I have viewed two movies in two weeks, and that’s not a regular pattern for me. I’m more for books than films, but I was keenly interested in these two movies for obvious reasons. One was Exodus: Gods and Kings by Ridley Scott. The second was Battle of Five Armies, the final installment in The Hobbit trilogy produced by Peter Jackson. Exodus was originally written by Moses. The Hobbit was originally written by J.R.R. Tolkien. I went to see Exodus with my wife on a much needed date night last Friday. I went last night to the 10:30pm showing of The Hobbit with a group of young men from our church (our third year in a row). I enjoyed both movies, but perhaps The Hobbit more due to the theological train wreck of the theophanies in Ridley Scott’s rendition of Exodus.
The Exodus is a nonfictional story that contains sudden twists and turns of the miraculous. However, it was reduced in many ways to a fictional tale with naturalistic phenomenon. The Hobbit is a fictional story that in many ways communicates the truths of the most heart gripping nonfictional story the world has ever known. I left the theater after watching Exodus with a yearning to read the real story found in the second book of the Bible. I was reminded that all of the power and graphics of Hollywood can’t compete with the heart pounding story of redemption recorded in Exodus. I walked away from the theater early this morning with the reminder that imaginary tales of elves, wizards, orcs, dwarves, a fire breathing dragon, a mountain of gold, and a hobbit can purposely entice the heart and mind to search out the deeper meaning of life. This deeper meaning is filled with sudden providences, miracles, and the happy ending. Although this deeper meaning surrounds us, often it remains hidden in plain view begging to be discovered.
As we think critically about these stories, we must be reminded that we long for a good story. Our heart yearns for the happy ending. It is by nature that we want to experience what Tolkien coined as “eucatastrophe” – the “good catastrophe.” Tolkien explains eucatastrophe in “On Fairy Stories” as
the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium [gospel], giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
In many ways, Exodus and The Hobbit provide that for us. The record of the Exodus was written by Moses over 3,000 years ago. The story of The Hobbit was written in the 1930s as a children’s book. Yet, both stories have a modern relevance that appeals to children and adults. The relevance is centered in the message. Both contain the message of hope. Moses is the prophet that points us to Christ in the Exodus. The twists and turns of The Hobbit point us to the overarching providence of God to bring about the sudden and often veiled happy ending that seemed impossible. This is the message of the gospel. This is our hope. True hope transcends luck.
In the narrative of the Exodus, it wasn’t luck that brought the nation of Israel across the Red Sea on dry land. It was something far greater! God rules this world and the worlds that exist beyond the walls of this world. R. C. Sproul has accurately described the power of God, “There is no maverick molecule if God is sovereign.” Every drop of water in the Red Sea was under the transcendent sovereign control of YHWH. Although Ridley Scott appealed to luck, it was God who brought about the happy ending. In The Hobbit, Tolkien weaves into the story the theme of luck. However, he is merely using it as a teaching tool to bring home the heart of his message. Peter Jackson does a good job of capturing this in the final scene that came from the final page of the book as Bilbo and Gandalf converse.
“You don’t really suppose, do you,” the wizard asks the hobbit, “that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?” Gandalf continues, “You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” To this Bilbo replies with happiness and humility, “Thank goodness!”
We can learn much from a reluctant prophet deliverer named Moses. God intends for us to learn the story of redemption. God has also given us an imagination and gifted people such as J.R.R. Tolkien with an ability to harness this imagination in “fairy stories” to teach us lessons that far transcend the graphics of a movie screen or the pages of a fictional tale involving a strange footed short standing hobbit. Perhaps we can learn poignant lessons about “dragon sickness” or the importance of perseverance as we follow the story. The most important thing we can learn is the nearness of our ubiquitous God who exists in perfect strength and is able to bring about the happy ending, to vanquish the foe, to defeat the dragon, and to do that which seemed impossible such as parting the Red Sea. That is exactly what He did with His Son Jesus Christ. When darkness prevailed, the resurrected Christ burst forth with gospel saving light!
Longing for the happy ending on the final page of history – already accomplished by the Son and recorded by the Spirit in a book – the Bible!
Pastor Josh Buice
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