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August 31, 2010

At the close of Riddles in the Dark, we see Bilbo Baggins debating within himself whether or not to kill the wicked Gollum who blocked his exit to freedom out of the cavern-kingdom of the goblins. In the end Bilbo’s mercy wins out, and he leaps over his would-be killer, leaving him alive to follow his nephew Frodo years later on his journey to Mount Doom. In a conversation with Gandalf about the Ring he had been left, Frodo laments Bilbo’s decision to not kill Gollum. Gandalf wisely and prophetically warns Frodo that Gollum could have some part to yet play in the fate of the Ring.

As anyone who has read the books, or seen the movies knows, upon reaching Mount Doom, Frodo was unable to throw the Ring in the Fire. Instead he declares that the Ring is his, puts it on, and becomes invisible to Sam and Gollum. Frodo’s weakness is immediately counteracted by the burning desire of Gollum, who bights off his finger. In his madness and ecstasy over having the Ring once again, Gollum then falls into the Fire, saving Frodo and all of Middle Earth.

I recently heard about some of the early Saints and monastics of the Church and their struggle against the flesh and sin. They followed a very strict ascetic discipline and lived out great piety and holiness. This was all very instructive and inspiring, yet one of the things that stood out was an odd statement. The statement had to do with how the saints embraced their sin, and not despairing over it, in the sense that Paul says when we are weak, we are strong (2Corinthians 12:10). And again he said that at some point in his ministry, God sent him a messenger of Satan to buffet him, in order to keep him humble (2Corinthians 12:7).

These saints were not fools as St Paul describes in Romans 6, who would ask the question, “If God’s grace abounds, should we sin that God’s grace can abound even more?”. To be sure, they fled sin and struggled against it with all there might (in synergy with God’s grace). But they saw their weaknesses, their tendency for a certain sin, as part of what Jesus meant by, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” They were forced to run to the grace and mercy of God, and were therefore driven to the arms of their Loving God (in a sense) by the very sin that tends to separate us from Life. They ran to the God of mercy  in tears of repentance, asking for His mercy and for Him to purify and refine them.

In this way, Gollum is like a picture of our flesh and sin. It hounds us, follows us, and just when you think it’s out of the picture, comes back to attack you. Yet even in that attack, our very flesh that tends toward sin is “bitten” off of us, and so we come closer to salvation. God allows the shame of being unable to conquer the evil we do not wish to do (Romans 7), if we are willing to flee to His mercy, to eventually be our salvation. It’s almost paradoxical to think that our weaknesses can be our strength. Yet this is the wonder and beauty of our God. He will allow us to be scarred and maimed, so to speak, just like Frodo lost a finger. Not for the sake of harming us, but for our salvation and ultimate glorification. And in the end, just as Gollum fell into the Fire, so too will our sinfulness be burned away, never to bother or harm us again.

I think this is the idea of the blessing of being “poor in spirit” as our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ told us in His Sermon on the Mount. We pray after the Eucharist (not me yet, but you know the prayer) that the Body, Blood and Divinity of Christ would enter our bodies and burn away all sin, yet purify our souls and bodies.

Thank God for the “Gollums” that drive us in our weakness to the strength of our God’s grace, for though they afflict us for a short time, they hold no power over us. With St Paul we can rejoice, “O Death, where is they sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin… But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthinans 15:55-57)

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