Surprised by Grace

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(c) New Line Cinema

So why didn’t Sam and Frodo just fly to Mordor on the backs of the eagles, since that’s how they were ultimately rescued?

OK, let’s back up. 

In case you haven’t read the monumental Lord of the Rings saga, or seen their Oscar-winning film depictions, the central storyline of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic tale involves the humblest of creatures – a diminutive hobbit named Frodo Baggins – carrying the Ring of Power directly into Mordor, the post-apocalyptic heartland of evil. 

Frodo’s impossible mission is to travel on foot for nearly a year – accompanied by his hobbit friend Samwise Gamgee – and to destroy the Ring by dropping it into one of the volcanic crevasses of Mount Doom. 

Arrayed against them are armies of orcs, goblins, trolls, and sorcerers.  Somehow, against all odds, they succeed – only to find themselves marooned on the flanks of the erupting volcano, awaiting certain death.

That’s when Tolkien sends in the eagles.  They pluck the hobbits from the rocks and carry them away to safety.

Even some of Tolkien’s biggest fans have found this dramatic rescue to be a head-scratcher.  As in, “Why didn’t Frodo and Sam just hitch a ride on the eagles in the first place?”  They could have flown directly to Mount Doom, dropped the ring into the lava from a safe altitude, and even arrived back home in time for dinner, avoiding a considerable amount of wear and tear on their hobbit feet.  

Did Tolkien accidentally leave a hole in the plot of The Lord of the Rings large enough to accommodate a herd of oliphaunts?


The eagles appear out the blue from time to time in Tolkien’s elaborate stories.  They swoop in to rescue those who are in direst need.  But they never materialize as if they are on retainer.  They follow no one’s schedule.  They aren’t the Middle Earth version of Southwest Airlines:  just buy a ticket and you can fly anywhere you want.

It’s more accurate to see the eagles as something like divine intervention.  The heroes have tried everything within their own power.  Their efforts have fallen short.  All is lost.

Then suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, grace arrives.  And all is found.

Tolkien himself had a term for such an unexpected happy ending.  He called it a eucatastrophe, a disaster that becomes a blessing because God was present and at work all along, even though out of sight.

Even more important is what happens to Frodo and Sam during their quest.  They have to face their own fears.  Stand up to evil.  Resolve conflicts that threaten to unravel their friendship.  Decide to keep going, even when they no longer have the strength to keep going. 

It is the forging of their character – which would have been impossible apart from their struggles – that seemingly matters just as much as the accomplishment of their mission.

This may be one of the toughest seasons of life you have ever experienced.  It may feel as if you have come to the end of your own resources. 

Don’t despair. 

At a time and a place of God’s own choosing, the eagles are coming.