Freely We Serve Because We Freely Love

So Saruman is defeated and Pippin turns to Gandalf and asks, “What will you do to him?” .

“I? Nothing!” said Gandalf. “I will do nothing to him. I do not wish for mastery.”

And so we see once more the contrast between Gandalf and Saruman, the one who lives “in terror of the shadow of Mordor,” yet “will not serve” but “only command”. In previous postings I have compared Saruman to Adolf Hitler, not suggesting that Tolkien based Saruman upon Hitler, but arguing that spiritually they are kin. I will offer one more character to whom I believe both to be related and that is the figure of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost.

“Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven,” is now one of the most famous lines from Paradise Lost and it is perhaps a sign of our time that many believe such a sentiment to be praiseworthy, a declaration of freedom from a divine tyranny that would keep us infants and deny us the divine fire as it did to humankind before the heroic sacrifice of Prometheus.

Praiseworthy it may be to stand in defiance of tyranny, whether such be divine or human, but in creating the character of Saruman and the character of Gandalf, Tolkien shows us both the true nature of divinity and the defiance that seeks to reign in despite of the majesty of God.

All who have read The Lord of the Rings will have noted a marked absence of divine intervention in the story unless we count Gandalf’s comment that Frodo was “meant to have” the Ring. Even Frodo is given freedom either to accept the task that is given to him or to reject it and the task is not at its beginning to take the Ring to Mordor but only to the temporary safety of Rivendell. Those who have read The Silmarillion will know that Tolkien had a sense of divine purpose in the mythology that he created but they will also know that Middle-earth is from the very beginning a sphere of freedom and that the divine purpose is always shrouded in mystery. Tolkien never tries to explain the mystery of the immortality of the Elves nor the mystery of human mortality and although he shows in the myth of the Music of the Ainur that there will be a wonderful conclusion to the story he never tries to tell us what it is. The Lord of the Rings is a story,not of metaphysical speculation, but of doing the necessary deed.

And the reason for this is that as a story-teller Tolkien takes the side, not of Saruman, the one who would reign in Hell rather than serve in Heaven, but of Gandalf, the one who does not wish for mastery. Saruman will have a certain ending to the story if he can, one in which he alone will reign. He may begin with words about a higher purpose but he will end with tyranny. For we know that Satan’s brave words of defiance are intended for himself alone. He will not share his reign in Hell so as to set us free and the purpose of the rest of us is to help him achieve his freedom at the price of our own enslavement.

We thought about that last week in the posting about spiritual guides. Gandalf will lead us down the hard road of joyful responsibility, doing the task that is at hand, until we find true freedom. As Milton wrote elsewhere in Paradise Lost:

“Freely we serve
Because we freely love, as in our will
To love or not; in this we stand or fall.”

4 thoughts on “Freely We Serve Because We Freely Love

  1. One of the things I constantly struggle with in Christianity is the balance between humility and faith – of being a servant while also believing that goodness will provide, of taking responsibility while accepting grace, etc. Gandalf (and other characters in the LotR) really seems to strike that balance and express it well.

  2. What impresses me about Gandalf, one of the truly and attractively GOOD characters in literature, is that there is nothing servile in his service. His whole life is an expression of the freedom that I try to express here.

  3. If God were less than what He is, then defiance against Him might be justified… the spirit of rebellion is, I think, also a spirit of fundamental misunderstanding, at least in most humans. To rule, to have control, is alluring, and like most alluring things, it is nothing but an illusion. Saruman is a slave, and has made himself so. A slave to Sauron, a slave to his own desires and his own fears. “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” He who would be his own master, only succeeds in becoming his own slave.
    In The Problem of Pain, that I’ve been reading, Lewis talks about the first sin, the Fall, and how it is, at its foundation, this desire to be one’s own master.

    • The link that you make between the desire to become one’s own master and becoming a slave to that desire is really important. We also see that this desire to be one’s on master is also competitive. We seek to achieve mastery at the expense of others.In his life of loving service Gandalf achieves a freedom that is beyond Saruman’s understanding. I think it is also important to say that another thing that links Saruman, Sauron and Milton’s Satan in “Paradise Lost” is that they perceive reality to be shaped by the exercise of power over others. That means that they perceive God’s love to be God’s weakness and something they can exploit. That God’s power and love might be one and the same thing is something they simply cannot and will not understand.

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