Tolkien & Predestination

J.R.R. Tolkien was a Roman Catholic who, like G.K. Chesterton, had no love lost for Protestants or for the Reformation. Yet, despite his Roman Catholicism there is a strong strain of Reformed Predestinarian thought in his Trilogy. There are several places where this explicitly reveals itself,

I.) In the “Fellowship of the Ring,” Frodo inquires of Gandalf how it is the ring came into Frodo’s possession. Gandalf’s response reveals a hint of high Reformed decretal predestinarian theology,

“Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.” (1.2.116)

II.) In the second explicit instance of predestination peeking through the works of Tolkien, we find Elrond recognizing that some reality higher than himself has summoned those who were in attendance at Elrond’s War Council

“The Ring! What shall we do with the Ring, the least of rings, the trifle that Sauron fancies? That is the doom that we must deem. That is the purpose for which you are called hither. Called I say, though I have not called you to me, strangers from distant lands. You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance as it may seem. Yet it is not so. Believe rather that it is so ordered that we, who sit here, and none others, must now find council for the peril of the world.”

III.) The third explicit reference is woven all through the Trilogy and indeed forms one of the major themes of the Tolkien’s literary labors. This work of predestination has to do with the role Gollum (Smeagol) plays in the destruction of the ring. Several times throughout the novels (including the Hobbit) the death of Gollum is toyed with. Bilbo stays his hands in the Hobbit. Samwise resisted the urge to strike down Gollum. The sparing of Gollum’s life becomes part of a significant dialogue between Frodo and Gandalf,

“It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance.”

“Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.”

Likewise the predestined end of Gollum is hinted at Elrond’s War Council at Rivendell. Upon learning that Gollum has been freed from the captivity of the Wood Elves Gandalf says,

“Well, well, he is gone. We have no time to seek for him again. He must do what he will. But he may play a part yet that neither he nor Sauron has foreseen.”

Indeed, someone who is Reformed who reads the Trilogy has the sense that the story is one long series of predestined happenstance. The Ring comes to Bilbo who passes it to Frodo. Frodo leaves just in the nick of time before the Ringwraiths arrive making inquiry into his whereabouts. Merry falls prey to the Barrow-wights only to lay claim to one of the few weapons that could be used to eventually injure the chief of the Nine — an injury that sets him up for a death blow from a woman who should not be on the Battlefield. The different parties find themselves in Elrond at just the right time though no one has “arranged” the Council. Boromir tries to take the ring which puts Frodo on the path that had to be taken in order to destroy the Ring. Merry and Pippin are captured by orcs in an event that will eventually trigger great movements in the story line.

Over and over again the story line in the Trilogy is merely the unfolding of a predestinarian sequence. This is so true that even the tragic events are incorporated to move the story along to a predestined end. Denethor goes mad thus removing the Steward from Gondor so that the King can now reclaim his throne. Gollum leads Frodo and Samwise to Shelob’s lair where Frodo is brought low by Shelob’s fang and yet in the doing of this evil Frodo and Samwise find a path into the dark land.

Tolkien’s use of predestination does not negate though the free will of his characters. They do what they cannot help but do and yet they do so because their free will moves them to that end. Boromir freely practices his treachery and yet that treachery is caught up in a larger predestined plan to move to a predestined end that is both anticipated and unanticipated at the same time.

There is something refreshing in reflecting on how Tolkien mutes the role of predestination in his Trilogy while at the same time having that predestination as being central to the novel’s movement. Tolkien’s predestination comes in the context of characters who emphasize repeatedly the necessity to be faithful to the task they are called to regardless of how dark the situation is. This predestination of Tolkien’s does not negate the peril of the situation but it does provide the sense that regardless of what outcome is ordained the role of Men, Hobbits, and Elves is to be faithful to the task at hand. None can see the definitive end of what the predestined plan is (even if their is a nebulous sense of the reality of a ordained plan) but all must understand that they must play the part assigned to them regardless of the opposition or the incredible odds against success.

I would submit that Tolkien’s trilogy gives a pretty fair reading of the concrete impact of the Reformed truth of Predestination is to have upon those who embrace the Reformed faith.

“All” in Romans 5:18

Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

Now were we to take this as some would we would have to embrace a Universalist doctrine. We would be forced to say that as the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life therefore all men are justified. This of course proves too much. Orthodox Christians understand that other Scriptures clearly don’t allow for Universalism and therefore by comparing Scripture with Scripture we don’t believe this text is teaching universalism although some might think that is the face value of the text.

Neither can we get a Hypothetical universalism out of this text. There is nothing in Romans 5:12-21 that would indicate to us that Jesus only made Justification hypothetical or only possible. For example vs. 16 says the free gift resulted in justification. Vs. 16 does not say that the free gift resulted in possible justification. What Christ accomplished on the Cross was justification for His people, not a hypothetical justification for a hypothetical people.

We would note that Rm. 5:18-19 is a conclusionary statement summing up what the Apostle has set out in vs. 12-17. That which the Apostle has set out in those verses is the relationship between Adam as a Federal Head and all those in Him and the relationship between Christ as a Federal head and all those in Him.

Note vs. 16 — Judgment from one offense resulted in condemnation. To whom does this Condemnation apply? Well to all who are Federally united to the First Adam (cmp. vs. 12) Meanwhile the Free gift results in Justification. To whom does this Justification apply? Well for all who were and are Federally united to the Second Adam.

Now we turn to the word “all” in Romans 5:18

Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation;

I would say given the way the Apostle’s argument has developed in 12f that the first “all” is inclusive of all those who ever were Federally united to Adam. (Which means everybody since, “In Adam’s fall we sinned all”)

continuing in Romans 5:18

“even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”

Similarly I would say given the way the Apostles argument has developed in 12f that this second “all” is an all that is just as inclusive as the first all, with the understanding that it is referring to the “all” that are Federally united to the Second Adam.

So, the word “all” is the first instance is referring to the all who have been united to the First Adam. While the second all is speaking of a different all, to wit, all those united to the Second Adam.

So, the word all here does not apply to the same grouping of people but still is appropriate given that it applies to the total that is related to each Federal Head (Adam and Christ respectively). All of this is supported by the main thrust of the Apostle’s analogy. To wit, that there is a parallel between Adam and Christ in that condemnation and justification are the direct fruit of their disobedience and obedience. To say that all bore the fruit of condemnation from their Federal relation to Adam and that all might only possibly bear the fruit of justification by their possible relation to the Second Adam completely deconstructs the Apostles analogy. Being Federally united to Christ had consequences that were never merely possible just as being in Adam had consequences that were never merely possible.

Feasting & The Kingdom

Genesis 2:15″The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

In paradise God provided man with a feast. We see in paradise all the reason for revelry. God’s presence, companionship, food and drink. Feasting and festivity was the order of the day in paradise. However, man’s feast becomes gluttony when he feasts from the one tree he was told to fast from and in that disobedience paradise is lost and man goes from feasting to fasting.

After the Fall, what we often find in Scripture, is that wherever the curse is being lifted feasting is the order of the day. When the Hebrews are oppressed and are delivered from the barrenness of Egypt they were promised a Feast — a land flowing with Milk and Honey. When the Temple is built its walls were carved with Cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. The feasting of Paradise is recalled as God’s people traversed the Temple.

Yet, on the whole, the Old Covenant was a time of fasting and not feasting. The Messiah had not yet come and so fasting is front-loaded in the Old Covenant. This is why John the Baptist is characterized as one who came neither eating nor drinking wine. John belonged to the Old Covenant and as such was given to the fast and not the feast.

However with the coming Christ what we find is the coming of the feasting one.

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

And with the coming of the Messiah – the feasting one — the curse is reversed. The fact that the curse is being lifted with the ministry of Christ is seen in the reality that the first Miracle of Christ at Cana of Galilee is preformed in the context of a wedding feast. The curse is lifted, paradise is being restored, and so the feast is to commence. There is no other more fitting place for Christ’s first miracle then at a Wedding feast.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Son returns and a feast occurs. This reminds us that feasting is to be the norm whenever God turns us back to Himself. Further in Matthew 22 we find the parable of the Wedding Banquet where we are explicitly told that the Kingdom of heaven is like a King who prepared a wedding banquet.

Every time God’s people gather around the Table of the Lord, it is not only a time of sobriety but it is a time of mirth and feasting for Christ has set us free from the barrenness and fasting of our sin and guilt and by His Spirit and through faith we feast on Christ who is the bread from heaven. At the table we feast because the curse has been overturned.

Finally, we are reminded that the Lord Christ promised that He would not drink of the vine again until the Wedding feast. There remains yet before us a feast of unimaginable vastness when sin is finally done away with forever and the curse, which has been reversed in principle, is finally reversed in totality. This Wedding Feast is explicitly taught in Revelation 19.