“For a moment of silence Theoden stood looking down at Eomer as he knelt still before him. Neither moved.
‘Will you not take the sword?’ said Gandalf.
Slowly Theoden stretched forth his hand. As his fingers took the hilt, it seemed to the watchers that firmness and strength returned to his thin arm. Suddenly he lifted the blade and swung it shimmering and whistling in the air. Then he gave a great cry. His voice rang clear as he chanted in the tongue of Rohan a call to arms.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
I’ve read this scene from one of my favorite stories a few different times, but this latest time the significance of it really struck me. I’m sure if you have ever watched The Lord of the Rings film trilogy you will also remember the scene where Gandalf returns from the dead, and then travels to Rohan with a few companions to wake up King Theoden from his deteriorating condition—a condition which is sustained by the cunning, manipulative words of a vile man appropriately called Wormtongue. A man sent by Saruman, a self-proclaimed ally of the ultimate enemy (Sauron). Wormtongue’s lies have virtually taken over the kingdom of Rohan due to his influence over the king. Rohan’s only hope to avoid a siege by Isengard is for their king to awaken—to remember who he is, to remember what is true and what is best for his people. To escape the influence of the worm.
Theoden is so bound by the corrupt words of this spy that he doesn’t even trust his own nephew, Eomer, a “Marshal of the Mark.” As Wormtongue holds the king prisoner, Theoden holds Eomer—a man who only seeks the protection of his people—prisoner. What a twisted state of affairs! In a time of great need and great darkness, in a time when all good men, all good creatures must unite and stand together against an enemy who would destroy them all, a king is silenced.
And this king is not only silenced, but he has become a blinded, shriveled, lonely shadow of his former self. The lies have robbed him of all hope, and therefore of all strength. He doesn’t even want to fight anymore. He doesn’t even want to hear news of the affairs of the world, because he believes such news will only sink him deeper into despair, will only bring doom to him and his people. He is afraid when Gandalf arrives, not wanting to hear the truth that he brings—that threat of war is looming and Rohan must take up arms if they wish to survive. Until Gandalf wakes him up, Theoden would rather sit in darkness and weakness than listen to the wizard’s claims.
See, it’s easier to be a shadow. It’s easier, but it’s not freedom. It is no way to live, and it is not worth the pain it causes others. It is not worth the stripping of one’s identity. I feel like this scene can be a powerful allegory for Christ-followers. So many of us—born to be kings and queens in God’s kingdom, to stand up and claim our royalty, to take the swords we’ve been given and fight the enemy of our souls—have lost ourselves in hoards of lies. Whisperings from the enemy and his “spies” that tell us not to trust our own kin, our friends, even Jesus. We become so numb to these lies because they not only make sense when they come, but they infiltrate our thoughts so that we often aren’t even aware of what we’re actually believing. How cunning our enemy is, but how little power he has once we remember who we are!
The light is coming. Like Gandalf, standing up boldly with his staff, illuminating the fiction of Wormtongue’s allegations, and calling forth the man who is king. The light is coming, helping us to see that Eomer(a representation of community and family) is our ally. Not perfect, but there to support us nonetheless. When we remove the blame, when we set Eomer free, he can be who he is meant to be. Why believe and trust a malevolent enemy more than our own family, anyway?
Just like King Theoden, we’ve been afraid of the war and the darkness. We’ve been afraid to get too involved in other people’s lives and in the affairs of the world because of the perceived cost. It is simpler to sit on our thrones and let another rule for us while we shrivel up and die. Simpler, easier, to isolate ourselves and hide our glory and our mistakes from the world. Easier to hide and pretend that everything around us is okay. Easier to put away and ignore those who claim we must fight, that we must do something. But is it really worth it? Self-preservation soon becomes self-deprecation. Seeking to guard our own affairs and not trust anyone else makes us tire more quickly, age faster. We are alone even when those who desire our freedom stand right behind the sneering whisperer, ready to do what they must when we give the word. (Think of Eowyn in Theoden’s throne room, how ready she is to defend her people, despite the influence and the jarring pursuits of Wormtongue.) We are afraid of the perceived cost of taking up arms when in reality, the alternative is far more expensive. We will not only lose our lives and our identities, but we will lose our people, our influence, our God-given territory.
When we are released to remember who we are, to take up our swords again, the people around us are released as well. Identity begets identity, and awakening spreads like wildfire. When King Theoden took back his sword, he called his people to arms. And they were ready. Interestingly, Wormtongue, under the guise of being Theoden’s devout servant, suggests that someone needs to be left behind in Rohan to guard the castle, to protect the city. But this preservation proposition is rooted in fear, is based on the worm’s old lie—that self-protection is the answer. That we need to secure everything before we choose to take the risk to fight for freedom. See, we fight and pine to protect ourselves, to guard what we have because we’re afraid of losing it; but we end up losing our identities in the process. I know that I have often placed more value on my own fears than on what God’s Spirit wants to do in and through me, and I see this now as insanity. Fear is a liar and a thief, robbing us of the promise of abundant life and victory.
“…To search out a matter is the glory of kings.”
-Proverbs 25:2 NIV
Our glory as sons and daughters, heirs of God himself, is to search out the mysteries, to live in the uncertainties and to trust his Spirit to fight with and for us as we remember who we are. We don’t need to preserve what we have. We need to only to rise up and fight and let God (the light) dispel the darkness as his glory shines through us. We search out the truth instead of succumbing to the comfort of the lies, which are like a padding for our wounds. In seeking the truth, in facing despair with hope instead of letting it overtake us, we become who we are, we are healed, and we release others into this same freedom.
Let us take up arms! The victory is ours, if we will only allow ourselves to see again.