Vessels of Mercy: God, Grace, and Gollum
- Friday, December 07, 2012
But no, Frodo will not. Because Frodo, dragged down heavily by the increasing weight of the Ring, sees his own pain amplified in Gollum. Frodo understands that to give up on Gollum would be to give up on himself. He doggedly holds to the belief that there must be a purpose to his sufferings, to Gollum's sufferings, and that redemption is still possible for anyone. When it comes down to it, in a story about hope, this is the hope that keeps Frodo going.
And indeed (LotR spoiler alert!), Frodo’s insistence on showing mercy to Gollum is brought to fruition. By the end of their journey, Frodo is nearly delirious with hunger, thirst, and weariness. He slips the Ring on, invisible, and tries to abandon the plan of destroying the Ring. It is only Gollum's reappearance that accomplishes the end of Sauron, for he attacks Frodo, bites off Frodo's finger (and the Ring with it) and falls into the molten volcanic crater.
Gollum had every chance to let the Ring go once It found a new bearer, but he chose to reject that freedom. Perhaps he was handicapped beyond accepting it. And in pursuing the Ring to his death, he ended up saving Frodo from the same awful corruption. Frodo ended up owing not only his life and sanity to Gollum, but also the fate of Middle-Earth.
In the end, and despite his many treacheries, it is for the best that nobody killed Gollum when they had the chance.
Tolkien knew that God gives us all the same choices, the same grace, the same chances to grant mercy. We may look at life circumstances and ask, "How could anything good come of such a situation, or such a person?" But we do not see as God sees. "Even the very wise cannot see all ends," is how Gandalf puts it.
Once upon a time in another dark cave, David would not kill his enemy Saul, even though it appeared God had delivered Saul into his hands, because he held to the fact that God had anointed Saul King over Israel. Likewise, Bilbo and Frodo assigned God-given value to Gollum’s personhood, realizing how that personhood had become twisted by evil, and refused to take the pitiable creature's life.
We can, every day, apply this lesson from David, Bilbo, Frodo, and The Hobbit. God desires obedience and mercy over sacrifice and judgment. And we can be obedient instruments of that mercy, if we so choose. As Gandalf, again, explains so well on behalf of J.R.R. Tolkien: "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment."
Publication date: December 7, 2012
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