Frodo, confident that the One Ring had no power over him, was determined to destroy it.
Frodo drew the Ring out of his pocket again and looked at it. It now appeared plain and smooth, without mark or device that he could see. The gold looked very fair and pure, and Frodo thought how rich and beautiful was its color, how perfect was its roundness. It was an admirable thing and altogether precious. When he took it out he had intended to fling it from him into the very hottest part of the fire. But now he found that he could not do so, not without a great struggle. He weighed the Ring in his hand, hesitating, and forcing himself to remember all that Gandalf had told him; and then with an effort of will he made a movement, as if to cast it away – but he found he had put it back in his pocket.
Gandalf laughed grimly. “You see? Already you too, Frodo, cannot let it go, nor will to damage it’ (Lord of the Rings, Book 1, p 59)
J.R.R. Tolkien has undoubtedly captivated the heart of many in his Middle Earth saga, The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s ability to resonate with his audience lies in his tale’s appeal to human nature itself. One of Tolkien’s most powerful developments lies in his presentation of evil. Evil is the deprivation and the perversion of all that is good; yet, he manifests the horror of evil most vividly through a most beautiful artifact, the One Ring. Gollum, having been corrupted by possessing the Ring, hates good things like sunlight and moonlight, and good food like elvish lembas bread and hobbit fare. Similarly, both the Ringwraiths and Sauron have long since lost their once-good physical bodies and become ghostly in their pursuit of the ring. Bilbo, after possessing the Ring for a time, feels ‘stretched thin’ like butter over too much bread. And when the Ringwraith stabs Frodo, Gandalf notes that Frodo has begun to ‘fade’ into shadow. That which is good, or should have remained good, becomes twisted when it comes in contact with the evil associated with the Ring.
Evil, be it in the Ring or in this world’s manifestations, seems to operate in two realms: one outside of man and one inside of man. Temptation, perhaps, is the force that links these two realms, for it is in succumbing to temptation that the external presence of evil is internalized. Even Frodo, armed with courage and determination, cannot resist the temptation of the Ring. All along his journey he knew and saw its evil, yet, in the end, not even he could destroy it. To recognize that which is not good, and to yet be deceived, and to yet partake in evil: this is the corruption of human nature. This corruption was itself born in temptation. Adam and Eve were wholly aware that they were not to eat the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17) lest they die. And yet, they were deceived by the serpent, by the tree that was “good for food…and a delight to the eyes” (Gen 3:6), and by the promise that they could know good and evil for themselves. What is man to do with his disastrous vulnerability to temptation?
God diagnosed the corruption of the human heart early on in man’s history (Gen 6:5-6; 8:21), and the Old Testament makes it clear God’s prescription for is His transformation of human hearts. Moses, David, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel say: ‘The Lord will circumcise your heart’ (Dt .30:6). ‘Create for me a clean heart’ (Ps 51:10). ‘I,’ God says, ‘will write My law upon their hearts’ (Jer 31:33; cf.4:4; 17:1 – 10). God promises, ‘I will give you a new heart’ by putting the Spirit in you (Ezk 36:26-36; 37:1 – 14). These are not simply empty statements, but time and time again, throughout the Old Testament, God offers man the chance to live in proper relation to him and thereby restore goodness and the purpose for which man was created. But even with the offer, mankind responds as the fallen creatures they are. One need no look no further than the Israelites, God’s own chosen people, who, even in the midst of God’s faithfulness and goodness, repeatedly fall into temptation and rebellion against God. The Hebrew Scriptures contain a clear diagnosis: man cannot overcome evil on his own.
What is the solution to man’s miserable state? Perhaps Tolkien can help us answer this. Tolkien points to this necessity of restoring the broken stories of past failures to undo the consequences of sin. In The Lord of the Rings, Saruman, the head of the wizards, betrays those he was entrusted to protect by allying with Sauron. Gandalf, an honest and faithful wizard, takes on Saruman’s old mantle and says, ‘I am Saruman, Saruman as he was meant to be.’ Aragorn also is what Isildur, a former King, should have been. Whereas Isildur fell into temptation and seized the Ring, bringing doom to the human race, Aragorn resists temptation and releases the Ring into Frodo’s hand, thus demonstrating the strength to right that which was wrong and bring hope back to humanity. Thus Gandalf and Aragorn exemplify the importance of returning the world to what it should have been all along. Yet, these are but dim illustrations of the one who was able to perfectly restore man’s state of wretchedness.
In the midst of man’s hopeless struggle with sin, God provides a solution in the person of his own son, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ life is a retelling of King David’s story, which was the failed attempt at retelling Israel’s story, which was the failed attempt at retelling Adam’s story (Mt 4:1-12, Lk 4:1- 13). But Jesus is successful in both resisting temptation and living in right relation with God. By doing so, Jesus bends human nature back into the love of the Father, realigning it with the will of God. God “condemned sin in the flesh” of Christ (Rom 8:3) throughout the life of Jesus – through Jesus’ personal decisions, moment by moment, not to sin. Climactically, at his death, the flesh, the ‘old self, the body of sin’ (Rom 6:6) is crucified.
Unlike Frodo, who tragically gives into the temptation of the Ring at the very end, Jesus is steadfast. Jesus bore the corrupted state of human nature; he made it part of himself. So Jesus went to his death to destroy that which needed to be destroyed: sin. Thus Jesus perfected humanity back to how it always should have been through his life, death, and resurrection. In his resurrection, Jesus emerges as a new kind of human being – a God-soaked human being. His human nature is fully reconciled with a radically loving, holy God . Accordingly, Jesus shares the Spirit of his new humanity to anyone who comes into a living and dynamic relationship with him. A remedy for the fallenness of humanity is possible only in Jesus. This is how, as we read in Matthew’s birth narrative, Jesus would ‘save his people from their sins’ (Mt 1:21).
From their sins. Not just from their punishment, or from the consequences of their sins, but from the horrendous nature of sin itself, from the underlying problem that infects our originally good human nature. Just as the Ring twisted and corrupted Gollum, the Ringwraiths, Sauron, and to some degree even Bilbo and Frodo, so living in sin twists and corrupts the very souls of humans. Sin is evil independent of its consequences. This means that God cares very much about this present world, and everything we do in it. Jesus physically redeemed the humanity of one sin-scarred human being – his own – and thus brought through his Spirit an offer to extend his new humanity to everyone, finally bringing a true opportunity for redemption to all sinners.
Frodo could not let the ring go, and neither can we, without Jesus.
Mako Nagasawa is a senior staff member of Harvard Radcliffe Christian Fellowship.Tags: Christian, evil, God, good, JRR Tolkien, literature, sin, The Lord of the Rings