The Ring

“We put it away, we keep it hidden! We never speak of it again. No one knows it’s here, do they?”

–Frodo, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), New Line Cinema

It all started like paradise.

Twirling dresses, picnic food in heaps, bursting fireworks, jolly dancing, loud laughter, warm-baked pies, wet tousley grass, children streaking past, clapping on the shoulders, grand garlands, and the smell of summer air.

In that moment, there couldn’t be anything terrible on Frodo’s mind.  He had no more concern than nudging a shy friend to dance with his secret crush.

But now–only days later–Frodo’s world has fallen apart at the seams–seams he didn’t even know were there.

From a night of careless chuckles and silly conversations, he enters his home, and the once gentle hove has become a still-as-death mess.  As he staggers to try to make sense of it all, he is grasped on the shoulder by an old friend–who frightens him as an enemy.

“Is it secret–is it safe?” Gandalf asks and commands.

He means the ring.

Up until that moment, the ring had been only an odd curiosity.  A treasure his uncle had once owned.  A page in the tale, perhaps, of his uncle’s untold adventure.

Now it has become the force of madness.

Gandalf teaches Frodo the detestable story of the ring–how it has brought only treachery and torture on its warpath to burn all good with the Wheel of Fire–the Great Eye of Sauron.

One ring to rule them all

One ring to find them

One ring to bring them all

And in the darkness bind them.

[J.R.R. Tolkien, “Fellowship of the Ring”]

And the ring becomes, in the instant Frodo realizes its thirst for evil, a horror.  It belongs far outside the world he wants.  Away, away from all good–and he wants to be rid of it now.

This ring is nothing of summer strawberries and flourishing gardenias and fine-footed ponies and friendly meadows.

This ring is dread.

He must get rid of the great dread.  Of an earth of fiery enslavement, an earth without tree or crop, an earth without quiet creeks or grassy hills, an earth without horses or their riders, an earth without loyalty or love.

Quickly–quickly!  His thoughts fly as he works through a plan to end the dread–this horrible thing, this monstrous thing that has brought upon him.

“We put it away, we keep it hidden! We never speak of it again.”

It reminds me of what it is like to live–to be born, to die–with a sin nature.

Those of us who realize the evil that lies within have been awakened to its presence with horror.  One moment, we had not a care in the world.  The next, we began to feel that something was terribly wrong.  And when we discover what it is: that we ourselves are evil . . we are overcome with desperation.  We, like Frodo with the ring, would hastily bury our sin nature–if we could.  If only we could.

But, as Frodo carries the ring around his neck, as it bruises and burns and tracks the Great Eye everlastingly, as it drives from Frodo the taste of food, even the desire for water . . as it casts out the memories of the sweetness of life . . and finally, even all remnants of love and the loyalty . . so we carry our sin nature, heavy about us, and sometimes fear we will have no better ending than Frodo–who chooses, at the very last, to keep the ring, betray his closest friend, destroy Middle Earth, and rule as its warpath master.  (He does not get away with this, but that is not to his credit.)

Those of us awakened to the horror of our nature want, we long, WE ACHE to “be rid of it” (as Sam says).

And yet we carry it with us.  And we are afraid, so afraid, that it will be always.

As Frodo says about the ring, It is such a burden.”

It is such a burden.

With every resolve we have, we can vow to hide our sin nature from sight–but that would only draw a quicker victory from evil.

Evil loves the hidden dark.

Unlike Frodo, who is faced merely with “the” hidden dark of his world (darkness he has done nothing to cause), we are faced with OUR hidden dark.

And unlike Frodo, who is unwittingly bound to a nightmare ring, we are not.  In metaphor, we reached out to Sauron’s very hand to ask for the ring.  We may not have known what we were getting, but we were warned by God.  And yet we reached anyway.

From the moment Eve reached her hand for the forbidden fruit, a course and curse of bondage has been set in motion.  And from the moment Adam–responsible for all humanity–ate that fruit, ate that death . . we have been bound for Hell.  It truly was

One cursed choice to rule us all

One cursed choice to find us

One cursed choice to bring us all

And in the darkness bind us.

Adam and Eve were not the only ones who ate of evil.  Since then, every human save One has picked fruits from the forests of sin . . eaten their fill . . and yet never felt contentment.  We are like Frodo but even worse, for if he’d played with the ring the way we play with sin, Middle Earth would have been destroyed before he’d set out of the shire.  As Frodo considers the ring, toys with it, imagines slipping it on his finger, and at last obeys the craving he has fed, so we feed our sin nature until we are utterly overwhelmed by the very thing we were once only fascinated by.

And like Frodo, even when we try, even when we really try, to break out of the bondage . . we do not know how.

Lot chose the nicer land; it turned into ash.  Solomon lavished himself with the finest pleasures; he bought himself into meaninglessness.  Hezekiah longed for a longer life; the extra years delivered him into shame.

Would that we–like Frodo with his map to Mordor–have a map to the place where we can destroy our sin.

. . Suppose we did.  Suppose there was a place we could go to destroy, once and for all, the sin nature within us.

If we could endure the trials to get to that fiery abyss . . would we throw our sin nature in . . or would we say with a slow, entranced, evil-hungry smile, as Frodo did,

“No.”

For, if we were to find such a place, we would realize what Frodo did.  We would see that we would have to burn all that has ever lured us to rebel against God within us.  We would have to throw ourselves in.  Frodo’s life force had become bound to the ring.  To destroy it was to destroy himself.  And he did not choose that.

And neither would we.  We, too, would refuse.  Even if we could somehow be heroic enough to make it to the Gates of Hell, we would not throw ourselves in.  For we cannot part with our sin nature by any amount of willpower.  It is too precious to us.

. . Frodo was not saved from the death that came from throwing the ring in.  And he was not saved from the total disgrace that it was only a mere accident which caused the ring to fall into the abyss.  Frodo lived for the rest of his life knowing he would not have thrown it in.  He slipped away on a ship of death with that reminder–and the hope of peace in another world.

But there is no hope for us that, like Gollum with Frodo, some sin-crazed creature will fight with us and, in that tussle, our sin nature will get thrown into Hell.  Our sin nature is not so easily removed as a ring on a chain.  As hard as it was for Frodo to let the ring go, our sin nature is impossible for us to let go.  It is us.

It is who we are.

We did not worship a ring and place it upon our finger.  We ate the fruit of our rebellion.  We consumed evil.  We brought its existence within us.  Every drop of blood in our body, every pulse of our heart is ruined by sin.

But it gets far, far worse than this.

For we did not just invite the sin into our body.

We ate the sin into our soul.

Were we to commit suicide to try to rid ourselves of our sin nature, we would only succeed in destroying our body.  We would not have removed one fiber of sin from within our soul.

What a horrible plight we share in this world, infinitely worse than Frodo’s . .

Only, our salvation is infinitely better.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10b, ESV)

Jesus gave up His body for us and–in the infinite mystery of the crucifixion–He suffered every poison of our soul in His, and He absorbed it.  Only goodness can swallow evil.  And only Jesus, perfect and sinless, could destroy our ring, our sin nature forever.

[Jesus] said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30b, HCSB)

________________________________

[1]The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  New Line Cinema.  Screenwrite by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson.  Based on the book by the same name by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954.

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