It’s Personal, Always

. . . And In the Darkness Bind Them

We have recently been reading through Matthew Dickerson’s A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012).  Dickerson is an example of the growing coterie of Tolkien scholars whose work is making  the Tolkien corpus more and more accessible to modern readers.

There are many biblical and theological themes woven into Tolkien’s work.  One of them is the nature of evil itself.  Tolkien rightly sees that evil is personal, a will of malice and hatred towards others.  Evil is not a mere impersonal misfortune that might occur from time to time.  It is a living will which desires the enslavement of all others.  Behind all evil acts, deeds, and schemes stands a living person of immense malice: subtle and cruel beyond our reckoning.  The very subtlety of its exercise makes the malice more evil and more cruel.

Tolkien’s representation of evil is consistent with Scriptural teaching, where Satan’s malice is revealed in such a way that–were it not for our Saviour  delivering us from his realm–we would all be subject to an eternal bitterness and a bondage to an immensely evil creature who hates us utterly.

A particularly potent symbol and mechanism of evil in Tolkien’s work is the One Ring–the creation of Sauron, a lesser demon, himself a slave to his greater master–which was made to enslave all other creatures.  Writes Dickerson:

The implication, of course, is that the purpose of the One (Ring) is conquest and domination.  This, anyway, is what Saruman sees in the One when he tries to convince Gandalf to help him gain it: “Our time is at hand: the world of Men, which we must rule,” he says.  But we must have power, power to order all things as we will for that good which only the Wise can see.” (II/ii).

Saruman wants to rule others.  This is the central issue in the temptation of the Ring to which he has succumbed.  He wants power over other wills.  It is not a power whose nature is to do good for others, but rather a power to impose (or order) his will upon others. Although he uses the word good, it is not a good that anyone else can see–that is, it is not a real good that would benefit anyone else–but one that only the wise (by which he means himself) can see.  In short, then, the power of the One Ring is to rule: the power to conquer, the power to command, the power to order–the power to enslave.  . . .

It is also consistent with what is engraved on the Ring itself: “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”  The One Ring is about ruling (exercising authority and domination over others) and about binding (forcing, compelling, enslaving).  Sauron forged his Ring with the purpose of . . . controlling and enslaving other wills.” [Dickerson, op cit., p. 110.]

These representations of the nature of evil: personal hatred and malice for all others, seeking only their perpetual enslavement to one evil will, is an accurate representation of evil as revealed in God’s holy writ.  We see manifestations of this personal demonic malice in religions like Islam where the whole point is to force a domination upon, and enslavement of, the entire human race–a binding in the darkness.  We also see it in Jesus’ condemnation of the way the Gentiles of His day ruled over others:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. [Matthew 20: 25-28] 

The Gentile rulers of Jesus’ day mirrored the malice of their dark lord, whose representatives they had been, to enforce servitude and slavery.  God commands the opposite: to lead by serving, and taking upon oneself the demeanour of a slave.

This is why liberty of conscience is a Christian construct.  It is why freedom of speech–a manifestation of liberty of conscience–is a Christian political institution.  Most, if not all, the true political freedoms once enshrined in Western polities, arose indirectly from Christian beliefs.  But it is also why, as loyalty of Christ wanes, a different construction, from an ancient, yet living malice, once again emerges.  Compulsion, control, force, punishment, the whips, and enslavement.  This has always been the way of an utterly corrupt, malicious creature which Scripture names The Satan who lusts to bring all men under his domination and in the darkness bind them.

Tolkien nailed it. 
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