“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
Nearly a year ago was the first time I read those words and began the discovery of what is now one of my favorite books. More recently, I also had the chance to watch the movies based on the book. Both are amazing adventures in themselves, but one of my favorite things to do with any book or movie is to find things that point to God. The story means so much more when there are eternal things like Love, Hope, and Truth included. Since J. R. R. Tolkien was a believer in Christ, it makes sense that his stories reflect that, even though they aren’t designed to be an allegory. Let’s go on an adventure to find some of the lessons from both the book and the movies. (Don’t forget your pocket handkerchiefs!)
Making Wise Decisions
The simple believe everything, but the prudent give thought to their steps. Proverbs 14:15
One of the many reasons I love the character Bilbo is his ability to be both extremely cautious, yet extremely courageous at the same time. When he was invited on an adventure, he didn’t thoughtlessly agree right away. In fact, it takes a lot of different types of encouragement to convince him. But once he finally decided, he didn’t let his fears hold him back. Sometimes God will ask me to do something I’m terrified to do, but I know that if I don’t do it, I’ll miss out on what He’s going to do through it. Imagine if Bilbo hadn’t given into his Tookish side, staying safe and happy in the Shire. The dwarves wouldn’t have made it to Erebor, Smaug would probably still be living, and eventually, Sauron would have succeeded in taking the mountain for evil. Even if it’s not quite on this scale, our choices and actions determine the outcome of so much. We need God’s direction in all our decisions.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in all of us. Romans 8:18
As their journey progressed, all the characters faced many types of challenges, from hardships to temptation, to a plethora of enemies. Yet they never turned aside from their mission, no matter how weary they were, they pressed on. Because they “were holding onto something,” to quote Samwise Gamgee, they had focus. We all have places in our lives where practicing perseverance and endurance is difficult. I often want the process of overcoming challenges and temptations to feel like an exciting battle of good and evil, but does it? Not normally. It feels like getting up early to read God’s word, like working through that subject that just doesn’t click with you in school, like falling over and over but getting back up anyway. It’s not usually fun, and people may not even notice your effort, but it’s worth it because God is changing us to be more like Him every day. Someday we will reach the end of our journey. In between is an adventure, but “… adventures are not all pony-rides in the May-sunshine.”
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. Philippians 2:3
Bard was a hero. After he defeated Smaug, the people of Esgaroth wanted to get rid of their cowardly leaders and make him king. Bard didn’t act like he deserved their praise, and he didn’t become their leader right away. Instead, he went to work helping the now homeless people, giving them food and blankets. When it seemed like a battle with the dwarves was inevitable, he suggested they try to negotiate with them first, and he only wanted enough gold to rebuild their lives. Bilbo also showed humility by not caring about how much praise he got for helping the dwarves out of their predicaments or being recognized as the one who discovered Smaug’s weak spot. Bard and Bilbo didn’t act based on their desires or welfare. In contrast, “Mr. King-Under-the-Mountain” was acting on selfish ambition. He was not willing to part with a single coin, saying the Lake-men were better off than he had been and should be thankful. In the end, none of that wealth mattered. Jesus was the perfect example of humility, the King of the world who died for His creation.
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15.)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The Devil does everything he can to keep us from our full potential. One way he does this is by tempting us to sin, and most of the time we know what we are doing isn’t right. But sometimes we really aren’t sure or don’t think about a choice before we make it because we decide it will be inconsequential. When Bilbo finds the ring, he has no clue what it is. He certainly didn’t take it in an attempt to take over Middle-Earth. He “put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking.” Even though he only used it to sneak around occasionally, because of its power, it began to get ahold of him. However, his finding of the ring had good consequences too. Frodo was able to take it and destroy it forever. (Though now that I think about it, it would be interesting to see what Bilbo ruling Middle-Earth would look like.)
Another way the Devil distracts us from our mission is by moving our attention from Jesus, to the storms of life. We lose sight of how great and mighty God is, and instead see the impossible task, or the endless hardships. One of my favorite parts out of the movies is when Bard and Bain are trying to aim the arrow at Smaug. Bain keeps looking behind him at Smaug burning the town, but his father keeps telling him over and over to look at him. When Peter and Jesus were standing on the water, Peter sees the wind and waves and begins to sink. He took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the storm. I love knowing that no matter how big the dragon or storm, Jesus will be there to fix our eyes on instead.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
It’s no secret that dwarves and elves don’t mix very well, especially when they’re fighting over treasure. As they bickered and each tried to force one another into doing things their own way, an army of orcs and goblins was marching towards them. They were caught unaware, but quickly realized they would need to work together to defeat these common enemies. If they hadn’t, there’s a good chance all would have been defeated, and Sauron would have won the mountain. In all our relationships, whether it’s our families, our friends, or in the church, the Devil tries to cause fights and bitterness. Alone, we can’t encourage or pray for one another, and because our fighting is directed at others, we cannot take part in the spiritual battle going on. Sometimes conflict is unavoidable, but “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18.)
“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
When Thorin starts acting different, no one is sure what to do at first. Balin and Dwalin warn him that he’s changed and not making the right choices. Even though he doesn’t listen to them right then, they still follow him. Bilbo ponders whether he should give him the Arkenstone, then comes up with a plan to help everyone. Over his journey, Bilbo learns that dwarves are not all that bad, and he does everything he can to help them. Thorin and Bilbo remind me of Sam and Frodo in many ways: Thorin and Frodo are both the ones leading the quest, and both have something they will not part with. Both of them turn on their loyal helpers at one point, but Sam and Bilbo don’t blame them and keep doing everything they can to help them. They stay with them until the very end, sharing their troubles and burdens, even being glad to do so! I want to be a friend like that, who believes in my friends no matter what, loves them even when they mess up, and who is there for them when they need help.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”
What did Bilbo learn?
This was actually a really hard question for me to answer. He changed a lot over the course of the story, but how exactly and why? He definitely did not need to learn to value his home more and be less adventurous, though I’m sure he was all the more thankful for it once he was back. I think what he learned was more of the opposite. That home is wonderful, but the friendships and memories you have are what really matter. I also think he found out how much courage he already had, because it’s not really something you learn, but what you find God gives you at the right moments. Bilbo had been able to help in a most important quest that changed the course of many things in the future and impacted all of Middle-Earth.
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
What have you learned from your favorite stories or characters?