Frodo was in the tower of Cirith Ungol. Sam had the Ring. Sam sat at the bottom of the tower deciding the best way to rescue his master. And the thought occurred to him that perhaps he could save his master if he put on the ring.
As Sam stood there, even though the ring was not on him but hanging by its chain about his neck, he felt himself enlarged, as if he were robed in a huge distorted shadow of himself, a vast and ominous threat halted upon the walls of Mordor. He felt that he had from now on only two choices: to forbear the Ring, though it would torment him; or to claim it, and challenge the Power that sat in its dark hold beyond the valley of shadow. Already the Ring tempted him, gnawing at his will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in his mind; and he saw Samwise the strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call as he marched to overthrow Barad-dur. And then all the clouds roll away, and the white sun shone, and at his command the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit. He had only to put on the Ring and claim it for his own, and all this could be.
Here is why we read fiction. What Sam feels is what we all feel from time to time. The desire for power, not do evil, of course, but to do good…at least at first. But we forget our place. We dream of being the knight riding in to conquer all enemies. We dream that we can make the world flourish and rid it of all evil. We dream we can help all moms be better moms. Or we believe we can help all those confused about politics to understand the truth. For pastors like me, we dream about writing books, speaking at conferences, and being well known. We imagine all the good we could do in our communities if we just had more resources, more money, and more people. For you it might involve becoming the CEO of company, having a popular DIY blog, being an important member of your organization, a well-respected member of your neighborhood or…fill the blank. There is a whisper that says, “Compromise and I will give you power.” Or to put it in more modern terms, “Compromise and I will make you famous.” What is your Ring?
What kept Sam from putting on the Ring?
In that hour of trial it was the love of his master that helped most to hold him firm; but also deep down in him lived still unconquered his plain hobbit-sense: he knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden, even if such visions were not a mere cheat to lead betray him. The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.
Sam, tired, hungry, despairing beyond all hope, refuses to grab power. Instead he goes and does his job no matter the outcome. He set his face and went to rescue his beloved master. Sam was a hero, but not because he led a mighty army. He was a hero because he knew his place, loved Frodo, and did his job. Tolkien made Sam immortal. But Sam was not special. He was just your average, honest, man who loved hearth, home, and friends. Some of them become memorialized in books and biographies. But most just die, forgotten by almost all, except their closest friends and family.
Too many of us have lost our sense of who we are. We believe we are Theoden, king of our realm. I can instant message world renowned theologians. I can talk with men who have numerous doctorates and hold conferences around the world. Pastors of mega churches have retweeted me. It is easy to believe that I belong in that circle or even that I am “due” more than I have. It is easy to feel “enlarged” as if I am some great and mighty man. The Internet makes us all feel important. We don’t even need the Ring. All we need is a few “likes” to go viral and all of the sudden we are famous. It is all a lie, even if it is “not a “mere cheat.” I am not great and neither are you. There are Theodens and Aragorns in the world, but more than likely you and I are not one of them. Most of us are Sam. We are normal everyday husbands, wives, pastors, children, employees, fathers, mothers, men and women. Occasionally we get pulled into a great battle and do a great public deed. But mainly we plod and push and do our job. We live, worship, eat, drink, work, laugh, and then die. Are we okay with never being great? Are we okay if we never become famous? Are we okay not being Theoden or does our heart burn with jealousy when someone else leads the charge? If we aren’t when the Ring calls us and tempts us with the promise of power we will succumb and find ourselves humiliated because we forgot who we were.
Know your place brothers and sisters. Do the job God has placed in front of you. Be the person God has called you to be. If you become famous that is fine. If God drags you into the spotlight for a period of time use it to honor him. But don’t long for glory or power or riches or fame. That desire for power will ultimately corrupt you and you will find yourself empty in the end and cast down instead of the hero.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned (Rom 12:3).
Peter, you have used a very familiar story to illustrate how one of “the least of these” has a call that matters, great or small, momentary and fleeting or world-renowned, to be and do according to God’s will, not our own. The good one can do is important regardless of the extent or our personal expectation of its effect. Thanks for writing.
Thanks so much Aunt Carolyn! With love, Peter