The Gospel According to The Lord of the Rings: Week 44, The Bondage of the Will

The story now turns back to Frodo and Sam. When we return to them we find them lost in the tricky, difficult, and confusing terrain of the Emyn Muil. There, Gollum comes into view to finally take his place in the story, offering to lead Frodo and Sam to the gates of Mordor.

It's been a long time since Gandalf and Frodo talked about the "pity of Bilbo" in the Shire. But the ripple from that pebble thrown into the pool of history has now reached the shore. The fate of Middle Earth now depends upon the intimate drama that will play out between Frodo, Sam and Gollum. After the grand sweeping events in Rohan and Isengard, the story now gets very small as we journey closely with these three into darkness.

The drama is also more psychological and spiritual as we behold the struggles of Frodo and Gollum. We find Gollum to be a nasty, loathsome creature, but broken as well, so broken Frodo also shows pity. And with Gollum's proximity to the Ring we observe his enslavement to it as he comes to serve Frodo as the "Master" of the Ring. And we also bear witness to the struggles of Frodo as he carries the Ring closer and closer to Mordor. The weight of the Ring grows materially but, more importantly, spiritually and psychologically. Sam starts to worry as he watches the changes come over Frodo.

In Christian theology there is a notion called "the bondage of the will." Martin Luther wrote a whole book about it, but the idea goes back to Augustine and St. Paul. There are ways in which our will becomes corrupted and broken. The sickness and rot of sin goes deep, affecting our ability to make healthy, virtuous choices. As Paul describes in Romans, we want to do the right thing but we cannot. The will is in bondage. The issue is less about making bad choices--what we coulda, shoulda, woulda done--than moral incapacity, even futility. We're stuck.

Going forward, as we witness Gollum and Frodo's struggles with the Ring, this bondage of the will becomes the focal drama at the heart of the story. The decisive events will be internal and interior. Will Frodo and Gollum eventually succumb? And if they do, how can anyone be saved?

I'm assuming you know how the story ends. Today I'm just drawing our attention to the theological drama that now takes center stage in the narrative, how we, over many, many pages, begin to watch the Ring work on the wills of both Frodo and Gollum, a profound meditation on sin working at a very deep psychological level.

Sin is more than making a mistake or "missing the mark." Sin is a slavery that penetrates to the deepest recesses of our being. And as Tolkien helps us see, it's not a pretty picture.

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