The Gospel According to The Lord of the Rings: Week 5, Three Powers in the Drama

Last week we reflected upon the power of the Ring and its relationship to Paul's theology of Sin: Sin with a capital S, as a dark power that overwhelms and holds the human will in bondage.

There's another perspective on evil that is shared by The Lord of the Rings and the Bible. This subject is something I dwell upon at great length in my book Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted.

Specifically, in our secular age, where belief in the supernatural is on the wane, it's difficult, even for many Christians, to give much attention or thought to what some call "spiritual warfare," our struggle against Satan. As Fleming Rutledge observes, for many Christians there are only two locations of power in our imagination. First, there is God's power, God's actions and activity. Second, there is our own power, human agency and effort. And that's it, there is God and there is us, and the drama of our spiritual lives is played out between those two powers, between humans and God.

But as Rutledge points out, there's a third power in the Biblical drama: the power of the devil. The spiritual drama of the Bible adopts what Greg Boyd has called a "warfare worldview." Our spiritual lives involve an element of struggle against dark forces at work in the world. C.S. Lewis, friend of Tolkien, has a quote I've used a lot to describe this struggle and how central it is to the Biblical drama:
Enemy-occupied territory--that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.
This is exactly the drama The Lord of the Rings gives us. Beyond the inhabitants of Middle Earth, and the providential "something else at work," there is a third power loose in the world seeking to overwhelm and subdue it, to bring everything into bondage. This third power has to be resisted and defeated. And while, yes, that makes for a great adventure story, it's actually a very accurate picture of the story the Bible is trying to communicate. In its vision of "enemy-occupied territory" and the drama of its "great campaign of sabotage," The Lord of the Rings can help Christians better understand their own story, how there are three powers always at work in our lives:

Human beings.


And the devil.

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