Tolkien, Quail and Mercy

A bit of writing from an assignment… My Old Testament Survey class had an on-line discussion about the “Old Testament God” of wrath vs. the “New Testament God” of mercy.

It seems to me that our “Old Testament God” has always showed mercy, extended beyond what one would have expected. He disciplined the people of the desert, yes. He spoke through the judges, and He refined with the Refiner’s fire those who were exiled. He gave The Children of Israel word pictures, prophetic dreams and promises of His mercy. And He gave them every opportunity to be fully restored in fellowship with Him. He brought His people back to the Land after the exile, and gave them security enough to rebuild. And “in the fullness of time” as Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4, He sent the Messiah as that final, amazing and all-encompassing act of mercy. Absolutely no one in history deserves that much mercy!

One of my favorite reminders of God’s mercy to the undeserving was the way He provided for the people in the desert as they left Egypt (Exodus 13). He could have easily let them live on bread and water. Instead He sent quail. Beyond what the whining, grumbling children of Israel needed, He gave them quail! I think I might have been mad at God, had I been Moses. I might have wanted God to just give them manna, and make it taste stale, or at least a little bland! Instead of tasting like dusty cardboard, it tasted like coriander (what we call cilantro) and honey!

Simon Peter, that impulsive fisherman-turned-disciple, wrote the most amazing words: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” [1 Peter 2:9-10] The disciple who denied His Lord understood first-hand the blessing of mercy, of covenant love, of forgiveness of transgressions!

To put it in a secular vein, another picture of this kind of mercy (perhaps because I am a lover of Professor Tolkien’s writings,) is the conversation that Frodo has with Gandalf when he finds out the Gollum was not killed by Bilbo, his uncle, when Gollum’s deceitfulness was first discovered. Instead, his life was spared by Frodo and the elves. Gandalf tried to get Frodo to see that this is the only honest and righteous way to have acted.

“But this is terrible!” cried Frodo. “…What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!”

[Gandalf] “Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and mercy: not to strike without need.”

“I am sorry,” said Frodo. “…I can’t understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.”

[Gandalf] “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends….” [The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 2].

In this quote from the Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien gives us a picture of “mercy” – one that shows the “undeserved” nature of it for Gollum, the traitorous hobbit forever changed by the evils he committed. Gandalf reminds Frodo that even Gollum deserves mercy, despite how ludicrous it seems to them as onlookers. “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life.”

That does not seem too far off to me when I look at the world around me today. And that is the message, the Gospel of Mercy, which we are called to preach, yes, but also to show by our response to the needs we see around us.

Just an end-of-semester muse…

From our home to yours-

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