A few weeks ago, the family watched the middle installment of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy – The Two Towers. I hadn’t seen it in a long time but with my son taking an interest in reading and re-watching J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, I couldn’t help but jump in again!
What struck me this time was the heaviness of Frodo’s journey in carrying the one ring to Mordor. He,of all the Middle Earth inhabitants, was charged with an enormous task and as he approached the evil of Mordor, it became apparent that the task might overwhelm him. Much like the Christian life and the weight of sin that we all carry, it can feel overwhelming. In some ways, the ongoing presence of sin in our lives can discourage, defeat, and even overwhelm as we forget about the work of Christ on the cross.
Peter Jackson’s movie pictures how important Frodo’s relationship was with Samwise Gamgee. He is there not just for moral support but to protect Frodo from harm. He is there to walk with him in the perilous journey toward an unknown fate as well as provide company. One of the best scenes is when Frodo says in despair, “I can’t do this Sam”. Samwise responds,
“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”
This is what happens in Life Groups as we come up alongside each other to encourage each other. That word “encourage” means, “to breathe courage into another”. Courage, as a virtue, according to Thomas Aquinas (the great medieval Doctor of the Church), is not so much bravery in battle but rather about enduring and moving forward in life in light of Christ’s victory. In this way, courage is “leveled” in that it is common person’s virtue and not just for the warrior elite.
So the real question is, who “breathes courage into you” along the journey when the heaviness of your dark sin weighs you down? Who is by your side urging you on when life feels like a dead end? More importantly, who stands by your side and points you to the gospel? Maybe the bigger question is, who do you let into your life to play this part? If you’re the one telling yourself to take courage, this leads to a great conflict because it’s you who is also telling yourself it’s not worth it. We all need others in our lives to tell us that “even the darkness will pass” and to keep moving forward toward God, not away from God, because of a robust gospel. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together,
“Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself, he cannot help himself without belying the truth.”