So, I am planning more posts re: the Karl Barth class, but I've also just started a Philosophical Inquiry class, and I'm supposed to read Heidegger tonight, so rather than spend a ton of time writing new posts today, I am going to post a revised version of a post I wrote in the pre-blogspot days... hope you're all LOTR fans... :-)
One of my favorite scenes from Tolkien's "The Two Towers" is when Sam and Frodo are following Gollum through the swamps and valleys into Mordor, hoping to find a way to destroy the evil ring of power. Gollum, for those of you (if there are any!) who have never seen the movies or read the books, is a nasty, evil creature, a slave to the ring, but has promised to be Frodo's faithful guide, because Frodo has treated him with kindness. Frodo realizes that only Gollum can lead them into Mordor without being captured by the enemy. Sam distrusts Gollum and is fully aware of his treacherous nature.
At one point, Sam asks Frodo (I'm paraphrasing a bit here), "Why do you care what happens to Gollum? He's evil and will turn on you if he has a chance."
Frodo's reply is simple and powerful: "Because I have to believe that he can come back." In other words, Frodo knew that hoping his own life could be saved meant hoping that Gollum's life could be restored as well. Gollum had been terribly corrupted by evil, but Frodo refused to believe that there was no hope. Sam, on the other hand, refused to believe that Gollum could be anything other than what he was, i.e. evil.
It turns out, in the story, that both Sam and Frodo did the right thing. Frodo's kindness gave them a means to destroy the ring, and Sam's skepticism provided him with the means to save Frodo. And this same paradox of hope and skepticism plays itself out in our lives every day.
We are all created with a bit of Sam and a bit of Frodo, in differing amounts, within ourselves. Some of us are too trusting. Some of us are too suspicious. None of us gets it just right.
The "Frodos" among us realize that if we have any hope of life, freedom, salvation, etc., we must offer that same hope to others as well. The "Sams" are quick to point out that some people are, in all probability, simply beyond hope; they will not turn from their wicked ways, no matter what happens. The "Frodos" respond that it doesn't matter whether they are beyond hope or not, if we are to live in hope, we must believe that people can change, or we will lose hope that we ourselves can change.
The outcome, of course, is unknown and unpredictable. How do we respond? I guess my own hope is that the "Frodos" will learn to listen more carefully to the cautions of the "Sams", and that the "Sams" will learn to open themselves to the risky challenge of hope presented by the "Frodos".
But as Christians, we must also remember that our faith is based in the belief that hope ultimately wins. But do we really live as though we believe hope will win? Are we ready to give that hope even to those that appear beyond its reach? Or are we, like Sam, so certain of the demise of certain individuals that we would deprive them of any hope? That seems to me (and perhaps I am betraying my own "Frodo-ness" here) to be very wrong indeed.
Doesn't Dante's entrance to hell read, "abandon all hope, ye who enter here"? I am not ready to deprive anyone of hope, and yet I recognize (as most of my friends will attest!) that a healthy dose of skepticism is a good thing at times. I struggle with both sides of this coin, and I've not found the balance... I probably won't in this life, but I must keep struggling regardless.
This all brings to mind another great quote from LOTR, this one from Gandalf, when he tells Frodo: "There are many who live that deserve death, and those who are dead that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Do not be too quick to deal out death and judgement."