Peace in Our Shire, War at the Door
ALAN EASON — We are in a time of national and global stress. At such moments we do well to look back to periods of equal or even greater distress to see how the wise and brave faced such times. It was a desperate time in the 1940s for the British people. World War II was raging and threatening to destroy Western civilization. Some British Christian thinkers of the mid-20th century knew that they must help pull their people from their comfortable homes and personal concerns to face the larger threat.
C.S. Lewis, a relatively new Christian convert and a professor at Oxford, broadcast a series of radio shows on BBC between 1942 and 1944 that later became the book Mere Christianity. The purpose of the broadcasts was to help the British people understand the difference between good and evil and to discern God’s purpose in the climactic battles raging against England at the time.
J.R.R. Tolkien, another Oxford professor and friend of Lewis, took another approach. He wrote about hobbits and the Shire in a three-part novel called The Lord of the Rings. Writing in stages for a decade (following his publication of an introductory novel, The Hobbit, in 1937) Tolkien described a great conflict engulfing a fantasy world and eventually threatening even its most comfortable and peace-loving inhabitants, the hobbits.
Tolkien insisted the novel wasn’t an allegory of modern times, but its applicability to the challenges of his day are unmistakable. In 1954, C.S. Lewis offered a revealing analysis of the novel in a book review titled “The Gods Return to Earth”:
Almost the central theme of the book is the contrast between the Hobbits (or “the Shire”) and the appalling destiny to which some of them are called, the terrifying discovery that the humdrum happiness of the Shire, which they had taken for granted as something normal, is in reality a sort of local and temporary accident, that its existence depends on being protected by the powers which Hobbits forget against powers which Hobbits dare not imagine, that any Hobbit may find himself forced out of the Shire and caught up into that high conflict. More strangely still, the event of that conflict between the strongest things may come to depend on him, who is almost the weakest.
As Lewis noted, the hobbits liked to eat, relax and live in their comfortable round homes with round doors. Their minds were on the Shire, their neighbors, their parties and their lives. They knew and cared little about the outside world.
Yet some of them were called to an “appalling destiny.” Although small compared to the other peoples of Middle-Earth, the hobbits would play a pivotal role in averting Middle-Earth-wide catastrophe and unspeakable evil.
It is a common theme in story, at least in the Western tradition since the advent of Christianity. The recently re-awakened Star Wars narrative tells such a story. Seemingly ordinary people living in remote corners of the galaxy are suddenly “called” into the center of a cosmic conflict. And, just like the hobbits, they do their duty and perform with great courage.
Such tales echo the deeper cosmic realities of existence. The Bible itself describes such realities in stories both true and dramatic. From Eden to Babel to Egypt, Persia, Rome and beyond — to the final book of the Bible, the story remains the same. There is something evil coming our way. God has sent His Redeemer to meet and defeat that evil permanently, and He calls ordinary men and women to stand up with Him and rise to the occasion to hasten its defeat.
Could it be that you and I, among others, though weak, seemingly insignificant and sometimes weighed down with numerous personal concerns, might be “caught up into that high conflict?” and called on to make a difference?
Very likely. The New Testament makes it clear that we, the church, are already doing battle with Hell itself, and Jesus reassures us that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) The apostle Paul reminds this same church that “the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
Friends, we are being called. The time is here. Life may not end up being what you thought it would be. But God is faithful and He has a plan for us right in the middle of all that we are seeing.
You may be interested in reading a similar article in The Stream written by my friend, Diane Singer: Are We Asleep in The Shire? — JRR Tolkien, American Sniper and a Life of Peace.