the ability of fiction to represent truth in an extraordinarily effective way (On Fairy-stories). The story of Isildur challenges us to consider our weakness and our desire for power. It also challenges us to consider that there are consequences to our choices that we may never see or imagine. Our choices matter.
And so we now have our own choice to make. Are we going to take responsibility for our weakness and desire for personal power? Can we accept our limitations as human beings? Are we going to follow Isildur’s trail, or are we going to learn from it? If we want to learn from Isildur’s choice, we must prepare our hearts for the kingdom of God, proclaimed in the coming of Christ. We must maintain a humble attitude characterized by confession and repentance and a dependence upon Christ not only for our salvation but also for our identity, value, significance, power, and influence.
Tolkien’s Middle Earth saga reminds us that our choices matter and that we are not to be trusted to make those choices independently. Praise God that the kingdom of God is upon us! Our loving Lord has provided a way for us to safely travel through this world and into His kingdom. May we prepare with gratitude and joy.