The One Ring

the one ringOver the holidays I’ve gotten back into the JRR Tolkien spirit by watching the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movie series again. As usual, I find rich metaphors in Tolkien’s writing…and hope you’ll indulge my sharing some with you…

The One Ring is the central theme (in some ways the central character) of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Tolkien has left us much to ponder on deeper meanings of the One Ring.  Many have observed The Ring as a metaphor for sin, and I agree…but I also see something more.

The ring is inherently evil, corrupting the heart of not only those who bear it, but also those in close proximity. The ring has great power, but only to destroy, not to create or improve.  The ring is addictive…only two bearers ever gave it up willingly and they with great difficulty.

So far so good…the sin metaphor holds up…but let’s dig deeper.

We are also told that all of Sauron’s power is bound up in the ring and that so long as the ring exists Sauron cannot be completely destroyed. So we see that the ring is more than sin…it is also the power of sin…and the basis for satan’s power.

Of all the objects Tolkien could have chosen as a token of Sauron’s power, he chose a ring. Throughout history and even today, a ring represents covenant relationship.  A wedding ring is more than a piece of jewelry…it represents the marriage relationship.  Historically, signet rings were given to trusted advisors of kings, giving the ring-bearer the full authority of the king.  Rings are also used to signify membership to elite groups, such as fraternities, alumni associations, sports teams, or secret societies.

In LOTR, Sauron gave rings to nine kings of men. The rings gave the men power and authority.  However, Sauron deceived them by making another ring that bound the power of their rings to himself.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

The rings granted covenant authority while also binding in covenant. The ring-bearers did have power, but they were also enslaved…deceptively enslaved.  The One Ring, forged in secret, bound them to the lord of the rings.

The One Ring is the covenant forged in deception.

Through this story, Tolkien has wonderfully illustrated an oft-overlooked biblical truth. Mankind’s problem with sin runs much deeper than the accumulation of individual battles with personal sin.  It is an inherited relationship with the kingdom of darkness.

Much as the One Ring gave Sauron power over Middle Earth, similarly Adam’s covenant with darkness has given satan dominion over the earth. Much as Sauron’s power could only be destroyed by melting the ring, similarly satan’s power can only be destroyed by dissolving mankind’s covenant with evil.

Therefore thus says the Lord God,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone,
A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed.
I will make justice the measuring line
And righteousness the level;
Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies
And the waters will overflow the secret place.
Your covenant with death will be canceled,
And your pact with Sheol will not stand…” (Isaiah 28:16-18)

It is for this purpose that Jesus became a man and suffered death on the cross. Jesus came to redeem us from Adam’s covenant with the kingdom of darkness…to cause that covenant to be dissolved.

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Much as Frodo traveled to the heart of Mordor to destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom, similarly Jesus entered Sheol to redeem us from Adam’s covenant with the kingdom of darkness. Much as the destruction of the ring ushered in the return of the king of Gondor, in redeeming us from the kingdom of darkness, Jesus also cut a new covenant by which we can become heirs of His kingdom.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

The time in which we now live is between the Advents of Christ. Jesus has come to redeem us from the power of sin and to deliver us into His kingdom.  He has not yet returned to claim His inheritance and dominion over all the earth.  During this age, His work is activated by mankind on an individual basis.  We can either accept His redemption and deliverance, or we can remain enslaved to the kingdom of darkness.  The choice is ours.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

We can remain enslaved to the kingdom of darkness or we can choose to become heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.  We can be ruled by sin and death or we can choose life through the righteousness of Christ.

The choice is ours.

What is your choice?


[Linked to Wellspring, Trading Good, Messy Marriage ]


14 thoughts on “The One Ring

  1. A very interesting essay!

    I’m not sure that our greater threat is the covenant relationship with darkness, or, indeed, the accumulation of individual acts, the chosen surrenders to temptation. The covenant relationship had a grandeur to it, a kind of unholy allegiance, but it seems to me that the more powerful evil is in the mundane.

    Someone – I know not who – coined the phase “the banality of evil” in describing Eichman. To continue in that context, Hitler had hold of a grand sweep of evil in the abstract, but the practical work had to be done by small, untidy people for whom evil was a part of their character, and not the whole.

    Not even good men gone bad; more like nonentities with a tragic flaw.

    • I see them as all inter-related.

      ‘The banality of evil’ finds its source in the covenant bond we inherited from Adam. At the same time, it both increases that bond and adds to the accumulation of individual acts.

      The Apostle James expressed it this way, speaking to Christians and using strong covenant language (friend and enemy):

      “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

      In essence, James is saying that intentional individual sin is treachery against our covenant partner, Christ, because it enables and aids the enemy.

      And the ‘banality of evil’…Tolkien’s orcs might be a good expression of this…mindless evil performed by evil creatures. Yes, they are acting under orders of the dark lord…and yes the dark lord uses all their actions for his purpose…but they do evil because they are evil.

      But JESUS…Jesus both redeemed us from Adam’s covenant with evil and paid the price of the accumulation of individual sins…while also cutting a new covenant for us through His own torn flesh and spilled blood. AND…He offers us the indwelling of His Holy Spirit to strengthen and enable us to walk in His light while learning to be conformed to His image.

      What a Savior! 🙂

  2. I actually considered putting The Lord of the Rings on my book list for 2015, but then I decided I’m not quite up to that yet. ha. Maybe 2016 I’ll be braver. Your post definitely inspires me though. Tolkien was an insightful genius along with being a great writer. How grateful I am for so many wonderful analogies to break free from the power of darkness and become an heir in the Kingdom of Heaven. Praise be to Christ who makes it possible! So grateful for all your insightful posts in 2014 and I look forward to continue reading your words in 2015. Happy New Year, Joe!

    • Oh, you should add LOTR to your reading list, Lisa!

      I’ve come to see Tolkien and Lewis as almost required reading…rather like Dickens or Shakespeare. Through their writing, they’ve contributed significantly enough to our culture that it becomes important to have a basis for understanding the many literary and cultural references.

      Of course…this is coming from someone who was raised hearing my father read Tolkien, Lewis, Dickens and Shakespeare, before I was old enough to read myself… 🙂

      Although Tolkien is a little weak on character development, he is truly the master of culture, history and language development. And his ability to weave rich metaphors into a tale without crossing the line into allegory…the way he keeps the focus on the fictional story leaving it to the reader to find and interpret the metaphors…truly exceptional!

      Thank you, Lisa, for your friendship, your writing and your comments. I truly appreciate you, my friend.

      Have a wonderful new year!

  3. Love those writers who can bring evil to the light then gives us choices as to how we receive it. Early in my walk with the Lord I did not enjoy those kinds of reads but I now love to give these kinds of books that hopefully cause the reader to ask themselves some soul searching questions. This written well Joe.

    • Yes, Tolkien was a master at writing fiction rich with metaphors. His style allows the reader to enjoy the story at multiple levels. As a child, I read LOTR as simply an intriguing work of fiction. Now, as I reread this classic tale, I see much deeper meaning.

      Thank you, Betty! Have a Happy New Year!

    • Lucky me, indeed! I wound up home alone on a rainy day, and decided to watch the entire trilogy while working on other projects. A very satisfactory day! 🙂

  4. I enjoyed this post as I had the pleasure of seeing these movies with my son when he was young. Brings back such wonderful memories & conversations. But this Christmas break, my son & his wife, watched each of the LOTR DVD’s again due to each of their loves for the story. You made a wonderful point in that the ring gave power but enslaved one to the giver. May we realize anew that sin enslaves us & keep us bound. Grateful this morning for the freedom Christ has brought to my life.

    • “May we realize anew that sin enslaves us & keep us bound. Grateful this morning for the freedom Christ has brought to my life.”

      Yes and amen!

      Sin enslaves, but Jesus Christ redeems and delivers!

      Thank you, Joanne!

  5. He has not yet returned to claim His inheritance and dominion over all the earth. During this age, His work is activated by mankind on an individual basis. We can either accept His redemption and deliverance, or we can remain enslaved to the kingdom of darkness. The choice is ours.

    CHOICE is always ours. And only thru Him can we make the right choices in our marriages. We love LOTR and recently I wrote a post called Fellowship of the Marriage Ring and how couple friendships help marriages stay the course. Tolkein is a great inspiration in many ways. Thanks for your words, Joe.

    • “Tolkein is a great inspiration in many ways.”

      I seem to enoy Tolkien’s writing more with each reading. He was truly a master of including rich metaphors for us readers to discover and interpret through our own experiential lenses.

      Thank you, Shelia!

  6. I am not a big of a fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy–mostly because I’ve never taken the time to read them (although I saw the first LOTR movie years ago and liked it). I do know they are loaded with spiritual and biblical symbolism, if one wanted to really study and unpack Tolkien’s woven truths. I’m grateful that you’ve done the hard work of mining the “gems” from the stories for us, Joe. The truths they reveal are quite inspiring and eye-opening. I do feel that “enslavement to sin” so much of the time–in fact, just earlier today! So it’s helpful to remember we have a Savior who triumphs over that sin! Happy New Year, my friend! I pray you and your ministry are blessed tremendously in 2015!

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