Kyle Baker has guest posted on this blog once before. If you don’t know Kyle, you need to; like me, he’s grown up in the church and loves Jesus but is not satisfied with the status quo or simple answers. He’s one of the buddies I miss from my Nashville days, and we have been Skyping about writing a book together. We’re making slow progress, but having a lot of fun. Sometimes we even stay on topic.
After seeing the new Hobbit movie (in 3D, even), I wondered, “If Gandalf can save the dwarves with miraculous power, why doesn’t he just use that power to take them to the end of the quest?” For instance, when the dwarves are cornered and death is eminent, giant eagles arrive to carry them to safety. Why can’t the birds just take them to the mountain?
But first, some setup: The Hobbit is about a hobbit named Bilbo, who is invited by a wizard named Gandalf to join a company of dwarves who are going to a mountain to slay a dragon. The interesting part is that Bilbo is a homebody who rarely even leaves his garden, while the dwarves are all veteran warrior-adventurers. It’s kind of like if you got asked to be a walk-on to Seal Team 6. The warriors are annoyed to have an amateur along, and really the only person who thinks Bilbo should be a part of the company is Gandalf himself. Along the way, when the company gets into trouble (wolves, trolls, and other mystical threats), Gandalf appears to assist in the group’s victory, sometimes fighting alongside them and sometimes using wizard skills to affect the outcome.
Okay, back to our question. in one particularly bad situation, the dwarves-plus-Bilbo are cornered with no escape, and Gandalf calls giant eagles to rescue everyone. At the end of an incredibly arduous 24-hour battle, the company finds themselves resting (and even sleeping) on the backs of the eagles, who take them away from their enemies to rest and regroup.
So why doesn’t Gandalf call the birds at the beginning? Why make the group set out along the ground in the first place?
I mean, if the goal is to get to the mountain, kill the dragon, and return victorious, wouldn’t getting there faster be better? “And then the company flew to the Mountain, slew the dragon, and returned victorious. The End.”
In a pragmatic sense (assuming the internal logic of a fantasy novel), the answer is “No.” Bilbo would likely get killed in such a scenario. Without the trolls, orcs, swordfights and Gollum he wouldn’t get his sword, discover the ring, or find his courage. In short, he’d be useless at Lonely Mountain if he arrived unprepared, and it is the Unexpected Journey itself that is preparing him.
The Bilbo from the Shire is not the Bilbo the company needs for the Unexpected Journey. The Bilbo the company needs is formed in the course of the Journey.
It’s a big surprise, but Gandalf really plays the role of God in these films. (Although if you want to get picky, he’s more like Melchizedek or the Holy Spirit.) He guides, challenges and saves the adventurers, but most often works through the world they inhabit and only rarely pulls off a wizard/miracle event to save everyone.
It also seems clear that Gandalf brings Bilbo on the journey not only to transform Bilbo, but by extension the Shire, the company, and Middle Earth.
This is where the mythological framework jives with biblical truth: God has not sent us on our journeys for his good or our fortune. While he protects and guides us, he’s not merely in the business of dragon-slaying. If God wants the dragons of the world slain, He can do that himself.
Instead, whatever your goal is, God is less concerned with getting you to it efficiently and much more interested in forging a new you out of the old you along the way. In the process, he’s also interested in bringing good into the world through your journey.
Like many of you, I have my own crises of calling from time to time. I know where I want to go, and while I am sure this goal is a calling from God, he hasn’t shown up to put me in the express lane to get there.
But God has sent me on my journey to transform me. He wants a Kyle Baker that is more fully Kyle (and more fully Christ) than I am. In the process of transforming me, he’ll also transform (and bring a hint of redemption to) those I journey with, and the places we journey through.
This thought gives me incredible comfort.