Posts Tagged ‘Providence’

“If only,” “what might have been!”  Sometimes we make it into a game of speculation, like a time travel story where we can change the present.  At other times we’re overcome with regret at past choices, imagining that somehow life would have been better “if only.”  We even find examples and teaching in the Bible on such matters.  David asked and received an answer from God, as to what the men of Keilah would do, if they would give David up to Saul.  It was a contingent event that never happened, since David then acted on that possibility by fleeing from Keilah.  The book of Ecclesiastes (7:10) warns against the negative thoughts that come with regret about past choices:  Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.

As noted at the Lenten Lord of the Rings, the first chapters of Return of the King bring us to a rather depressing point in the story:  Frodo has been captured by Orcs, Sam yet to rescue him; Pippin  and Merry have been separated, and each feels the loneliness of being away from their best friend.  When we reach the chapter on The Pyre of Denethor, this post from the Lenten LOTR looks at some of the “What ifs” in the story.

It is an amazing aspect of Tolkien’s work, the level of detail and consistency within the story, that we can find many such plot points at which choices are made, and we can think of “alternate realities,” such as this idea:  what if Pippin had not been taken with Gandalf to Minas Tirith?  Then Theoden would have dismissed the service of two halflings; Dernhelm/Eowyn could handle one hobbit on her horse, but not two.  Likely, both Merry and Pippin would have been left behind, together.  Yet, without Pippin in Minas Tirith, Denethor would still have gone mad with despair, but without a hobbit to speak up for Faramir; Pippin saved Faramir’s life.  Gandalf would not have known of Denethor’s madness, and would have gone out to the battle, to the slaying of the Lord of the Nazgul.  If Eowyn had gone alone with the company, then Merry would not have been there to assist, and Eowyn would have died there on the battlefield – unless of course, Gandalf (not knowing about Denethor’s doings) had intervened there and possibly saved both Eowyn and King Theoden.  In that alternate series of events, Theoden might have lived, though Faramir died.

Interestingly enough, “What ifs” are played out even within Lord of the Rings — by Denethor, which provides us a strong reminder about wisdom and folly, and the danger of dwelling too much on the past –on how things could have been different and turned out more to our liking.  For it is Denethor in particular who has this mental/emotional/spiritual malady.  Denethor would have preferred that Faramir would have gone up to Imladris (Rivendell) instead of Boromir; that Boromir would not have died.  He then wishes that Boromir had been in the place of Faramir; Boromir would have brought the ring to him.  Gandalf responds with the wisdom and foreknowledge of God, telling him what would have happened to Boromir.  Denethor insists that Boromir would have not changed but been dutiful to him.

‘Do you wish then,’ said Faramir, ‘that our places had been exchanged?’ ‘Yes, I wish that indeed,’ said Denethor. ‘For Boromir was loyal to me and no wizard’s pupil. He would have remembered his father’s need, and would not have squandered what fortune gave. He would have brought me a mighty gift.’ …

‘Stir not the bitterness in the cup that I mixed for myself,’ said Denethor. ‘Have I not tasted it now many nights upon my tongue, foreboding that worse yet lay in the dregs? As now indeed I find. Would it were not so! Would that this thing had come to me!’

‘Comfort yourself!’ said Gandalf. ‘In no case would Boromir have brought it to you. He is dead, and died well; may he sleep in peace! Yet you deceive yourself. He would have stretched out his hand to this thing, and taking it he would have fallen. He would have kept it for his own, and when he returned you would not have known your son.’

The face of Denethor set hard and cold. ‘You found Boromir less apt to your hand, did you not?’ he said softly. ‘But I who was his father say that he would have brought it to me.

What happened to Denethor, is a strong reminder to us, not to fall into such negative thinking, and playing what ifs, agonizing over past wrong choices and thinking how it could have been so much better.

But we can only live in the now, the present. We cannot undo the past, but must live with what we have now, which includes the consequences of past choices.   Above all, we must conform ourselves to God’s will, what it is now and for the future, trusting that – often in spite of ourselves – God in His Providence has brought us to this place, to this path (and not to some other).  Denethor finally despaired, answering to Gandalf what he really wanted (and could not have):

‘I would have things as they were in all the days of my life,’ answered Denethor, ‘and in the days of my longfathers before me: to be the Lord of this City in peace, and leave my chair to a son after me, who would be his own master and no wizard’s pupil.  But if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated.’

As C.S. Lewis well said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”



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The Lenten Lord of the Rings blog has some great thoughts and themes for consideration, from the first chapters of Fellowship of the Ring, the adventures of Frodo and his friends starting in the Shire, then the taking on of the quest, and then as they travel through the Shire.  In the quest motif, from its beginning through later events, it is indeed easy to see parallels to the experience of Lent (as a type of pilgrimage or journey), as well as more generally to our Christian lives as pilgrims in this world, on a journey passing through (this world is not our home) as our journey takes us through times of joy and gladness, and feasting, as well as difficulties.  The themes noted at the Lenten LOTR site (see posts The Real Choice for day 2 and A Slow Start for day 3 readings) include the value of conversations and different types of conversations, festive holiday times, good people versus dangerous, evil people, mercy, the quality of good friends such as Elfs, and even the theme of mushrooms as an embodiment of home.

Another theme that sticks out to me, is the work of Providence, and how the hand of Iluvatar is working to bring various characters onto the scene, and often in the nick of time to avert disaster.  If the evil Sauron were the only power, along with the natural course of events, Frodo with the Ring should have been caught by the Black Rider long before they reached Buckland.  It is as though something restrains the Black Rider each time.  The Black Rider shows up to visit Hamfast Gamgee, instead of coming next door where Frodo is.  The first time along the road, Frodo almost puts on the Ring, but just then the Rider backs away.  The next time, they are saved when a company of elves “just happens” to show up along the road at the same moment as a Black Rider.  Obviously it works as part of a story, the sub-creation.  If things occurred as they “naturally” ought to have — and as it often seems in real life, where we don’t always see the “happy coincidences” that occur in fiction — the story would have ended even before the quest had started.

Yet the same quality, of people arriving, and unexpected events, occurs in the many stories in our world’s history, and in some of the great events told in the Bible.  The story of David and his band of followers, pursued by King Saul and his army, has some similarities.  One time, Saul’s men are very close to capturing David, when a messenger intervenes, such that Saul and company must back off and go elsewhere.  Saul is kept from harming David time and time again.  Satan can only do as much harm to Job as God will allow; there is a restraint on the worker of evil.  Wars among nations have gone differently due to seemingly small, unexpected events, such as the betrayal plans of Benedict Arnold falling into the hands of the American side.  When Queen Esther asked for a one-day delay answer to King Ahasuerus, the next night and day of Providential events changed the outcome.

So in our daily lives, often God brings people to us, at the “right” moment — a “chance” meeting with an acquaintance, an encouraging word at the right time when the person is depressed, information from one person is shared (in a blog post, or other online post) that answers another person’s particular situation.  One person’s need for a job to be done is filled in the person with the right skills, there at the needed time. Unexpected hospitality comes, such as Frodo experiences from both the elves (and particularly Gildor) and Farmer Maggot, who are provided at the right time, companions for the situations at hand.  Through all of this we marvel at the providence of Iluvatar.


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For consideration in this post:  a brief story told in the Lord of the Rings Appendix A, provides a background “link” story that connects The Hobbit to Tolkien’s full legendarium.  In addition to the obvious connection point of Bilbo’s magic ring leading to the later adventures, this story tells about Gandalf’s meeting with Thorin at Bree, just prior to the beginning of The Hobbit.

The back-story to that meeting, in the Appendix, tells us the fuller history of the Dwarves to that point, and Thorin’s great ambition – contrasted with Gandalf’s deepening concern for the greater world affairs.  For even before An Unexpected Party (chapter 1 in The Hobbit), Thorin had anger in his thoughts:  The embers in the heart of Thorin grew hot again, as he brooded on the wrongs of his House and the vengeance upon the Dragon that he had inherited.   He thought of weapons and armies and alliances, as his great hammer rang in his forge; anger without hope burned him as he smote the red iron on the anvil.

Meanwhile, as Gandalf saw it, for the defense of the northern lands against Sauron, and any attempt of Sauron to regain the lands of Angmar and the northern passes in the mountains only the Dwarves were in that area.  And beyond them lay the desolation of the Dragon. The Dragon Sauron might use with terrible effect. How then could the end of Smaug be achieved?

I recently read Appendix A, soon after listening to the Amon Sul podcast, episode 11 “Oft Hope is Born When All is Forlorn” — which specifically addressed this topic.  Indeed, here in this simple, seemingly minor plot connector, J.R.R. Tolkien provided another illustration of a biblical principle.  With reference to Thorin, as described in Genesis 50:20, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to the saving of many lives.

Thus, through the Providence of a “chance” meeting in Bree, Iluvatar’s purposes were accomplished.  For though Thorin went on the journey with evil purposes, and then turned to evil selfishness and hoarding of the treasure, the Dragon Smaug was killed by the men of Dale.  The kingdom under the Mountain was restored, even as Gandalf had desired.  Thorin later repented, but he along with his two nephews Fili and Kili perished, as casualties of the Battle of Five Armies near the end of The Hobbit.

As Tolkien tells us in Appendix A:

In the late summer of that same year (2941) Gandalf had at last prevailed upon Saruman and the White Council to attack Dol Guldur, and Sauron retreated and went to Mordor, there to be secure, as he thought, from all his enemies. So it was that when the War came at last the main assault was turned southwards; yet even so with his far-stretched right hand Sauron might have done great evil in the North, if King Dáin and King Brand had not stood in his path.

‘I grieved at the fall of Thorin,’ said Gandalf; ‘and now we hear that Dáin has fallen, fighting in Dale again, even while we fought here. I should call that a heavy loss, if it was not a wonder rather that in his great age he could still wield his axe as mightily as they say that he did, standing over the body of King Brand before the Gate of Erebor until the darkness fell.

So we can find so many types and illustrations of biblical precepts, throughout Tolkien’s epic saga of Middle Earth.

Any further thoughts, readers, on this story?  Can you think of any other similar plots in Tolkien’s work, that illustrate the idea that “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good”?

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