Boromir’s Remorse

picture of boromir from lotrIn my last post, Boromir the Abuser, we took a closer look at Boromir of Gondor, a character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  We discussed how Boromir’s status as a mighty warrior and hero of Gondor does nothing to lessen the fact that, to Frodo the Hobbit, he was a traitor.

My sister, Dorcas, director of The Dorcas House, a women and children’s shelter in Little Rock, Arkansas, posted a comment that I found very insightful, and would like to explore further.

At the point in Tolkien’s story where Boromir attemped to take the Ring of Power from Frodo, by force, Frodo slipped the ring on his finger, for invisibility, and ran away.  Boromir first reacted with anger, screaming threats and accusations.  Then, he tripped, fell, lay still for a while, and began to weep.

He rose and passed his hands over his eyes, dashing away the tears, ‘What have I said?’ he cried. ‘What have I done? Frodo, Frodo!’ he called. ‘Come back! A madness took me, but it has passed. Come back!’

Boromir sounds very remorseful, doesn’t he?  And he, apparently, does feel true remorse.  He realizes he has done an awful thing, and is repulsed by his own actions.

Later that same day, Boromir was mortally wounded in battle, defending the other hobbits, Merry and Pippin.  With his final words, Boromir confessed his treachery of Frodo, to Aragorn.  The combination of Boromir’s courageous sacrifice and confession indicate signs of true repentance, at some level.

But let’s read his last words to Frodo, again:

‘What have I said?’ he cried. ‘What have I done? Frodo, Frodo!’ he called. ‘Come back! A madness took me, but it has passed. Come back!’

I missed it, until Dorcas pointed it out.  Even though Boromir is weeping for what he has done, he is still calling for Frodo to come back!  He is justifying what he did as a temporary madness that won’t happen again, while pleading with Frodo to place himself at risk again.

Yet, as readers, we know that’s not true!  No matter how uncharacteristic Boromir’s treachery may appear, lust for the power of the ring has taken root and corrupted his heart.  Given the chance, he would escalate the abusive treachery in an attempt to claim the ring as his own.

Boromir has recognized neither the extent of his own weakness nor the depth of harm resulting from his treachery.  His very pleading with Frodo to “Come back!” demonstrates that he is still minimizing his own sin and has not fully repented.

Contrast Boromir’s plea with Gandalf’s words when Frodo asked him to take the ring:

‘No!’ cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. ‘With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.’ His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within. ‘Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.’

Gandalf was trustworthy precisely because he understood both his own weakness and the full cost of giving in to temptation.  The fact that Gandalf did not trust himself to even touch the ring is what made him worthy of Frodo’s trust.

Boromir’s pleas to Frodo clearly show that, although he had already betrayed Frodo once, he still failed to recognize the extent of his weakness and the cost of his treachery.  If Boromir had truly understood his own weakness, and had truly repented, he would never have encouraged Frodo to return to him.

Here is what Gandalf said, later, when speaking of Boromir:

Poor Boromir! I could not see what happened to him. It was a sore trial for such a man: a warrior, and a lord of men. Galadriel told me that he was in peril. But he escaped in the end. I am glad. It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir’s sake.

Boromir escaped.  Escaped what?  Certainly not death nor the breaking of fellowship with Frodo.  No, Boromir escaped the evil power of the ring.  Frodo’s flight with no return, and the peril of Merry and Pippin, were interventions of grace on Boromir’s behalf, resulting in his freedom from the ring’s evil power.

Here is what Dorcas wrote in her comment on the last post:

It’s interesting that even as he wept over what he had done he begged Frodo to come back.  If he truly understood his own weakness, he would never have encouraged Frodo to return to him.

Abusers are always “sorry” right after the abuse, and I think that at some level they believe they’ve changed but have no insight into the depth of what they have done.

I remember a client who had been severely abused for years and came to the Dorcas House fleeing for her life. Eventually her grown children convinced her that her husband had changed and talked her into “trying it again,” though I begged her not to.  As you can imagine the abuse and control were exponentially worse.  Her escaping again took extreme measures on her part, and it was a miracle she lived.

After she had been with us for a while again, her abuser wrote her expressing his remorse.  He said that he was in church now, a man of God, and wanted them to serve God together.  I remember that for some reason she and I were sitting on the floor in the front hallway as I read the letter.  Afterward I asked her, “What could he say that would convince you he has changed?” I have no idea why I asked her that, but her answer was profound. She said, “If he ever said, ‘Don’t ever come back to me because I cannot be trusted.’  And I would believe him and never go back.” To my knowledge she never did.

So often, friends and family see an abuser’s expression of remorse, and feel compassion at his passionate pleas for reconciliation.  Too often, they intervene on behalf of the abuser, asking the abused spouse to reconcile.  What they fail to understand is that when an habitual abuser is pleading for reconciliation and acting as though their happiness is dependent on that relationship, that behavior and mindset is, itself, evidence that they are not trustworthy.

The very fact that they view the relationship as essential to their happiness demonstrates that their motives are still selfish, and their expectations are still unrealistic.  The very fact that they are convinced of their own trustworthiness, despite their repeated treacheries, demonstrates that they have not recognized the depth of their own weakness and, therefore, cannot be trusted.

Reconciliation, in such a case, is exactly what they do not need.  Reconciliation would, in fact, place both parties at great peril…for the abused, peril of death…for the abuser, peril of becoming a murderer.

Your thoughts?

[Linked to WIP , Graceful , Wellspring ]


24 thoughts on “Boromir’s Remorse

    • I agree that there was some level of least the beginning steps. Even Gandalf said that Boromir had escaped.

      Yet, repentance is a journey…sometimes a lengthy journey. Recognizing and confessing outward behavior as sinful is the first step, but not enough to bring about true long-term change.

      True change requires adapting a completely new way of looking at things and full recognition of just how wrong the prior view of things were.

      I think it’s quite clear that Boromir had not yet fully recognized his own weakness…and, therefore, would have continued and escalated the treacherous behavior if he had continued in close relationship with Frodo.

      But…that’s the great thing about using fictional characters as examples. You’re free to disagree, and nobody’s hurt by either of our opinions! 😉

      Thanks for the input, Cindy!

    • Your comment does raise another question for me, though.

      Does repentance necessarily equate to trustworthiness?

      Boromir clearly was remorseful and clearly had at least repented at some level. Yet, in my view, was just as clearly, not trustworthy in regard to Frodo and the ring.

      Maybe repentant does not equate to trustworthy…

  1. MANY MANY times well meaning but deluded ‘church’ people have no sweet clue how to deal with an abuser. Being nice and sending flowers and weepy letters does not fix broken arms or jaws. I never once liked Boromir, but I had pity for him because he sold his soul and name for power. If you dance with the devil, he will always take the lead. Repentance is an act of the will, submission to the knowledge that you have done something wrong and the acceptance that you need to go back and make amends and confess. Trustworthiness is what you earn over time and cannot be replaced once you’ve broken it.
    I’d trust a flaming pagan sinner who was honest about his lifestyle and never lied to me over a sweet Sunday Christian who I caught gossiping about someone.

    • “Trustworthiness is what you earn over time and cannot be replaced once you’ve broken it.”

      That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it, Jennifer?

      No amount of remorse can undo what has been done.

      There are varying degrees and stages of repentance. However, repentance is largely about making things right with God. Just because someone is repentant does not mean their relationship should be restored with someone they have abused.

      We have a tendency to try to categorize people as either good or bad…either a sinner or a saint…either repentant or unrepentant…either trustworthy or untrustworthy…

      But people are not that simple…life is much more complex…

      Going back to the example of Boromir, he clearly proved trustworthy in defending Merry and Pippin. He was just as clearly untrustworthy in regard to Frodo and the ring.

      Thanks for the discussion!

  2. Well said! Thank you for your thoughts. Love hearing them – on you blog or on the phone when your sister is having a slight melt down. 🙂

    • Denise, I appreciate your hanging in there with this thread of posts based on a book you haven’t read! 😉

      The more I think about it, I believe both repentance and regeneration are much longer journeys than many Christians realize. And even someone far down the path is likely to have areas of weakness in which they are trustworthy only because they are aware of their weakness and have learned to avoid tempting situations.

      We wouldn’t trust an alcoholic who stated confidence in their ability to stop after a few drinks. So, why would we trust an habitual abuser who stated confidence in their ability to endure tense situations in close relationship with someone they have habitually abused for years, without resorting to abuse again?

  3. It’s been years since I read the Hobbit & The Fellowship Trilogy. Maybe I should enjoy the reads again, I loved them the first time through.

    All this discussion about repentance, remorse and trustworthiness is causing me to take a deeper – and possibly more painful – look at myself and my motives for so many “forgive me’s” for mistakes I’ve made in the past.

    Honest remorse has led to honest repentance but, as I see through these discussions, trustworthiness is not guaranteed as a result. And, as I’m beginning to see, should not necessarily be instantly granted. True repentance is an “about-face” turning from sin, whatever that sin may be. Those we have hurt by our actions – especially those closest to us, our spouses and children – will be front row observers as to whether our repentance is real or not. And, therefore, they will meet out their trust as they see the repentance process progress. Because true repentance is to continue in the changed behavior not just to stop it for a spell to get out of the doghouse.

    Remorse and repentance are internal, to be observed by others. Trustworthiness however, is external, to be earned from and then granted by others.

    Sorry I got so wordy, I am truly having this discussion with myself as I am writing it.

    Great series of posts, thanks.

    • Bravo! “they will meet out their trust as they see the repentance process progress. Because true repentance is to continue in the changed behavior not just to stop it for a spell to get out of the doghouse.” This is so true, and cannot be manipulated by those accusing a former victim of “unforgiveness,” or of setting the reformed abuser up for failure by continuing to “hold a grudge.” It is a natural process that will or won’t take place, depending on the degree of trust damage. Really well said.

    • Very well stated, David!

      The focus should be not on “getting out of the doghouse,” but rather on becoming a man worthy of trust…whether or not that trust is ever granted.

      I appreciate your candor and can relate to your struggles.

      Thank you, for your insightful input!

  4. This section really got to me:

    “Boromir has recognized neither the extent of his own weakness nor the depth of harm resulting from his treachery. His very pleading with Frodo to “Come back!” demonstrates that he is still minimizing his own sin and has not fully repented.”

    Your sister is so spot-on in her analysis and the story she shared. Wow. Somehow we all need to learn to discern so clearly between forgiving yet not returning to the bad situation, for ourselves when we’re the victim. And learn to not immediately request a return in cases where others have to forgive us, but we’re not proven trustworthy yet.

    • Yes, it’s both an empowering and a convicting insight, isn’t it? Depending on the situation and whether we have done wrong to someone else, or been wronged ourselves…

      Thank you, Lisa!

  5. In my experience, those who are abusers do not change overnight, some never at all. Abusers are also at times very charming and manipulative people. I would be very leery of reconciliation with any abuser unless they can prove true change over an extended period of time.

    • I completely agree, Dan!

      And, even if they do prove true change over an extended period of time, the abused individual is still under no obligation to renew fellowship.

      Forgiveness is essential. Reconciliation is optional, and in many many cases, very unwise.

      If the abuser is truly repentant…if they have come to fully understand both their own weakness and the depth of harm inflicted…then they should be content to live their life apart from the person(s) they harmed.

      If they cannot be content with that…then they still cannot be trusted…

  6. I love revisiting this post and these thoughts, Joe. I especially appreciate all the thoughts of your readers. Again, I applaud the hard work your sister does and commend you for tackling another difficult topic.

  7. Except doesnt frodo forgive boromir? In a way he did repent, yes he called frodo back, and shouldn’t have but it was more to be forgiven, then to get the ring again. B sacrifising his life he repented in a way, Theres a verse that goes Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” Boromir died essentially for the lord, as frodo is the Christ character of Jesus bearing the cross, He died to protect the hobbits, and in a way frodo.

    • Yes, Frodo clearly forgave Boromir. Just as clearly, Frodo was wise enough not to trust Boromir, nor to renew fellowship with him.

      Boromir clearly was remorseful. And he was just as clearly untrustworthy in regard to Frodo and the ring.

      For a real life example of forgiveness without renewal of fellowship or trust, you might enjoy this post about David and Saul:

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  8. And i apologise for the second reply, but he also does understand that he couldn’t let frodo go as he even says Frodo, Were is frodo which aragorn replys i let him go, Then you could do what i could not, He understood and realized what he had done.

  9. Wow Joe that was an informative and entertaining read. My Husband is acknowledging that he is untrustworthy, while still pressuring me to reconcile. He is claiming that ” I am killing my will and taking on Christ’s yoke… If I can complete this journey then I am worthy of your trust because Christ is worthy of your trust.” A part of me wants to believe the Christian Fairy Tale of this statement but another part of me feels manipulated by this statement. Trust Christ = Trusting my husband. I don’t see them as equal or intertwined at all. I do trust Christ and he is leading me away from my husband. He is saying what I want him to say and what he “should” say but it just has an undercurrent of manipulation to me. He is a mix of Gandalf and Boromir. I am not trustworthy but please commit to reconciliation. He has the intellect (he has been reading A LOT of Christian books and has learned the language very well) to know that what Gandalf said is right and honorable but Boromir’s heart. Does this make sense?

    • Yes, what you said makes perfect sense. What your husband said defies logic…but is a great manipulation tactic…

      Frankly, to me, he sounds more like Wormtongue (Grima – counselor to King Theoden of Rohan) than either Gandalf or Boromir…talking in illogical circles intended to prey upon your guilt, fears and fantasies, to achieve the goal of keeping you imprisoned.

      “…acknowledging that he is untrustworthy, while still pressuring me to reconcile.”

      I’m glad you can see how contradictory this is. A person who truly understood their untrustworthiness would not pressure you to trust them. Rather like saying, “You should accept my word as true, because I’m such a good liar.”

      Blessings to you, BeginHealing! May God continue to comfort you with His Holy Presence, as He gives you supernatural discernment and wisdom.

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