Summary: Loving our enemies? Don’t payback evil with evil? What is going on here? Have you christians lost your mind?! We’ve gotta get even, haven’t we?
I have a confession to make. Some of you are already aware of what I am about to reveal, but to most of you it will be a new insight into my character. It is not a sin that I am going to confess, but an obsession. I am, right now, at this point in my life (when you would think I had grown out of such things) obsessed with “The Lord of the Rings”. The book was one of the great literary achievements of the twentieth century and the movie is already one of the great cinematic achievements of the twenty first.
Did you know when Britain’s Channel 4 conducted an opinion poll in 1997 that LOTR was voted the greatest book of the century? Did you know that when Amazon.com did a global survey in 1999 LOTR was chosen as the greatest book of the millennium?!!
Well, I’m not sure that on literary grounds it deserves quite such high praise, but I love it anyway. And I think the movie of the first part of the trilogy is something special, too. I saw it 8 times and think it deserves every one of its 13 Oscar nominations. (PS – and am annoyed that it didn’t eventually win! Fingers crossed for The Two Towers this year. My obession continues. WB, February 2003. PPS - ah well, perhaps Return of the King, which has already won the Critics’ Choice award. WB January 2004.)
Did you know that the author of LOTR, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, was a Christian? Oh, there are a lot of Sydney Anglicans who would argue that he wasn’t really, because he didn’t write plainly about the gospel in his fiction and that true Christians would be more bold in their proclamation. But he professed Christ as saviour, and he played a part in CS Lewis (who Sydney Anglicans have few doubts about) in becoming a Christian, so I’m going to stand by the affirmation that Tolkien was one of us.
I also stand by it because there is so much of the Christian gospel in the story of LOTR. It is not there in an obvious way, and many of his fans get annoyed when Christians “read all that religious stuff into it” as they say. But the gospel is there if you look.
My talk tonight is not about LOTR. However, it is relevant because one of the themes of the story illustrates our passage from Romans 12. There is a scene in LOTR when Frodo and Gandalf are talking about Gollum. In the movie it is set in the mines of Moria, but it happens a lot earlier in the book and from there I quote:
“What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature when he had the chance!” says Frodo.
“Pity?”, says Gandalf. “It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity and Mercy, not to strike without need. That’s why Bilbo was not harmed by the Ring, because he began his possession of it with Pity.”
“I can’t understand you,” retorts Frodo ….. “Gollum deserves death.”
“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the wise cannot see all ends.”
This conversation between the wise old Gandalf and the young hobbit – indignant that the creature that had tried to kill his uncle and had now betrayed them all to the Dark Lord, Sauron, was still alive – echoes the words that Paul wrote in Romans 12:17 ff. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil ….. do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
As we look at the key teachings of this passage, let’s remember the context. Romans 12 presents the idea of Christians being people who are transformed; whose minds are being renewed so that we may live in conformity to God’s will, not the pattern of behaviour in the world around us. We have already seen, in earlier sermons I preached on Romans 12 last year, that this isn’t easy. It involves thinking about ourselves with sober humility, not high and mighty; it involves sincerely loving others, seeking what is best for them and never giving up no matter what comes along.
And now we see that it also involves loving our enemy! Not just loving our friends, our family, those who care about us and love us, but loving those who do us wrong!
This is definitely not the pattern of the world around us. Ever seen that bumper sticker that says, “you toucha my car I scratcha you face”? Doesn’t that sum up the common attitude in the world that says that payback is the way to go? You hurt me and I’ll get you back.