Saturday, September 24, 2022

Unchecked Desires

[Originally published in the Monroe News on September 23, 2022]

Have you been watching the new series on Amazon Prime Video called “The Rings of Power”?  If you’re not a fan of The Lord of the Rings or author J.R.R. Tolkien, or you’re not an Amazon Prime subscriber, it is possible it has skipped your notice or simply doesn’t draw your attention. For fans of the Tolkien works this has been a series roughly 4 years and possibly a billion dollars in the making.  It has been met with high anticipation and equal anxiety as to whether it will be a series faithful to its origins.

I’ll reserve judgment on how the series is going so far as I’ve only seen the first three episodes.  I also won’t spoil anything for those of you still waiting and watching.  As I have spent time contemplating the early episodes of this series and what might lie in store in the upcoming episodes it has had me thinking about the wondrous theological nature of the world that J.R.R. Tolkien created.  When you read his original works like The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings you can’t help but get a sense that his world and the values found therein reflect a lot of our own world.  You can feel the battle between good and evil.  You get a sense of Tolkien’s morality and his love of life and all things green and growing.  

Tolkien seems to have a good strong grasp on the finer intricacies of our human nature.  He understands our weaknesses and foibles and we see this in the struggles that his characters encounter.  This is especially true when it comes to how his characters deal with unchecked desire.  What happens when we indulge all the desires of our heart?  What happens if we bend to every whim that flows forth from within.  If we were to simply do whatever we feel like all the time, how would that turn out for us?

The character Gollum is a perfect example of this.  He finds the mightiest of the rings of power and it instantly consumes his desire.  Within moments of finding it he kills his own brother, who was with him, to ensure nobody else can take his “precious”.  His love for this newfound ring turns him into a horrible, unrecognizable creature.  His desire for his precious was out of control and it all but destroyed him.

Another example is the way Tolkien depicts the race of men (i.e. human beings) as being weak in their ability to control their inner desires.  When presented with rings of power the nine leaders of the race of men succumb to the allure of the rings and turn into horrible wraiths consumed by power and evil. The humans of this world succumb to the allures of power more quickly than any other race. Quite a scary picture for us!  

Certainly we are meant to self reflect and see ourselves in the midst of this.  Are we any different from the humans, or even Gollum, in Tolkien’s world who so easily succumb to our desires from within?  If our desires are left unchecked we are capable of unspeakable evils. Maybe we’ve even had a moment of looking in the mirror and not recognizing the person we face and what we have turned into.  The danger of unchecked desires is not original to Tolkien as he is simply reflecting the Biblical teachings he was raised into.  

Jesus speaks of our desires in Luke 9:23 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”   Jesus warns throughout his ministry of the dangers lurking within us as we are ultimately sinners to the core.  This is a message difficult to hear but necessary for us all.  Our world today is nothing short of obsessed with gratifying every desire that comes to us.  We are engulfed with glorifying every aberration of living no matter how unreasonable or harmful it may be to the self.  

As always, Jesus words, Jesus wisdom, Jesus ways are just what we need to hear.  We need them because they are the words of eternal life.  They’re not just a moral lesson to steer us into conformity, they are a healing salve, a beacon of light and hope for the souls of this world that are wrestling with self-inflicted brokenness and darkness.  Our Lord's words invite us back into the light, He seeks to open our eyes to His kingdom which is coming into this world with mercy, and hope, and grace.

I am thankful Tolkien spent some of his time on this earth creating a world that in so many ways reflects the wondrous works of our Creator God.  We will hope and pray that Amazon’s studios are able to bring some of these hope-filled messages to the screen for we certainly need to hear them.

To God be the glory.

Mark Witte is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church.
You can contact him at

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