I grew up on fantasy fiction, namely CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. I learned to read by following along as my mother read me The Chronicles of Narnia the year I started kindergarten. Aslan has always held a special place in my heart, and I treasure Lewis’ description of “heaven” in The Last Battle.
Although I discovered Tolkien later, I probably love his work more. I’m the nerd who owns and has read most of his background work about the larger history/mythology of Middle Earth. Despite my love for Tolkien, I’ve always struggled to see the redemptive allegory that so many people insist is in his work. The battle between good and evil is hard to avoid, and there are several Christ-like figures, but I’ve never considered the tropes particularly explicit. Certainly nothing that moves it from fantasy fiction into religious allegory.
Today, though, I have found myself contemplating the figure of Gandalf. He is the most obviously Christ-like figure of the bunch, as he is an incarnation of a heavenly being, sent specifically to defeat Sauron, a fallen Maia (comparable to an angel) who has long troubled Middle Earth. Gandalf dies during the story and is later resurrected, an obvious parallel with Christ.
The hitch in this story is that Gandalf never does anything to explicitly save or redeem the people of Middle Earth. He does not destroy the ring. He does not lead the battles. He serves as an adviser. He meddles in the affairs of others. He makes sure everyone gets where they need to be. And then he kills the Balrog and dies in the process so the quest can continue.
It occurred to me today, though, that this is the story of our salvation. Christ came to save us, but we are active participants in that salvation. We each “work out [our] salvation in fear and trembling.” We each make a choice to accept or reject Christ and his message. We are not passive objects in this story, waiting to be saved. We actively choose to be saved and to act towards that salvation.
Gandalf’s death is important to the story, but it is not really the most important part of his redemptive work. Rather, all of the meddling and advising and manipulating that he does are what allows the hobbits to become heroes and vagabond to become king. Similarly, although we focus on Christ’s death and resurrection as the culmination of his redemptive work, they are truly only a small part. They would have been meaningless without all that came before. Christ’s real redemptive work was to love us as he found us. He loves the woman at the well with too many husbands to be respectable. He loves the tax collector who was obviously compensating for something. He loves Martha in her desire to serve and Mary in her desire to learn. He loves a 24 year-old woman who can’t seem to get her shit together.
He loves us, just as we are.