19 Rings of Power, forged in the fires of Sammath Naur upon Mount Doom, were crafted for rulers of Middle-earth.
"Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,”
What appeared to be benevolence by Sauron was in fact intended to seduce these rulers to evil. Moreover, these rings would be subservient to one more ring that would be created by Sauron himself. The One Ring.
“One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”
Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely
If you are like me, you have probably seen ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy more than once. You don’t have to tell me how many times; no judgment here. One easy to pickup theme from this series is that the ring is a powerful force to wield. It changes all who possess it to some degree.
Sauron created and used the Ring in an attempt at gaining lordship over the entirety of Middle-earth. It was taken in battle from Sauron by Isildur, who passed up the chance at destroying it to instead wield it himself. He says of the Ring, “I will risk no harm to this thing; for it is precious to me, though I buy it with great pain.”
Isildur lost the Ring in the river at Gladden Fields. It passed briefly to Déagol who discovered the Ring at the bottom of the river bed. However, He was murdered over it by the Hobbit, Sméagol.
It is in Sméagol where we see much of the toll that possession of this ring takes on the wearer. The good and simple things about Sméagol’s life were replaced by obsession. He was unnaturally changed over time and became known as Gollum. Everything he does now is for the Ring. He believes it makes him happy. As it took Isildur, so now Gollum calls the Ring his ‘precious’.
What is Precious?
So why the fictional Middle-earth history lesson? Because this theme of power and obsession mirrors our own historical narrative in frightening parallel. As we all know, history tends to repeat itself when we disregard the lessons from the past.
We don’t need to look at Tolkien’s fictional world to see examples of the corrupting influence power holds. We actually don’t even need to look into the past to see it. We can look right now at the state of Australia, Canada, and to a lesser but still overly authoritarian extent, here in the US to see oppressive abuses of power.
We do, however, need to look at the past to see how history remembers the outcomes of such tyranny. This is where the lessons are. We often try to pretend that things are different today than they ever have been and atrocities of the past won’t happen here. But there is nothing new under the sun. What is precious to a few, all too often becomes the burden of many.
The powerful elite (and those who are in their favor) seem almost blinded to the effects their growing power has on others. But it only seems that way. In reality, I believe it is not blindness but arrogance; An emboldened arrogance that leads corrupt men to believe that what they want is more important than any collateral damage caused in the wake. The arrogant elite reward those who join and support them unwaveringly, and seek to silence and destroy the ‘foolish’ and ‘ignorant’ opposition. They will do anything to hold on to ‘the precious’.
This is why it is so dangerous to have morally corrupt men and women holding political offices. It has been a long-running joke that all politicians are corrupt. This is a joke that I find no longer funny. English philosopher Francis Bacon once said, “It is as hard and severe a thing to be a true politician as to be truly moral.” These ‘leaders’ need to be carefully and thoughtfully replaced.
This is not to say that there aren’t any good leaders left. There most certainly are. But for the most part, we are seeing top-down moral decay on display in our society like never before. At some point the people, should they have the strength to carry such a burden, must speak up and stand up for what is right.
Freedom is not free.
The ring eventually abandons all who possess it. Empires fall—often starting with very few dissidents. Opposition to tyranny can have harsh and even lethal consequences in some cases. It is not a mantle that many wish to bear but is one that is often necessary to preserve, or gain freedom.
When the ‘One Ring’ passed to Frodo, he said “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” Gandalf’s subsequent reply is remarkably observant, wise, and convicting. He said, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
We do not choose the situation in which we find ourselves. Yes, it is easy to lament and pine for the “good old” days. We can easily fall into nostalgic depression. But we should not fall into that practice. In Ecclesiastes, one of the wisdom literature books of the bible, we are told:
“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)
We are where we are. But where we are heading? Let the discerning mind surmise. What will we do with the time given to us? We need to refocus on what is important. It starts by recognizing that true power and wisdom belong to God. He is sovereign over all things good and evil. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.
While dictators rely on top-down edicts in attempts at controlling the masses, God uses bottom-up love to counter the world. This means that resistance starts with just one person, you (and me). We, sinners who have been redeemed, must remember what God through Jesus has done for us. The power of love that was shown at the cross is enough to break the curse of sin. The cross of Christ is greater than ‘the Ring’ of human power.
Frodo was called to bear the heavy burden of carrying the Ring. We also (should we stand with Christ) must take up our cross to follow Him. God does not take the burden of suffering for His sake away from us, but he does take the bigger burden of slavery to sin away.
For those who love and trust in Jesus, we can be comforted in knowing that this world is but a vapor. We need not fear. The bible says, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” There is nothing the powers of this fleeting world can threaten that can take our salvation.
Not until the end of Frodo’s journey do we see the Ring destroyed by fire; but for us, the work has already been done at the cross. Just as Gollum met the same fate as that which he held most dear, so will all who idolize and worship their own power face eternal separation from God. Let us pray that we do not treasure or place our hope in anything fleeting.
Also, we should not forget to pray for our leaders and the world. No one is beyond the reach of God’s mercy and grace (see Apostle Paul). In the bible, Timothy tells us to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” And if we find ourselves in a season of peace, praise God.
But when oppression and sin abound so that we are faced with crossroads of biblically informed conscience, let us not hesitate to take the road that is pure and good. Stand up for what is right. Let us cry out to the Lord for eyes to be opened to the truth. Ask Him for patience, faith, and strength. Finally, let us hold firm to our faith in Christ and boldly proclaim the Gospel to those around us.