Traveling in Mirkwood: A tribute to God’s Grace

There is a scene in the Hobbit where Bilbo Baggins and the dwarven band of Thorin Oakenshield are found traversing through the forest of Mirkwood. This once beautiful forest is now under a heavy curse. The only way through this dark land is by following the path before them, for to stray to the right or the left (Josh 1.7; Prov 8.20) is to be caught in the clutches of despair and despondence. Those that stray from the path are confronted with the very real danger of being doomed. Death awaits all who under the curse, all who stumble along the way.

In the story written by J. R. R. Tolkien we find that this is precisely what happens to the would-be hero’s. Their heritage, strength and wit cannot save them (cf. 1Sam 2.9). Realizing just how dangerous the situation is before them, Biblo looks up towards heaven. The cursed trees shield the inhabitants of the land from the light. The light is a picture of salvation, for only in the light can one hope to find life. Bilbo’s struggling with an internal conflict between light and dark begins to climb the tree. When he reaches the top and breaks through the canopy of leaves, the rays of the sun hit his face. His mind is cleared and the way of life is fully revealed before him, for he now sees the path.

There is much truth hidden in this little passage of Tolkien’s work, and the way that Peter Jackson brought it to life on the big screen is helpful to those who have a hard time reading such tales; putting words into mental pictures. The curse of Mirkwood is very similar to the curse of the creation that we are living in. There is a path that has been placed before us. Someone has established the steps of life (Psa 37.23); of righteousness (i.e. the right way; Job 23.11). Unfortunately, we are all like Bilbo and the dwarven band of Thorin Oakenshield, we have all gone astray (Isa 53.6). The curse of death holds us in its grip (Eph 2.1-3).

Why was Bilbo able to recognize the predicament they were in, when nobody else could? How is it that Bilbo was able to identify the source of their salvation, their only hope of making it? What directed the heart of Bilbo to turn towards heaven and search for the light? That’s a very good question. It’s a question that we ought to be asking ourselves, when it comes to Jesus Christ. Why did any of us look to Him as our only source of salvation? Why is it that we yearn for and hope for His light to shine upon our ways, to reveal to us the path of life, to turn us to the path of righteousness?

Like Bilbo in the Hobbit, our heritage offers us no true advantage, our strength is not what prevails, and our wisdom does not deliver us…it is grace (1Cor 1.26-31). Grace is what turned the heart of Bilbo, just as grace is what turns the heart of fallen man. Grace is what enlightened his mind, waking him up to the danger. The curse worked against him making him forget where he had come from and where he was going. The curse sought to cover in a dark shroud the truth, but grace is what enlightened his eyes and changed the direction of his heart. Grace is what pointed him to heaven. And, grace is what caused the morning star to dawn in the deep recesses of his being.

  • But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christby grace you have been saved—and raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2.5-10; emphasis added).

Notice, where the emphasis lies in these verses (actually throughout the whole letter). Who’s responsible for making us alive in Christ? God. Who is responsible for the grace we have received? God. Who is responsible for raising us up from the cursed death we are all under by nature (v. 5; cf. Eph 2.1-3)? God. And yet, who is responsible for the faith we now have in him? God. The emphasis is on God. His work, His grace, His mercy, His love, His creative acts, His good-works, His kindness is the reason for the result, not the other way around.

We live in the valley of death (Psa 23.4; Job 24.17), but there are moments when God allows us to peak our head through the curses foliage and see the wonderful life He has promised us (Luke 1.79). So today, whatever it is you are facing, remember who it is that is God. If you are experiencing a moment of reprieve—what we might call a mountain experience of blessing—then praise Him. If you are experiencing some time in the valley, then praise Him for that too. For in both cases, the heart of those who believe are enlightened with the truth…all things good and bad are used to draw us closer to Him in whom we were created to be dependent on (Eccl 7.14; James 5.13). In both types of circumstances we learn how to better enjoy our Lord, our King, our God.