God's sovereignty and Middle-earth


I’m a bit of a Lord of the Rings fan. The trilogy is my favorite movie(s), I’ve read the books (even better than the movie), and, thanks to Jeff Hoenshell, I’ve got the collectible PEZ dispensers. If find Tolkien’s writing exciting and moving, and that led me to read The Simarillion this Summer. It’s been called by many the ‘bible’ of Middle-earth, as it recounts the creation and early events of Tolkien’s imaginary world.

One thing you have to keep in your mind when you Tolkien is that his books are not an allegory for Christianity–in fact, Tolkien was not well pleased with such writing. He did, however, say that his writing was Christian. By that I think Tolkien means to say that much of the truths reflected in his writing parallel the truths of Christianity. I found one such truth–a glorious truth–in the first chapters of The Simarillion. Let me set up the quote for you.

The Simarillion begins with a creation narrative that uses song to capture what’s being done. Tolkien’s God figure, named Iluvitar, begins singing a song, called a theme, and tells his first created beings to make harmony with it. All these beings do so gladly, but for one. Melkor, the brightest, best and mightiest of those created, desired to sing his own song for his own glory and dominion. It’s hard not to think of Satan when you read this chapter. Satan, at one point a glorious angel created by God, in time wanted to sing his own song for his own glory. And so he rebelled, leading others to follow. Tolkien’s Melkor character does the same thing, and uses all his might to weave his own song of destruction and mistrust into the One theme. In the midst of this turmoil Tolkien’s God character stands us and says:

And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.

I smiled when I read that. Not for love of the story, but for love of the truth it parallels. There are many ‘why’ questions in the Bible. Why do the wicked prosper, why do the righteous die, why does the work of evil prosper, why hasn’t God stopped all this. I could go on, but all these questions and more have filled your mind at one point in your life. You know them. And the great truth that Tolkien parallels is that no work of man or Satan, no matter how evil it may be, alters the plan, the music of God. But more that than, in the great power and sovereignty of God, our King uses the evil works of Satan and humanity to serve his purpose. In the end, whether they like it or not, the wicked and their works are made to serve the one glorious song of God.

There are numerous historical examples of this. The fall of Adam, the tower of Babel, Joseph’s slavery, even Judas Iscariot. (A great book on this is John Piper’s short book, Spectacular Sins and their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ.) All these rebellious events God has made to serve his plan, his song. The greatest historical example of this is the death of Christ. Judas, Herod, and Satan did not act to praise God. The acted in selfishness, pride, envy, and lust. And yet, our God is big enough that he bent their will and their actions to serve his plan. Now that’s sovereignty! And in that truth is a cavern of comfort that we can and should mine all the days of our life. Oh, the joy that God works all things the council of his will, for the glory of Christ and the joy of his people!