J. R. R. Tolkien was a prolific English author who penned such works as The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, poems and many lesser known writings. A contemporary of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien often used dark, foreboding imagery as surrogates for social and political realities. While Tolkien died in 1973, his writings continue to speak to the ongoing struggle between good and evil. In 2003 The Lord of the Rings movie was released with the subtitle: The Return of the King. It was an instant classic with an engaging storyline and amazing visuals.
One of the most interesting character studies in the movie is Gollum aka Sméagol and his quest to retain possession of the ring he calls "Precious". Paradoxically, Gollum both loves and loathes Precious. The person who possesses the ring is endowed with wondrous powers - one of which is extension of life. But, this ability comes at a terrible price; Gollum loses his humanity. Gradually his appearance transforms to such an extent he becomes monster-like and a recluse. His outward appearance begins to mimic his inward transformation. Precious has completely possessed him; he has become its slave. When he loses possession of the ring, he will stop at nothing to get it back. As the movie ends, Gollum gleefully regains possession of the ring only to fall into a lake a fire still clutching the ring. The futility of his action seem ridiculous, but....
Tolkien has masterfully described the human condition. The truth is for each of us there is a Precious or Preciouses. Whether Precious takes the form of houses, cars, social status, sex, or jewelry, the truth is each of us will wrestle with something that wants to posses us. Like Gollum, we can become slaves to the things we once pursued. Our hearts gradually harden and our ears dull so that we no longer value our humanity or the humanity of others; we see people as tools and a means to an end.
Society reinforces the notion of "me first!" by rewarding those who trample on the less fortunate in an effort to get ahead. The people who do this are viewed as "go getters", "focused", and "up and comers". They write "self help" books and hold seminars on how we too can join this elite group. The old, the poor, the mentally ill or anyone who cries foul are not to be taken seriously; those people are parasitic. Our humanity can wait until Thanksgiving or Christmas; we'll deal with those people then. We have goals to pursue! Precious is waiting!
So, where does this leave us? As Followers of Christ, we know the return of The King is imminent. He might return today, tomorrow or a thousand year hence, but He is coming back. Despite what we may want to believe, they way we live our lives matters. On the Day of Decision, it will all come down to two things: what did for the Kingdom and how we treated others. Period. On that Day all the money on earth and Preciouses it afforded us will amount to little more than kindling in the lake of fire.
So what is it really comes down to is: Are you ready for King's return?
Amen and amen.