A Word from the "Wise"
Deep inside the mountain, the Mines of Moria labyrinth through the underworld. Dwarves once flourished in the great halls of stone. Here, the Fellowship of the Ring finds itself in a maze of caverns to underpass the eyes of the Enemy. Their quest, for those of you who have read the book or seen the film, is an anti-quest. They are not in search of a prize; rather, their purpose is to destroy the prize. The prize, of course, is the One Ring to rule all the other rings of power in Middle Earth. This is an evil ring. It corrupts its possessor by bending the will to destruction. Sauron, the evil one, desires the ring for himself because all of his power was emptied into it in ages past. If he captures it, Middle Earth's demise would be imminent.
But Frodo son of Drogo bears the ring. He is a Hobbit, a short and unfamiliar species that would rather be relaxing in a cozy Hobbit Hole than be on any adventure. He inherited the ring from his uncle, Bilbo Baggins. During an unforeseen adventure a half-century before, Bilbo rescued the ring from Gollum, a creature of the darkness who at one time had been a happy Hobbit. But the ring had corrupted Gollum's will and gave him a long miserable life. Once he lost it to Bilbo, Gollum's lust for it grew insatiable. He hunted many years for the ring and was now in pursuit of Frodo to rescue it from destruction. His intentions are selfish, brutish, and small.
The future of Middle Earth is held in the precarious hands of a Hobbit.
This is where we find the Fellowship, deep in the Mines of Moria. Their leader is Gandalf the Gray, the wise one. As they pathfind the dark to the other side of the mountain, the film puts us in their company as they rest. They know they are being followed through the Mines. Who is following? The Enemy?
It was Gollum. His corruption transformed him into a grotesque water creature with wide eyes adjusted to the dark, slippery hands, and a taste for raw flesh. J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of the story, borrows from the medieval mind to structure his fictitious world. Gollum was once a Hobbit. But corrupted, he became less of a Hobbit. It makes sense in light of the larger picture. The Ents, walking and talking trees, were mocked when the Evil One counterfeited twisted copies of them in the shape of Trolls. The Elves were mocked in the same way by Orcs-the hideous foot-soldiers of Sauron's army. Evil does not have its own blueprint. Rather, as the medieval Augustine said in the fifth century, evil is a "privation of the good." It is a parasite. It is essentially a distortion.
Frodo and Gandalf understand this in their conversation. Reflecting on the history of the ring, Frodo utters, "It is a pity Bilbo didn't kill Gollum when he had the chance." We can understand his grief. The evil of the ring is growing on his own will. It is difficult enough to bear the ring, much less to accumulate enemies and barriers along his quest. Justice cries out in the weight of Frodo's voice.
But Gandalf, who had seen many ages, gives this rejoinder, "Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand."
Frodo is silent. When evil possess creatures, they are to be pitied. And if there is some hope for them, they are not to be crushed, but restored.
You see, evil comes to us in two forms: ideas and behaviors. First, there are the false beliefs we hold, and second, those beliefs turned to action. The latter is frequently acknowledged in our present world, though many forms of it are debated. The former is less acknowledged and penetrates many unaware minds. We must watchdog both kinds of evils in ourselves and in our neighbors.
Furthermore, two tragedies could result if Gandalf's wisdom is not employed. One, if justice stands without pity, Gollum would have no hope to be rescued from evil. Two, if pity stands without justice, then Gollum's condition could be ignored as being slight or indifferent. Pity is not pity unless the true nature of the problem is acknowledged. Neither alternative would benefit Gollum or Frodo.
Of course Gollum could get to a point that he is so filled with evil, that the need of justice must be swiftly served. He would be beyond hope. He would be at a point where he no longer made choices but became his choices. Or, in contrast, Gollum could turn toward the good and his soul rescued from evil. At that point, pity for Gollum would no longer have meaning.
With this little phrase in the big world of Middle Earth, Gandalf gives us a deep idea about the nature of the Gospel. It is the tension between pity and justice, love and truth. To deny one is to lose both. To hold both is to recognize that Middle Earth itself is in tension groaning to be redeemed. John Mark Reynolds, a classics professor at Biola University, says that Middle Earth is the location between Heaven and Hell. We, earth-dwellers, are on the battlefield. The battle is for the minds and hearts of men and women.
Jesus Christ comes to us and holds up both with arms outstretched on the Cross. He shows us pity by satisfying justice so that we may be found just and no longer pitied. Because of Him, our calling is to respectfully uphold both pity and justice, both love and truth, to help the Gollums of the world. Of such we once were. This gives us a greater challenge to proclaim the way the world is, and keep darkness at bay. There is hope. As one of Tolkien's other characters says, "These days are fated to be filled with marvels."
Dale Fincher is a ministry associate with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries