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Acts 21, The Will of God, and a Literary Example

May 2, 2022 Comments off

I haven’t posted here at this blog lately, because instead I’ve been writing articles around a different theme, at a new blog site.  For those who are interested, visit my posts at https://ourblessedhope.wordpress.com.  Our Blessed Hope:  Thoughts on Imaginative Christian Writing (particularly J.R.R. Tolkien so far).

The following is a sample article — also at this link.

A recent Sunday sermon was on Acts 21, and in this incident, especially verses 11-14, I was reminded of a similar illustration from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers  — and Faramir’s last words with Frodo.

These verses in Acts 21 tell of when the prophet Agabus visits and makes a “bad news” prophecy, that trouble awaits the apostle Paul in Jerusalem:   the Jews of Jerusalem would bind Paul and hand him over to the Gentiles.  The people, on hearing this, plead with Paul not to go to Jerusalem.  But Paul insists on going to Jerusalem, proclaiming his willingness to be bound and even to die in Jerusalem, and then the people accept this, saying “The Lord’s will be done.”

As harsh as Paul’s experience ended up being, Tolkien’s picture of a similar type of thing appears to be of even worse circumstances —  with great details to engage the reader and to strongly identify with the characters.   This illustration in turn can give us a greater appreciation of the actual trials experienced by the apostle Paul.

In the Middle-Earth event, the place is that of known danger, of some great, ancient evil — Cirith Ungol.  Frodo at first does not know its name, and can only describe the general direction and path of this entrance into Mordor that Gollum has described.  Faramir plays a role similar to Agabus and the people who heard Agabus’ prophecy:  first, in the prophecy of extreme danger, and then — like the people who heard Agabus — strongly advising Frodo not to go there.  Yet, like the apostle Paul – and in a way that both Jesus and Paul in Christ’s steps showed us — Frodo keeps to the will of God (as pictured in the Council of Elrond, and the great task that he must accomplish).  After giving the warnings to Frodo, and seeing Frodo’s determined choice and willingness to his work, Faramir — like the people who accompanied the apostle Paul, in similar effect did the same:  Since he would not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Lord’s will be done.”

It is this feature in Frodo’s character, as well as later events that happen to him, that is in mind when Frodo is commonly referred to as the representation of the Priestly Office of Christ — along with Gandalf the Prophet and Aragorn the King, for the types of Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King in Tolkien’s epic work.  A few excerpts for consideration, from the scene in The Two Towers:

‘Frodo, I think you do very unwisely in this,’ said Faramir. ‘I do not think you should go with this creature. It is wicked.’

‘You would not ask me to break faith with him?’ ‘No,’ said Faramir. ‘But my heart would. For it seems less evil to counsel another man to break troth than to do so oneself, especially if one sees a friend bound unwitting to his own harm. But no – if he will go with you, you must now endure him. But I do not think you are holden to go to Cirith Ungol, of which he has told you less than he knows. That much I perceived clearly in his mind. Do not go to Cirith Ungol!’ … …. Of them we know only old report and the rumour of bygone days. But there is some dark terror that dwells in the passes above Minas Morgul. If Cirith Ungol is named, old men and masters of lore will blanch and fall silent.’

Then a further plea:

It is a place of sleepless malice, full of lidless eyes. Do not go that way!’

Frodo’s response:  ‘But where else will you direct me?’ said Frodo. ‘You cannot yourself, you say, guide me to the mountains, nor over them. But over the mountains I am bound, by solemn undertaking to the Council, to find a way or perish in the seeking. And if I turn back, refusing the road in its bitter end, where then shall I go among Elves or Men?  … ‘Then what would you have me do?’

Faramir: ‘I know not. Only I would not have you go to death or to torment. And I do not think that Mithrandir [another name for Gandalf] would have chosen this way.’

‘Yet since he is gone, I must take such paths as I can find. And there is no time for long searching,’ said Frodo.

‘It is a hard doom and a hopeless errand,’ said Faramir. ‘But at the least, remember my warning: beware of this guide, Sméagol. He has done murder before now. I read it in him.’

Faramir’s final words on this subject:

He sighed. ‘Well, so we meet and part, Frodo son of Drogo. You have no need of soft words: I do not hope to see you again on any other day under this Sun. But you shall go now with my blessing upon you, and upon all your people. … If ever beyond hope you return to the lands of the living and we re-tell our tales, sitting by a wall in the sun, laughing at old grief, you shall tell me then [Faramir’s questions about Gollum, and how Gollum had been involved with possessing the great ring of power]. Until that time, or some other time beyond the vision of the Seeing-stones of Númenor, farewell!’

An important element in both the Bible story in Acts 21, and the similar type of event in Lord of the Rings, is that the main character, the protagonist, is heading into great danger.  For Paul it certainly meant bonds, being whipped and physically abused, and (for all he knew) death.  For Frodo it meant likely death, and indeed we see in the later events, that Frodo (again similar to Gandalf and Aragorn) did experience a type of death  that is like to the real sufferings of Paul as well as Christ.

Yet, when Agabus gave that prophecy to Paul, nothing in the prophecy itself indicated to the recipient (Paul) that he should thus change his course and direction, and avoid the place that would provide such a negative experience.  A common life saying I’ve heard from a local acquaintance goes something like, “if I knew the place where I would die, I would avoid that place like the plague.”  Such is our natural reaction, to avoid pain and suffering.  But the call of God on the life of a Christian, as shown in the 1st century experience of the apostle Paul, and shown for us in the best of tales and epic sagas, takes precedence.  As Elisabeth Elliot observed (see previous post), the great heroes went on their adventures, facing great difficulties, because of the promise of great reward.  Paul the apostle certainly had this heart, knowing the love of God which constrains us, with a willingness to suffer, since (Romans 8:18) our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the future glory.  Frodo, too, realized the importance of carrying out his mission — to destroy the evil works of Sauron the Dark Lord, to bring peace and safety and happy lives to the people of Middle Earth, to free them from their fears and the threats and bondage of Sauron.