Thursday, January 11, 2024

Smeagol on a Leash

The title?

Ah, yes. Well, to get that, you’ll have to have seen the blockbuster film Lord of the Rings, or have read J.R.R. Tolkien’s original trilogy. There’s a scene in there involving a loathsome little creature named Gollum or Smeagol. He’s a kind of nasty little creature of the dark, a sinister and malevolent little dwarf, who is taken captive by two of the adventure’s heroes, as an alternative to having to kill the homicidal little maniac on the spot.

Smeagol doesn’t take well to being ‘rescued’ in this fashion; and his obstinacy and treachery compel the heroes to put a rope around his neck and lead him where he is bound and determined not to go. The subsequent convulsions of wheedling and drama are truly magnificent. You can see his performance right here.

So now you’ve got an idea of my central metaphor for the day.*

What’s this Got to Do with Hope?

Well, last week we were talking about hoping for people. For difficult people. Hoping for them to become the man or woman God intended them to be. And we were saying that the reason the Christian can do this when worldly wisdom would surely tell him not to is because of his steadfast hope in eternity — a thing which the world can in no wise believe, nor can anything the world imagines provide it reason to lift its eyes beyond the horizon to see hope beyond the immediate realities of this life.

But I also conceded this is difficult. The natural man does not achieve this perspective without a certain amount of self-discipline and of suppression of natural feelings of resentment and anger — a certain amount of “taking up his cross and following after”. Being hurt hurts. We must never forget that. And nobody hurts us like other people do.

Nevertheless, God’s commandment to us is to love [agapē]. And that means the self-disciplined love that determines to mean good for another person, regardless of that person’s disposition or actions toward us. And this is only possible because we have already been loved by God in just that way — while we were still sinners — and have learned for ourselves what it is to have been forgiven for being the nasty, treacherous little Smeagols we can all be by nature.

Believing in Smeagol

But now, let’s make this all worse.

The fact remains that many of the people we are called to love will react to it rather badly. Moreover, since we know from prophecy already that some people will never repent, and will never become the people God intended them to be, then in bowing to “love hopes all things”, we are committing ourselves to love those who are certain not to repay our hope, but to betray it at the final post — in eternity itself. We shall be proved fools for our hope, shall we not? For we hoped that they would be saved, that they would be repentant, that they would become the blessed creatures God always intended them to be — but they did not.

Meanwhile, they freak out; they hiss and spit; they twist and writhe; they lie; they manipulate, exploit and abuse. Maybe they even see our interest and try to manipulate us again. And we can see they’re just going to betray us if we let them, so, wisely, we don’t. And we don’t make the mistake of feeding their disease, enabling, funding or supporting their addictions, or capitulating to their schemes: because none of that is what it means to hope for the best for them.

Instead, we persist: we set boundaries and hold them. We look for opportunities to intervene between them and the disastrous course they’re on. We teach, rebuke, exhort, admonish, advise and correct; and we support every good thing. But we do not ever capitulate, or mistake pleasing them for doing what’s best for them. Rather, we stand stalwartly for the best “self” they can have — the one God wants them to have — whether they can see it, or whether they hate us for doing it. And in extreme cases, sometimes we just have to get completely away … and pray.

Don’t ever let Smeagol off the leash. It’s his only chance at life.

Foolish Hope?

But honestly, holding onto that leash is really tiring sometimes; and all that bad character makes it so hard to have any hope at all.

Because emotionally, something about that strand of hope we keep attached to them keeps us tethered too. And it hurts us. We keep longing for them to become better human beings, which they clearly are determined not to become; and that’s hard. How can we keep on caring, praying, hoping, and believing that no matter how spastic their convulsions get, still there is hope for a better tomorrow for them, by the grace of God?

How foolish are we? We wasted our lives hoping for the better, and in the end, were shown to be hoping for that which was not coming?

Ah, but were we really fools?

Sanctified Imaginings: The First Judgment

Let us imagine ourselves in the throne room of glory, at the judgment seat of Christ.

Here, the Master says, “Bring me here these enemies of mine who would not have me be king.” Before him are huddled the foolish and obdurate who, in their poisonous self-will, refused to become the blessed creatures he had made them and called them to be, and had instead plunged their souls into selfish ruin. Even now, they have no love of him and will not repent, though confessions of folly should be torn from their lips.

Did we hope in vain? But what did we hope for that the Master did not also hope for? Upon whom, then, does the shame devolve: those who hoped, or those who in savage sin-against-themselves refused the hope? What shame is there to us, who longed for their good, even when they themselves would not?

The Second Judgment

Again, let the Master speak: “Bring here to me those who did not hope.” Here, perhaps, we shuffle forward. Did we fail to believe that God could save to the uttermost? Did we give up on our brother and call him worthless? Did we fail in our duty to “hope all things”? Then how shall we offer as our defense that it did not seem judicious, at the time, to keep hoping for the well being of such wretches as had been our acquaintances … that we were a better sort of man ourselves, and simply could not continue to hope that such treacherous worms could remain fit objects of our concern, our hope, our help and our efforts? Who now is ashamed?

Kierkegaard writes, “To act cleverly is basically compromise, whereby one undeniably gets farthest along in the world, wins the world’s good and favor, the world’s honor, because the world and the world’s favor are, eternally understood, compromise. But neither the eternal nor the Holy Scriptures have ever taught any man to strive to go far or farthest of all in the world.” What wins in worldly terms loses in eternity. Of that much we can be quite certain. And he adds, “To give up another man is in itself a dishonor, no matter what the actual outcome is.”

The Third Judgment?

But will the Master speak again? Will he say, “Bring here to me those who loved too well … who hoped all things, when it was perfectly clear to common sense that the objects of their hope were unrepentant, treacherous, reckless and vicious. Bring me those who would not give up on eternity, who hoped until the Last Day that salvation, repentance or healing would come to those hard-hearted wretches I have only just now dismissed. I have much to say to them.”

And what shall we hear, but “Well done, you good and faithful servant?” For he who has “hoped all things” is he who loved, and loved well. Or as Kierkegaard has put it, “Blessed is the lover; he hopes all things. Even at the last moment does he still hope for the possibility of the good for the most degenerate?” And again, “To hope is essentially and eternally related to the good — therefore, one can never be put to shame by hoping.”

Collecting Our Imaginings

Here is Søren Kierkegaard’s summation, and also the upshot of all this imagining: “In eternity everyone will be compelled to understand that it is not the result which determines honor and shame, but the expectation itself. Therefore, in eternity it is precisely the unloving one, who perhaps was proved right in what he picayunishly, enviously, hatefully expected from the other person, who will be put to shame, though his expectation was fulfilled. But honor belongs to the lover.”

Honor belongs to the one who loved, and love hopes all things. It hopes beyond all ordinary hope, because we serve the resurrected and glorified Lord, and wait for his return from heaven. Such hope the world can never have.

The Difference Eternity Makes

Eternity changes everything. To “hope all things”, we must steadfastly believe that this present age is not the end of the story. As Kierkegaard has reminded us, we must not “make an end where an end is not”. In our expectations, we must always reckon with the profound truth that the final value of all things is established only in eternity. Never in life.

Our lives do not end here. Therefore, our hope and expectation does not resolve itself here either. We are loved; and we are taught to love in the manner God loves.

“Love hopes all things.” And so should we.


Original photo: Eva Rinaldi [CC BY-SA]

* I claim no originality here. The metaphor was suggested to me by Bellator, who’s more skilled than I at psychological profiling by a fair stroke.


  1. “picayunishly“ .... seriously?

    1. Rod, I have it on Very Good Authority that comes from one of the very best English translations of Kierkegaard.

  2. IC: It does...Walter Lowrie, 1941.

    Great word, eh?