The reach

One of the most intense scenes in Lord of the Rings comes when Frodo has fallen off the edge of Mount Doom, and is holding on by one hand[1].  The one ring has just fallen into the lake of molten lava, and Frodo has nearly been destroyed by its fall.  So bound is he to the ring that he goes over the edge with it and almost, almost ends his life in the same fire of its demise.

Mount Doom has began to rumble, the ring is beginning to melt, and Sam is down on his hands and knees at the edge of the cliff.  In one of the most moving scenes in the movie, despite Frodo’s betrayal of him and all that he has done wrong and his complete failure to destroy the ring of his own will, Sam reaches for his hand.

“Give me your hand,” Sam says. [1]

But Frodo doesn’t.  His reaching hand is bloody from the finger Golum bit off in his earlier struggle with, and defeat by, evil.

“Take my hand,” Sam commands.

Frodo brokenheartedly, lackadaisically reaches up to take his hand, and misses.  He nearly falls into the destruction below him.

As the mountain quakes, Sam strains even more, reaches even farther.  “Don’t you let go!” he shouts, as Frodo nearly gives up and lets himself drop.  “Don’t let go!  Reach!” Sam commands, and now Frodo strains with everything has.  This time, the two hands meet.

.                     .                     .                     .                     .

“When you notice Michelangelo’s painting of God reaching out to Adam, you see how outstretched God’s arm is.  Every muscle on His face is contorted, and the hand is reaching as far as possible to make contact.  By contrast, Adam lackadaisically lets a limpish hand dangle with apathy in an attitude that seems to say, ‘If it meets it meets.’  That reflects the contrasting inclinations of the heart very well.” – Ravi Zacharias

.                     .                     .                     .                     .

When you think of your relationship with God, is He reaching for you?  Are you reaching for Him?

Are your hands struggling to meet?

Do you think of your hand as straining its hardest, but falling short?

Do you think of God’s hand as withdrawn, never allowing you to reach it?

Or have your two hands already met?

The scene between Sam and Frodo on Mount Doom is moving.  Most of us want to believe that God is like Sam, reaching for our hand.  Some of us believe that God, like Sam, is commanding us to reach His hand.  Those of us who are desperately trying to reach God want to believe He is still reaching for us, that He hasn’t turned away and withdrawn from us.  But we can never seem to catch His hand.

It may surprise you that, in actuality, the scene of Frodo and Sam at Mount Doom has very little to represent about God’s hand, or ours.  As beautiful as the scene is, it is not nearly as beautiful, or as humbling, as what God’s reach for us looks like.

If the Lord of the Rings scene were to play out in a way that would represent what God has done for us, it would look very different.

We would still be off the edge of Mount Doom.  But this time, it would not be our hand holding onto the edge of the cliff as we dangle in mid-air.  It would be God’s hand holding us.  You may have never thought about it, but we are not held on this world by our own strength or ability.  It is God who has given us the breath of life and who keeps our lungs inflating and our heart beating.  None of us can hold ourselves to this earth.  We are all completely reliant on God for that.  Colossians 1:17 (NLT) says about Jesus,

He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.

God’s first reach holds us into existence.  His second reach is to hold us into eternity with Him.

This is a reach that is very different than the reach to keep us in existence.  The first reach is the expected reach of a good Creator to His creation.  He must reach for us if we are to be and survive.  But the second reach is very unexpected.  It is the reach of the holy God to His rebellious humans (us). 

Sam reached for Frodo even though he had betrayed him, refused to listen to him, and gone against his directions in the most critical moment (which was to let go of the ring).  In a much bigger way, God loves us even though we have betrayed Him, refused to listen to Him, and gone against His directions in the most critical moment [which was when He told us (represented by Adam) in the Garden not to eat of the Tree of Good and Evil; and which was when He commands us (you, I, and everyone) to follow Him so that we may be saved despite our disobedience and we still refuse].

God’s reach spans a chasm we cannot possibly bridge.  For us to reach God in spite of our sin would be like trying to walk off one side of the Grand Canyon to reach the other side.  When we rebelled, we broke alliance with God (see Genesis 3, Romans 6:20).  We cannot go back to who He created us to be any more than Gollum can go back to looking like a hobbit after his corruption by the ring[2].  It cannot happen.

Reach, Creative Commons Use

Sculpture by Kenneth Armitage, his last work, “Reach for the Stars”.
I wonder if the stars were what he really wanted to reach for . .
Photograph by Thunderchild7

Some of us don’t try.  We are like Frodo at first, believing we’re too far gone to even try to reach.  Or maybe we like our sin too much to leave it behind, even if it means falling into its burning destruction.

Others of us do try.  We reach out like Frodo with a broken-heart, trying to earn our way back to God.  But we can never reach that far.  Our sin separates us further and further from God.  We are moving away from Him, not towards Him.  The more we try to reach, the more discouraged, disheartened, and embittered we become.  There is no way for us to reach God.  We cannot be like Frodo, who, if he only tried hard enough, could meet the hand of Sam.  We cannot meet the hand of God no matter what or how hard we try.

This is where God’s second reach comes in to change everything.

Frodo’s hand was bloody from his battle with Gollum, a battle Sam couldn’t fight for him.  But Jesus’ hand is bloody from his battle with Satan, a battle He could and did fight for us.

We, like Frodo, always lose the battle with evil.  Just as Frodo couldn’t win the battle over the evil persuasion of the ring, we can’t win the battle over the evil persuasion of sin in our lives.  Scripture tells us that evil holds us captive and we are slaves to it.

Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. (2 Timothy 2:25-26, NLT)

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from allegiance to righteousness. (Romans 6:20, HCSB)

Our hand is so burdened by guilt, ignorance, and evil, that we cannot even lift it a millimeter up to God’s hand.  If our salvation depended in any part on our effort, the way that Frodo’s salvation depended in part on his own effort, we would be doomed.  We cannot reach for God.  Romans 3:10b-12 (NLT) says,

“There is no one righteous, not even one;

there is no one who understands;

there is no one who seeks God.

All have turned away,

they have together become worthless;

there is no one who does good,

not even one. (Romans 3:10b-12, NIV)

Did you catch that?

there is no one who seeks God.

We cannot reach for Him.  He must reach for us.  Not only has He created us and keeps us alive, but He must be the one to pull us up from the edge of the cliff.  He alone can do this.

If we were to reenact the Mount Doom scene with what God did for us, we would be held up first by His arm of sustaining power, the only thing separating us from a free fall into Hell.

And then Jesus would pull us back from the edge, dragging us inch by inch away from the lava of our choices and up to the cliff of redemption that stands as an isle of escape from the devastation below.

His brow is matted in sweat and blood; through the agony of His suffering He pulls us up.  Every moment is excruciating, and every moment we are totally helpless, totally reliant that He will keep pulling and not turn away out of either disgust of our sin or the grueling exhaustion of saving us.

The cliff is quaking, and all Hell is breaking loose below Christ, but He keeps pulling us, keeps pulling us, keeps pulling us until He has pulled us to the ground above the shaking volcano.

Though we betrayed Him, though we lost our war with evil, though we disobeyed every command He ever gave us, though we totally failed to listen to Him, He reached for us still.

This is what Jesus did for every single person when He died on the cross.

He pulled all of us from the edge of Mount Doom, and He saved each of us from the Hell below us.

Wait a minute, you say.  Wait a minute.  But I thought not everyone is saved.

That’s right.  But that’s not because Jesus has not dragged everyone up from the cliff.  It is because many people will choose to scorn His safety and refuse to follow Him out of the cavern.

After Sam pulled Frodo up from the edge, the two ran together out of the mouth of the cavern and to a rock to the side of the mountain, where they were safe from the catastrophic flow of lava down the mountainside.  Eagles rescued them and carried them away.

Frodo chose to follow Sam and escape, but many people will refuse to follow Christ and escape.  They will stay on that cliff inside that cavern of death as Mount Doom collapses around them and they are swallowed up into the lava below.  Many people will reject the redemption reached for them by Christ.  As my pastor says often:

People do not go to Hell because they are bad and people do not go to Heaven because they are good.  They go to Hell because they have not believed in Jesus or Heaven because they have.[3]

We do not go to Hell because we are bad, but because we have rejected the redemptive reach of Christ.  Christ has saved us from our sin.  We will either become guilty of rejecting that salvation, or we will run out of the cavern following Him in faith that He has rescued us.

If you or I find ourselves in Hell, it is not because of our sin.  It is because we turned away from the rescue that Christ Jesus, and only Christ Jesus, has given us.

Jesus is holding us in existence (e.g., see Acts 17:28, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3).  And He has already dragged us up from the Hell we would have fallen into the moment we die (e.g., see John 1:4, John 3:16-18, John 3:36, John 6:40, John 11:25-26, John 12:47, Romans 5:8, Ephesians 2:4-5).

The question is, will you follow Him away from Mount Doom, or will you turn away from Him and find out how terrible the consequences are that He pulled you up from by His death on the cross?

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. (1 Peter 2:24, NLT)

______________________________________________

[1] Lord of the Rings: return of the king, extended edition script, New Line Cinema.  Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson.  Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, Lord of the Rings: The return of the king.

[2] See, Hobbits: Was Gollum a Hobbit? by William D.B. Loos, http://tolkien.cro.net/hobbits/gollum.html

[3] Paraphrase from my pastor, John Marshall

Photograph by Thunderchild7, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/thunderchild5/

Photographs under Creative Commons License.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That is a powerful scene, and definitely among my favorites. But your depiction of God’s reach is so much more so!

    Sam reached for Frodo, even though he had betrayed him. You know, somehow I never really caught that before… I’ve always seen Sam’s greatest characteristic as his loyalty, but I saw it in scenes like I’m going alone. Of course you are, and I’m coming with you! or Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee. or I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you! or entering Cirith Ungol, risking both his life and the whole quest to save a friend who may already have been killed, and then just handing over the ring (something we never see anyone else do) when he gets there. But when Frodo sends Sam away because he believes Gollum’s conniving? I guess I always saw it as, of course he goes back, he’s Sam. Somehow it never occurred to me how amazing (and Christ-like) it is that Sam went back and saved Frodo (more than once) after Frodo had not only betrayed him personally, but betrayed everything they’d suffered for when he refused to destroy the ring. Wow!

    I love the reenactment of the Mount Doom scene. He pulled all of us up from the cliff, but those who stay behind still aren’t saved. I never thought of it that way before either. I guess I saw it as He offers to pull all of us up, but only rescues those who accept His offer. But this is a much better picture. He rescued all of us from sin, but those who don’t follow still remain to face the consequences.

    Edit: become to rumble

    ❤ ❤ ❤

    On Sat, Apr 13, 2013 at 5:36 PM, gracestories

  2. That is a powerful scene, and definitely among my favorites. But your depiction of God’s reach is so much more so!

    Sam reached for Frodo, even though he had betrayed him. You know, somehow I never really caught that before… I’ve always seen Sam’s greatest characteristic as his loyalty, but I saw it in scenes like I’m going alone. Of course you are, and I’m coming with you! or Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee. or I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you! or entering Cirith Ungol, risking both his life and the whole quest to save a friend who may already have been killed, and then just handing over the ring (something we never see anyone else do) when he gets there. But when Frodo sends Sam away because he believes Gollum’s conniving? I guess I always saw it as, of course he goes back, he’s Sam. Somehow it never occurred to me how amazing (and Christ-like) it is that Sam went back and saved Frodo (more than once) after Frodo had not only betrayed him personally, but betrayed everything they’d suffered for when he refused to destroy the ring. Wow!

    I love the reenactment of the Mount Doom scene. He pulled all of us up from the cliff, but those who stay behind still aren’t saved. I never thought of it that way before either. I guess I saw it as He offers to pull all of us up, but only rescues those who accept His offer. But this is a much better picture. He rescued all of us from sin, but those who don’t follow still remain to face the consequences.

    On Sat, Apr 13, 2013 at 5:36 PM, gracestories


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