After two long years without them, I have begun watching The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition trilogy. I used to watch all three in one sitting once every year, but I wasn’t able to last year (I completely forgot and no one I knew had them). Thankfully, though, Amazon.com exists. Enough said.
Brian, my roommate, and I watched as far as we could in one night, which was midway through The Two Towers for him while I stayed up through to the end. I love these movies because, although Tolkien did not intend the books this way, there are so many spiritual allegories and metaphors it’s not even funny. They’re very quotable movies. And one quote in particular had me up late after the movie was over, contemplating its deeper meaning.
If you aren’t familiar with the movies (especially The Two Towers), there is a particular group of creatures called the Ents. Their name derives from an Old English word for “giant,” which is also a reference to Anglo-Saxon folklore wherein the “ents” were giant, tree-like people. Such is the case in The Two Towers. What’s a little troubling about them in the movie, though, is that they are very slow and methodical in all things they discuss or do. So when there’s a decision needed to be made on whether or not they’ll go to war with the Orcs, it takes them quite a long time to decide. Merry and Pippin, Hobbits from The Shire, aren’t happy with their answer either.
“The Ents cannot hold back this storm. We must weather such things as we have always done.” (Treebeard)
“How can that be your decision?” (Merry)
“This is not our war.”
“But you’re part of this world! Aren’t you?”
What I found to be most interesting about the meeting of the Ents is that while they took forever to say “Good morning” and talk about two subjects, Helms Deep had fallen under attack. A massive 10,000-strong army of “reckless hate,” as Théoden (King of Rohan) described them, marched onto a small army of men and elves numbering no more than several hundred. One of the last kingdoms of men was about to be overthrown and send the fate of mankind spiraling down with it.
What I could not help but think about was how many times I have done the same – deliberating what I ought to be doing so that I can do what makes me comfortable? Or, in the case of the Ents, deny that my world and all its comforts is even threatened, let alone under siege, and keep “[weathering] such things” as I always have? While I believe spiritual battles are often dramatized more than they ought to be (where everything becomes “part of the war” and everyone uses war rhetoric), I can not help but point out the opposite – and as equally dangerous – side that denies a war is even happening.
No, I’m not really talking about literal demonic attacks or possessions; I’m talking about spiritual and emotional attacks as well. After all, are these not the ways in which we, especially Americans living in a “first world” country, suffer harm? Are not our scars hidden beneath us – beneath our pretenses, facades, and masks? Do we not seek to build an image rather than present ourselves as ourselves – showing our “true colors”?
As Merry pointed out to Treebeard, there is no escaping the war waging within the world. If you live within this world, you are then a part of it. If it suffers an attack, then whether or not you believe it, you suffer an attack as well. Just because it isn’t physical doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
Treebeard was fully awakened, though, when he traveled south to Isengard (one of “the two towers”), where Saruman the White Wizard ruled. There, Treebeard saw the devastation (or as some have described, “deforestation”) surrounding Isengard. It brought truth to C.S. Lewis’ famous quote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world,” (Problem of Pain, 91). Shortly after Treebeard saw the devastation to his people, the Ents marched to war.
I do not wish to sound as though I’m calling everyone to war. This would very quickly lead to the opposite extreme – where everything that ever happens in life is an “attack” of some sort. Certain things in life are often just a part of life itself – a side effect of living in a broken world. If we were to call everything war, then we might miss out on experience peace and joy and happiness. We must not allow ourselves to become war-hungry.
What then am I trying to say? It’s quite simple: Stay awake. Keep watch over yourselves to make sure you’re advancing God’s kingdom through love of Him and neighbor all the while protecting yourself and loved ones around you from the torments of the enemy. Jesus’ words regarding His return were not calling His disciples to a lifetime of war, but rather simply to “Be on guard, keep awake,” (Mark 13:33). We must not allow anything – cares of this world, our comfort zones, our guilt and shame – to distract us from the reality at hand: That two kingdoms are at war within our world – within ourselves – and we have no choice but to be a part of it.