Tag Archives: Gandalf

A Sage in the Story

A Sage in the Story (CaD Gen 14) Wayfarer

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
    who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Genesis 14:18-20 (NIV)

In all great epic stories, we encounter mysterious and oracular figures who Carl Jung labeled the Sage archetype. Sometimes these sages are ever-present in the storyline like Dumbledore in Harry Potter, Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, and Yoda in the Episodes I-III of Star Wars. Sometimes a Sage appears for a brief moment in the story, but their words and presence linger as an important thread of the story. In the original Star Wars trilogy of movies, the sage Obi-wan (“He’s just a crazy old man” Luke’s Uncle said of him) was physically present in the story for a relatively brief time, but his presence and words came back at important moments. Likewise, the Oracle played a crucial role in the Matrix trilogy, though we only saw her briefly on screen.

Remember: All great stories are reflections of the Great Story.

Genesis means “beginnings” and in it God establishes many things that are crucial to the Great Story He is going to tell through the final chapter of Revelation. In today’s chapter, we are briefly introduced to a mysterious figure, a sage character who appears on stage for a moment, but whose presence is dripping with foreshadowing in the larger Great Story which will only be come clear thousands of years later.

Abram, to whom God has promised to make a great nation, allowed his nephew Lot to choose the land he wanted. Lot chose what looked to be the land where the grass was greener for his herds, but it turned out to be a land full of violence, political turmoil, and war. Lot, his family, and his possessions are taken as spoils of war amidst the tumult. Abram, meanwhile, has prospered greatly where he settled and he goes on a successful rescue mission to recapture Lot and his family.

As they return, we meet the mysterious Melchizedek, King of Salem and priest of God-Most-High who blesses Abram, and Abram gives Melchizedek “ten percent of everything.”

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like much of a big deal, but in fact it is. Melchizedek will be an important figure in Jesus’ story. He is what scholars call a “type” or parallel of Jesus. A few things to note:

Melchizedek (meaning “Righteous King”) is King of Salem, which is a word related to peace and part of the more familiar Jeru-salem. Therefore, a “righteous king of peace.” Not only is Mel King, but he’s also priest of God-Most-High. We’re not even to the part of the Great Story where God prescribes to Moses the sacrificial system He wants the Hebrew people to use, but in that system the priesthood and the monarchy are two separate entities. Mel brings out to Abram a gift of “bread and wine,” which was a cultural tradition at that time, but the allusion to Jesus’ last supper can’t be ignored. King Mel is also priest of God-Most-High at a time before we have any knowledge that God was doing anything in persons outside the narrative we’ve been given, yet Abram acknowledges this mysterious King-Priest. He honors Mel with a tithe of everything which was a “king’s share” in that day.

Melchizedek will later make a brief and mysterious appearance in David’s lyrics in Psalm 110. This is ironic since God promised that it would be David’s throne that would be established forever, and through David’s line through which the Messiah would come. In this, God declares through David that the monarchy and priesthood would, once again, be interwoven in the Messiah as had been foreshadowed in the mysterious sage, Melchizedek in today’s chapter. As for the Mosaic sacrificial system? Well, “old things pass away, new things come,” yet what is new was established in the mystery of Melchizedek in the ancient past. The author of Hebrews brings clarity to how Melchizedek and Christ are connected.

So, what does this whole thing have to do with my life on this 20,254th day of my earthly journey? There are a couple of things that I’m contemplating in the quiet.

First, Melchizedek reminds me that I am part of a connected story. It is thousands of years between the events of Genesis 14 and the Jesus story. Yet, like all epic stories, you look back in retrospect to see how all things work together and are connected. This reminds me that I, and my story, are also connected to the Great Story in mysterious ways that I can’t see in the moment, but I believe I will one day stand on the other side and look back to see it revealed. This, in turns, inspires me to press on in the journey today.

Melchizedek also reminds me that God is at work in the lives and stories of others in ways that I don’t know nor can I comprehend. As I have progressed in my own journey I have increasingly come to acknowledge this fact whenever I encounter anyone. In those who have believed and received, God is actively engaged in weaving their stories into the Great Story. In those who have not, I believe God is actively engaged in drawing them in to Himself. I have also come to believe that their stories, even in their unbelief, antagonism, or passivity, are ultimately connected to the Great Story in ways I can’t humanly imagine. If I really believe this, and I do, then it motivates me to relate to every human being I encounter with grace, respecting that they are a person whom Jesus loves, and in whom Jesus is actively at work to draw them in.

And so, I enter this day, and this new work week, reminded that I and my life are connected to the Great Story in ways I can scarcely imagine, and believing that so is everyone with whom I will interact this day. And that should dictate the way I think, act, speak, interact and proceed.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Purposes and Implosions of Evil

“I will stir up Egyptian against Egyptian—
    brother will fight against brother,
    neighbor against neighbor,
    city against city,
    kingdom against kingdom.”
Isaiah 19:2 (NIV)

‘Yes, they quarreled, seemingly,’ said Sam. ‘There must have been a couple of hundred of the dirty creatures in this place. A bit of a tall order for Sam Gamgee, as you might say. But they’ve done all the killing of themselves.’
The Lord of the Rings, Book 6, Chapter 1

Evil falls prey to its own nature. That’s one of the themes that Tolkien threaded through his epic stories. Left to its own devices, evil implodes from its self-seeking appetites:

  • Several characters relented from killing Gollum and Gandalf even believed that Gollum had a part to play in the fate of the ring. Gollum’s insatiable lust for the One Ring was what ultimately saved Frodo and everyone else, while destroying both the Ring and himself.
  • In the Tower of Cirith Ungol Sam is able to find Frodo and rescue him because all of the orcs fought and destroyed each other. (see quoted passage above)
  • The orcs who took Merry and Pippin quarrel over their captives and their quarrel is leveraged by the hobbits to plot their escape.
  • Gandalf refuses to kill either Saruman or Wormtongue. In the end, Wormtongue finishes Saruman off himself.

I thought about this theme in Tolkien’s stories, and its caused me to think about my responses and reactions to evil that I encounter around me and in others. As a young man I was far more given to the notion of swift and final justice of any perpetrator of evil. The further I get in my journey the more I’ve come to appreciate that life is not always as simply black and white.

Even God, through the word of the prophets, makes it clear that sometimes the agents of evil unwittingly serve the greater design of the Great Story. In Isaiah’s prophetic messages to the nations in the past few chapters there has been a recurring theme of Israel’s enemies accomplishing God’s larger purposes. And, sometimes  implodes and devours itself.

Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement,” Gandalf says to Frodo regarding Gollum’s deserving justice. “For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

This morning I’m thinking about grand themes of good and evil, of mercy and justice. I would love for things to always be simple in the story telling and to avoid the messiness of the mystery. I would especially appreciate it as I apply these themes to my own life and relationships. Yet, my life journey has taught me that things are rarely that simple. The truth is that I would have quickly dispatched Gollum and considered it a just end, but then how would the larger epic have ended?

I’m left, as I am so often am, praying for wisdom and discernment. I’m trying harder than ever to suppress my natural eagerness to deal out judgement. I’m trying harder than ever to increase love in tangible ways.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

 

Top Five Things Wrong with “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

hobbit posterWendy and I went to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last night. As with all of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations, it is expertly done and an entertaining film in its own right. I will certainly see it again and will eventually buy it for our personal library. Nevertheless, there are reasons Tolkien purists will take issue with the film. Here is a quick list of my own personal head-shakers (Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen the film you might want to wait to read this list):

  1. In the book, Bilbo finds “the one ring” on his journey in a moment of good fortune, and it becomes a seemingly innocent and useful magic tool for an inexperienced burglar looking for an edge. Bilbo has no idea of the ring’s history or power. In fact, even in Bilbo’s old age Gandalf refuses to share with his old friend the truth of his precious find when Bilbo dismisses it as a trivial yet useful treasure he picked up on his journey there and back again. In Desolation of Smaug, the ring immediately has a menacing effect on Bilbo who seems to struggle with an inner moral choice whether to put it on or not. You won’t find that in the book.
  2. The introduction of the “she-elf,” Tauriel and the return of Legolas into The Hobbit narrative is perhaps the singlemost troubling element of sacrilege to the Tolkien storyline. The ludicrous development of romantic feelings between Tauriel and one of the young dwarves is beyond sacrilege. It’s an eye-rolling, “wtf” worthy element of ridiculousness.
  3. When Gandalf leaves Bilbo and the dwarves to journey to Dol Guldur he makes this strange journey up a mountain staircase and leap-frogs through some booby-trapped, video-game like passage way. I half expected him to run into Lara Croft, but what he finds there is simply Radaghast who comments “This is a strange place to meet.” Strange indeed. Silly, actually. It makes no sense whatsoever, is never explained, and doesn’t even fit into the rewrite of the story.
  4. In the history of Middle Earth, the journey Gandalf makes to Dol Guldur after leaving the company is a meeting of the White Council to attack the ancient fortress and send Sauron packing to Mordor in hasty escape. The filmmakers choose not to film this large scale battle (What?! Peter Jackson passes up the opportunity to show a protracted, large scale battle?! I guess he figured we wouldn’t want to spend another hour in the theater), and instead shows Gandalf the caged prisoner of the Eye. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
  5. I was shocked at how quickly the filmmakers move us through Mirkwood. In the book, the journey through Mirkwood is a marathon of adventure, but in the film it takes just a few minutes to get through the spiders’ webs to Thranduil’s dungeon, and then Bilbo makes quick work of getting the dwarves out of their cells and into barrel riding, white water action. Ents would surely bemoan this “hasty” treatment of the story, but Jackson wants to move us, post haste, to the Lonely Mountain where he can give us a very protracted (and completely made up) battle between Smaug and the Dwarves that allows Jackson and the Weta team to show off all of their CG wizardry. We have molten gold and a giant golden dwarf hastily made in Trojan Horse type trickery that surely has Tolkien rolling over in his grave.

Yesterday I was listening to The Tolkien Professor’s eight part lecture series on The Hobbit. He begins the series by stating his hope that Peter Jackson does not make The Hobbit into a movie because he knows the filmmaker will feel the need to make Tolkien’s whimsical children’s tale into an epic of Lord of the Rings proportions so that it will fit nicely as a prequel into the filmmaker’s own The Lord of the Rings adaptation. Professor Olsen was prophetic. I’ve provided only a short-list of the discrepancies you’ll find in the film. There are plenty more. Buy me a pint at the Green Dragon and I’ll gladly share a more complete list.

I am not purist enough to boycott the theater. As I mentioned at the outset, I found the film wonderfully entertaining. I understand that Jackson and his team are making movies to sell tickets and amass their own personal dragon hoard of gold. Beware, the greed of dwarves. Honestly, I believe that the filmmaker loves Tolkien as much as I do and, in the big picture, I understand that he’s introducing millions of people to Middle Earth who would otherwise have never have picked up the books. Good for him.

Now, a personal note to Mr. Jackson and his writing team: please leave me off the invitation list to Tauriel and Kili’s wedding.