Frodo, Pandemics, and the Sovereignty of God
There are times in everyone’s life when we come across a statement or a quote that strikes us as particularly poignant at that particular moment. We read or hear something that seems to speak a fundamental truth at the moment that fundamental truth is most needed. We have an “Aha!” moment. The ultimate source of such moments is of course the Word of God, the Bible. But because of both the image of God in each person and His own common grace upon all people, these moments can also come from a variety of other sources: books, biographies, sermons, songs, art, movies, social media posts, even everyday conversations. Ultimately, any statement that has real meaning, or we could say, is “truly” true, is by necessity rooted in the Bible itself, springing from the source of all truth.
Our global “moment” is one that is fraught with difficulties. 2020 has proven to be one of the most difficult times in most everyone’s living memory. Unless someone is living under a rock in the wilderness, I can’t imagine a single person on the planet that has not been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. From the virus itself infecting millions and leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths, to economic devastation brought about by attempts to slow the virus, to physical separation from all other people, our necessary networks of support and care. Joblessness is rising, poverty exacerbated, suicides and divorces climbing, hunger and malnutrition increasing. Everything we thought we knew about our lives and the systems and structures in which we live have become fundamentally and irrevocably altered.
So how do we as humans respond? I would argue that our baseline reaction, Christians and non-Christians alike, is to say something like this: “I wish none of these things would have happened.” “I wish we could go back to normal.” “Why is this happening to me?” And so, we end up wishing for some other time when our troubles were perceived to be fewer, or when our lives seemed to be simpler.
And so, it is into this global situation that the “Aha!” moment came. In my case it came in the form of classical fictional literature. I have read JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy several times in my life and each time I have been blown away at the beauty of the writing, wondered at the depth and richness of the story, and been instructed by the truths embedded in the narrative. This time reading it was no different. You know the story, and probably even have heard the quote, but it came at such a moment that the words seemed to leap from the pages.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, as Frodo is coming to an understanding of the desperate and situation Middle Earth was in, how his own life would be forever changed, and how evil was now ascending again, he responds the same way that we all do:
"I wish it need not have happened in my time."
Sounds familiar doesn’t it? “Why did this pandemic have to happen now? Why did I have to lose my job? I wish none of this had happened.” But how does the wise old wizard Gandalf reply to him?
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
I was immediately struck by how profoundly biblical this statement is. First of all, there is the acknowledgement that Frodo’s reaction is normal, human even (well…human for a Hobbit). You’re not alone Frodo. These times are indeed hard. Pandemics and economic catastrophe are hard. No one wishes for these things.
But, Frodo, you have no control over your times. You did not decide to be born when you did; you will not decide when you will die either. You did not decide which era of history into which you were born, nor can you change your era now. This is, of course, a thoroughly biblical truth. God alone is sovereign. He is sovereign over all times and all history.
But here comes the rub. Not only is He sovereign over the cosmos, over the big events of the world throughout all history; He is also sovereign over me. He is sovereign over you. He has ordained that you and I live at this specific time in history, with the specific people He has put around us. Right here, right now, this is the time that we have been given by our sovereign Lord. We can do nothing to change that, therefore we cannot be dominated by anxiousness about our times, for indeed “tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34).
Our times are not up to us. That is not our decision. Our decision instead lies in how we respond to our times. Given that these are our times, how must we live?
Here God’s sovereignty returns. If these are indeed our times, and if he has ordained that you and I live in these times, then we must realize that God has placed us here “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). He has a purpose and task for us. What we must decide is this: are we going to do what He has called us to do in the moment he has ordained for us? This is what Paul is getting at when he implores us to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16). We cannot wish away our times, but rather we must understand that God has ordained them and that we must make the best use of them.
Peter takes up much the same theme in 2 Peter 3. He is laying out some of what will happen at the end of history before Christ returns: the heavens passing away, the heavenly bodies dissolving, the works done on earth being exposed, reminding his readers that God is Lord over not only our times, but time itself. In response to what is quite literally the worst of times, Peter asks the penetrating question, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness”? (2 Peter 3:11).
This then is how we make the best use to the time we’ve been given. We pursue holiness and godliness. We live in such a way that Christ is magnified. We are still, knowing that God is still God, and that He has an unchanging plan to redeem all things and all peoples to Himself (Psalm 46:10). Even in the face of pandemics, of poverty, of distress, of death. We continue to press on, redeeming the time in these evil days. We are not dominated by our times, wishing that they would go away, worrying about the future. Instead we rest in the knowledge that these times are ordained by a good and Sovereign God and that this same God has placed you and me here in these times for a purpose. And in this way, the sovereignty of God is so much more than a doctrine to try to understand and argue about, but rather it is the very foundation upon which we can stand, sure-footed and secure in the face of whatever this age throws at us.