Faith to See Beyond the Shire

I introduced to you the inspiration for this and the next few posts, JRR Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” series, in my last post.  You might say that I am a big fan of Tolkien due to the fact that one of my cats and one of my dogs are named Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee.  Although I encourage you to read Tolkien the movies are wonderful too.

If you are familiar with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis you know that they have been somewhat controversial in Christian circles.  Lewis, most famous for “Chronicles of Narnia,” has been credited for the allegorical nature of these works.  Tolkien and Lewis were friends, members of an elite literary society known as “The Inklings,” and colleagues at Oxford University, but due to their religious and sometimes heated philosophical differences and personal struggles, a rift between them brought years of coldness and prevented collaboration, which could have been the recipe for a literary machine.

Let me be clear, my use of Tolkien’s stories is not intended to imply that his work is Christian allegory.  Tolkien himself stated in a forward for the American printing by Ballentine Books, “As for the inner meaning or message, it has none. It is neither allegorical nor topical.” Rather my intention is to use something that I enjoy, and is innate in mankind, that is, story telling, to inspire thought about the truths of our Christian faith.  I am not alone in this quest as many have gone before me.  I eagerly await the release of “The Messiah Comes to Middle Earth,” by Phillip Ryken, president of Wheaton College and former Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia.  Ryken describes the story as containing “Christian symbolism and meaning.”

As followers of Christ, being created in his image, and being remade more and more like him, each of us can be read like a book.  Our behavior and conversation should overflow with Christion symbolism and meaning.  Although Tolkien describes his work as “the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of the readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them,” he leaves out what maybe the most eternally important benefit of his efforts.  This story makes you think about the real story,  your own journey within and beyond the Shire.

The Shire was basically the region and home of Bilbo and Frodo.  The village of Hobbiton, in the heart of the Shire, is the setting for the opening of the books.   The book vividly describes the fantastical scene of how the Hobbits live.  Even more so, the cinematography of the film, set in New Zealand, is amazing.  Agrarian, natural, and  peaceful tranquility is the feeling you get from what you see with your eye.  I would probably want to live in a hobbit hole, eat six meals a day, tend my garden and sing songs of peace and harmony all day long.  Wait, I think I am a hobbit!  But the reality is not always what you see. You have heard the expression “in your minds eye.”  This saying was coined long before science determined that about seventy percent of the cognitive workings of the brain are associated with sight.  In some ways sight is a handicap. People blind from birth are a testament to the untapped sources of the brain.  Their storage and recall ability is far better that those with sight. The fact that what we see is constantly bombarding our minds, we do not have the mental capacity to process and rectify all of the information we are receiving. As I have mentioned before,  being raised in the era when ADD wasn’t cool, I was not diagnosed or should I say labeled.  How ever I am easily distracted.  I’m kind of like the Pink Floyd “Comfortably Numb” line that goes, “You are only coming through in waves.  Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.”  I have a new practice when I am listening to someone speak.   For instance when the preacher is speaking or reading scripture, I close my eyes to avoid the distraction of his visible appearance, mannerisms, or facial linguistics, smile, frown, etc., and the possible distraction of other visual stimuli such as words on a page or things around me.  This works for me, though most think I’m sleeping.

The Shire was Bilbo’s and Frodo’s safe place.  To see the image portrayed in the story, whether described in words or picture, it is easy to see why.  However this place, home to the Hobbit, or the comfort of our safe place, wherever that may be, is not home to the Christian.  Bilbo would eventually come to this conclusion.  We must as well.

2 Corinthians 5:7 is one of those often misused passages of scripture.  “We live by faith not by sight.”  Although there is truth in the abuse, for instance, when we apply this verse to the making of basic decisions every day.  If you apply it to general obedience to God’s word such as making a decision to obey God even though we do not see the wisdom in it, you are not wrong to do so.  However the true context of the verse is about eternity, heaven.  In the first five verses of this chapter Paul had been describing the fallen condition of man dwelling in the world and how heaven will be the correction to this broken inglorious situation.  In verse seven he advises the Corinthians not to base their lives on their earthly condition, what they can see, but rather to live with the knowledge of his promise, what they cannot see.  In fact he tells them that their faith is the giving of the Holy Spirit, their guarantee.

We often like, like the Hobbits, want to cling to and give great value to this world and the things in it.  I do it every time my mind drifts to what it sees.  It is the things that are invisible, the promises of God, the deposit of the Holy Spirit, that escapes my reality.  As followers of Christ we will travel through dark and dangerous adventures outside of our Shire.  When we become homesick, and truly that is what we are, we must not visualize the conceptual picture of earthly tranquility but rather trust that what we cannot visualize is our true home.



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