This summer in Greece, I experienced some of the mightiest spiritual warfare I’ve seen yet. A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to eat lunch with a teammate from the internship. He and I were laughing at how terribly we behaved to our other teammates. I confessed snapping at one girl several times with repentance in my voice. He chuckled, trying to hide behind a smile, “I pouted!” he admitted, “I would go back to my bed and lay there in disbelief, so annoyed, I actually pouted.” We laughed together, because we both remembering our own foolishness.
Why, in the face of darkness, do we choose darkness itself?
Recently, I was on the road alone for a 12-hour drive from Texas back to Sweet Home Alabama. During which, I listened to a significant chunk of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring on Audible. To those of you that are not fans, don’t let me lose you. Our protagonist, Frodo is tasked with fleeing with the Ring of Power, so that the hands of evil will not wield it. The Ring was made in darkness, and has been used for darkness. It takes its keepers’ minds captive over time, and putting the Ring on one’s finger quickens this, and for the moments the keep wears it, he is in Shadow.
Shadow indeed seemed to be my driving conditions, making my mind buzz with creativity. The rainfall seemed to lighten as my speed slowed, driving into sleepy Southern towns. As I’m watching rainy farmlands in my peripheral vision, listening to this beloved story, I couldn’t help but ponder Scripture alongside the story (nice work, John Ronald Reuel). Every time Frodo is faced with Black Riders (if you aren’t familiar, they’re exactly what you would expect), he always desires to put on the Ring. The way that Tolkien describes this temptation speaks true with nearly any sin; here Frodo is hiding from a Black Rider, and is tempted to partner with evil,
A sudden unreasoning fear of discovery laid hold of Frodo, and he thought of his Ring. He hardly dared to breathe, and yet the desire to get it out of his pocket became so strong that he began slowly to move his hand. He felt that he had only to slip it on, and then he would be safe. The advice of Gandalf seemed absurd. Bilbo had used the Ring. ‘And I am still in the Shire,’ he thought, as his hand touched the chain on which it hung.
This narrates so many moments of our lives. You’re stressed, afraid, depressed, angry, oppressed, abused, frustrated, or lonely. Every bit of Truth that you know seems to become foolishness. Pride, drugs, alcohol, pornography, bitterness, pre-martial sex, malice, hatred, prejudice, all of these things seem so appealing to take part in, like for a moment, we’ll be “safe” from our pain or struggle. We believe getting high or drunk will distract us; that pre-martial sex or pornography make us feel wanted or less alone. We take part in communities of hatred and prejudice, because we believe we are safe under the umbrella of our political party or social justice group. We cope with the sin of this world with more sin.
In the face of darkness, we choose darkness itself.
In the house church I am part of (read: while with my second family), we wrestled in 1 John 1, asking what the difference between “walking in darkness” and sinning while in the Light. I think Tolkien paints this really beautifully. Though there are beings of various kinds that are all under “the Enemy” and are enslaved to the Ring, this does not make Frodo one of them when he desires to slip on the Ring, or even when he chooses to in weaker moments. So it is with us as Christians. We are not enslaved to sin anymore, we walk in the Light. When we do fall, giving into temptation, we are covered in grace, not thrown into the darkness.
Paul puts it this way in Titus 2:11-13,
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ[.]
It is grace that brings salvation. It is grace that trains us to turn away from the darkness. It is grace that teaches us to live holy lives. It is grace that helps us wait in hope. It is grace that allows us to appear as the glory of God the Father and Christ Jesus.
In the Lord of the Rings, when Frodo chooses darkness in the face of it, he is not rebuked harshly, but the common grace of his companions, literally at times, carries him through because they believe he is more than his falling into temptation, instead he is the Ring Bearer.
When we choose to partner with the darkness instead of choosing Light, it is grace that brings us back to the road of Light. So often it is easy to believe we must first take care of our pride, our lust, our addictions before we can be “right with God.” This is just not true. We cannot do this on our own. It was grace that reconciled the relationship between the girl I responded to maliciously. It was grace that brought my teammate out of self-pity and into servanthood.