Temptation in The Lord of the Rings

Posted 12 Jul 2013

I’ve been listening to the audiobook of The Lord of the Rings, as I have been drawing & colouring Bible Cartoons (currently I am colouring Acts 08 – Philip & the Ethiopian eunuch – Scene 06 – In Azotus.)

Story Background
The story has got to Book 2: The Two Towers, & chapter 10, in which our heroes confront Saruman, the evil wizard. His lacky (Wormtongue) throws a Palantir (or seeing stone) which is picked up by one of the Hobbits (called Pippin) but quickly handed over to Gandalf (the good wizard.)

I have just been listening to the next chapter (11, The Palantir) which describes our heroes camping for the night & Pippins increasing curiosity about the seeing stone. The story describes how Pippin’s mind keeps returning to the mysterious stone & before long he has taken it from Gandalf in his sleep & steals it away. Pippin seems to know he is doing wrong, but something causes him to act against his own good sense & he looks at the stone. It turns out that the Palantir enables one person to communicate with another who has a similar stone, many miles away. Pippin sees the mind of Sauron (the Dark Lord), who holds another stone. It was Sauron’s mind that tempted Pippin, in his search for our heroes.

What struck me about this part of the story is how similar it is to our own deadly struggle, as Christians, with personal sin. There are several noteworthy points of similarity which I can see:

1) The danger of a little touch.
We only need to handle something (a dangerous, tempting thing) for a very short time, & yet even with that brief exposure, the seeds of longing for that sinful thing can be sown into our hearts.
In the story, Pippin only touched the Palantir for a few moments, yet it played on his mind & he was tempted (without even knowing it) to look at the seeing stone again, & that was the danger of the temptation to him.

We don’t have Palantirs, but there are equally dangerous things which we can see or experience in our 21st century world. Those evil or corrupting things which we allow ourselves to touch, can ensnare our minds & hearts just like poor Pippin with the Palantir. If we are not watchful, wary, careful, & keen to keep our faith-guard up, we can accidentally stumble upon something; we can “touch” something that is wrong & hurtful to us. Then that single touch can come back to tempt us time & again to return to that evil thing. Every return to that thing only weakens our resolve to resist it, & increases its hold over us.

Fortunately, in the case of Christians & temptation to do evil, our Lord & Saviour Jesus the Christ constantly offers us a way & means to reject evil, sin & temptation which we may find in our path. We don’t have to “touch” anything wrong or sinful that comes our way. And VERY wise is the person who listens to the Holy Spirit’s call to come away from the things which could ensnare us.

Even if we do not listen to the Holy Spirit’s wise council, & we do “touch” something inappropriate, it is still possible to repent (turn away from) of our folly, & return to the path of wisdom. We can turn away from the sin/wrong-doing, ask Jesus to sprinkle His cleansing blood upon us & our lives & be clean, spotless, sin-free once more.

Needless to say, it would NOT be wise to entertain that ensnaring, potent temptation again… “Once bitten, twice shy” as the saying goes! Better to put it behind us & shrink away from it, whatever it is.

2) The deadly dangerous thrill that precedes a terribly costly deed.
The story’s description of how Pippin feels, once he has stolen the Palantir from Gandalf is very enlightening, it reads, “He bent low over it [the Palantir], looking like a greedy child stooped over a bowl of food, in a corner away from others.”

Isn’t that exactly what it feels like when we have the “thing” within our grasp, even though through ignorance or recklessness we may even know that it is wrong to do what we are about to do?! This thrill that precedes doing wrong may even be what we seek, in an otherwise hum-drum life, & that in itself is a dangerous & beguiling snare to our passions & senses. We may well know that the “thing” is wrong. We may well know that it will do us no good. But the desire for strong feelings, or strong stimulation can itself be a terribly strong inducement to “touch” the thing in question.
Matthew 07 - Parable of wise and foolish builders - Scene 06 - Standing on the rock PB 140x144px col

3) The mind behind the temptation.
“Driven by some impulse that he did not understand, Pippin walked softly to were Gandalf lay … and drawn forward again, half against his will…”
Notice in this description from the story that there was a will other than Pippin’s that seemed to “force” him act. In the story it is the malevolent, powerful mind of Sauron (the evil Dark Lord of the story) who reached out to capture Pippin’s mind, for his own evil ends. That was the mind behind Pippin’s temptation to look into the Palantir.

In the same way, we have a deadly adversary (the Devil, or Satan & his host of evil fallen angels) who can place tempting things in our path, designed to unseat us from our faith & destroy our friendship with God. Such things are designed to ensnare our senses, emotions, thoughts & passions. Sauron in The Lord of the Rings is the equivalent of Satan in the real world, although J. R. R. Tolkien often said that he was not writing an allegory of our world. nevertheless, it is instructive to see the comparison in this case.

4)The lessons of sin.
Later on in the chapter of Lord of the Rings (chapter 11 The Palantir) Gandalf tells Pippin about the seven seeing stones & Pippin says, “I wish I had known all this before, I had no notion of what I was doing.”
“Oh yes you had, “ said Gandalf. “You knew you were behaving wrongly and foolishly; and you told yourself so, though you did not listen… But if I had spoken sooner, it would not have lessened your desire, or made it easier to resist. On the contrary! No, the burned hand teaches best. After that advice about fire goes to the heart.”
“ It does,” said Pippin. “If all the seven stones were laid out before me now, I should shut my eyes and put my hands in my pockets.”
“Good!” said Gandalf. “That is what I hoped.”

As Gandalf observed in the story, we too know in our hearts when we are doing right & when we are doing wrong. God has put morality into our hearts & we know when we err. We too can tell ourselves, but fail to listen, often to our own ruin.

But it’s not all bad. The Bible tells us that temptation & “the sin that so easily entangles” leads ultimately to death. But before that ultimate fate, we can (& should) learn from the mistakes of our sins, so as to turn aside from them & avoid that deadly end. As Gandalf pointed out, “… the burned hand teaches best. After that advice about fire goes to the heart.” Although God does not want us to dabble in sin, yet well He knows our temptations, & if a sin does not kill us instantly, then we can learn to avoid that particular sin, if we will listen. Just as a hand burnt by fire learns a stark lesson, so our own involvement in sin can teach us a life-saving lesson to avoid it at all costs.

God NEVER puts temptation in our path, even to teach us about sin. It is NEVER the purpose of God to put us in a situation where we are tempted to do wrong. However, since we do occasionally sin, there are positive lessons that God can teach us about it. In the end we will come to realise that “fire” is hot, & that if we stick our hand in it, we will be burnt! The ONLY way to avoid paying the cost of any sin (being burnt) is to avoid the sin altogether. Perhaps that is the best lesson to learn about sin.

Sin can & should be resisted & overcome.Acts 16 - Paul and Silas in prison - Scene 04 - Singing PB 200x203px col

It takes a strong mind & a resolute heart, coupled with Christ-focused spiritual “eyes” to avoid all the snares & schemes of Satan when we encounter them in our path. That is why we, as Christians, are encouraged to consider our Saviour; to “die to sin” & to put behind us those things which can cause us to stumble in our faith.

I’m sure we do indeed encounter sin-soaked snares of Satan now & again. We also have a “flesh” nature (also referred to in the New Testament as “the old man” or “old self”) which tends towards the wrong, rather than the right; towards sin & wrong-doing, rather than towards rightness. That nature & the internal struggle we Christians face is described by the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 7 [*1] “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” writes Paul… “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

As Paul goes on to describe, we have an “ace up the sleeve”, we have our Father God in heaven, who is constantly turning His love towards us; we have Jesus the Christ in heaven, who intercedes for us; & we have the Holy Spirit living within us, who is powerful & able to help us overcome ANY & ALL sinful behaviours. When we realise & recognise that the triune God is for us & not against us, then we can stand against the Devil’s schemes, & lead victorious, sinless lives.

The difference between Pippin & us.
Had Pippin (in the story of Lord of the Rings) been able to recognise the subtle, tempting mind (of Sauron) on his own will, he could have avoided the snare of the Palantir. But he couldn’t & didn’t. We Christians are very blessed indeed in that we have been born again, of the Holy Spirit. He is constantly guarding our hearts & minds & will help us to avoid sin, if we allow Him to direct us.

Romans 8:5 says, “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.”
So dwelling on sinful things will entice us to sinful behaviours. If, on the other hand, we want to avoid sinful behaviour then we must think about Godly, good things & avoid dwelling on sinful acts.

Paul explains the outcome of this mutually exclusive thinking in Romans 8:6, “So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”

Which would you rather have: a mind dominated by the sinful nature, leading to death, or a mind focussed by the Holy Spirit, leading life and peace?
If you’re a Christian, then the choice is yours.

If you’re not a Christian, then maybe it’s time to think about becoming one, so that you to can have a mind focussed by God, which leads to life, rather than death. Again, the choice (& the responsibility for your life’s outcome) is yours. Please email me if you want to become a Christian. I’m here to help.

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Romans 7:14-8:8 (NLT)
14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

Romans 8:1-8 (NLT)
1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. 3 The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. 7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.


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