The Gospel According to The Lord of the Rings: Week 2, "Something Else at Work"

It might seem strange to hear Fleming Rutledge say that The Lord of the Rings is a book about God. Because on the surface at least, Middle Earth is godless and irreligious. The world isn't Christian, but neither is it pagan. There are no references to deities. There is no worship, no religious rites, rituals, or sacrifices. No prayers or petitions to God or gods.

To be sure, the metaphysics of Middle earth are explored in The Silmarillion. But the drama of The Lord of the Rings takes place largely within a metaphysical vacuum. And that vacuum, says Rutledge, creates a blank canvas upon which we might detect the actions of God.

One way to see this, for Rutledge, is to contrast the metaphysics of The Hobbit with The Lord of the Rings. And it's a good place to start this series as The Hobbit functions as the prequel to The Lord of the Rings.

Two things strike you about the metaphysics of The Hobbit in contrast to The Lord of the Rings. I'll talk about the first contrast this week and the second contrast next week.

The first contrast is the emphasis on chance and luck in The Hobbit in contrast to The Lord of the Rings. Consider how Bilbo finds the Ring in The Hobbit. He's crawling around in the dark and by chance puts his hand on top of the Ring. Nothing more is said about this discovery from a metaphysical perspective. Thus, the reader is lead to believe that this discovery is simply good fortune, a lucky break. A significant bit of fortune, no doubt, but a chance happening nonetheless. And we find similar examples of Bilbo's good fortune and luck throughout his adventures in The Hobbit.

But a metaphysical change occurs in the Lord of the Rings. Fortune and luck give way to a guiding providence. Rutledge highlights this change in the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings "The Shadow of the Past" when Gandalf is sharing with Frodo the history of the Ring and Bilbo's discovery of it:
"There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The Ring was trying to get back to its master...It abandoned Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire!

"Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker [the Dark Lord, Sauron]. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you were also meant to have it."
The emphases are in the original. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and Frodo was meant to have it. But how and why? Because, as Gandalf says, there was "something else at work," a mysterious, unnamed Power in the background working to thwart the power of Evil.

This reference to a background Power working to thwart Evil can be highlighted because of the metaphysical vacuum in The Lord of the Rings. We can see this Power at work because the heavens are empty in The Lord of the Rings. If the supernatural realm was busy and buzzing in The Lord of the Ring we'd miss the subtle acts--the still, small voice--of this background Power.

The "story about God" Rutledge finds in The Lord of the Rings is the drama of the providential working of this background Power. She calls it the "deep narrative" of The Lord of the Rings, and it provides a stark theological contrast with The Hobbit.

In The Hobbit, Bilbo finds the Ring by chance.

In The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo was meant to find it.

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