One of my favorite books is The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was first published in 1937 (yes, the movie came much, much later) and since then has become one of the most popular books ever written. It has never been out of print and it has won numerous awards.
The Hobbit was written with a strong theological basis. It is very much a Christian book because Tolkien was very much a Christian author. As you read it, one of the best places to see this foundation at work is within the theme of moral and spiritual growth.
James Stuart Bell in The Spiritual World of the Hobbit writes: “One core concept of Christian doctrine is that human beings are born with a fatal flaw – something that’s broken in the core of our beings must be fixed before we can become the people God created us to be. This defect is often defined as ‘sin’ or our ‘sinful nature.’”
God is the one who ultimately fixes us, of course, and God does so in a dramatic way. Because of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, we can be reborn. That is, we can be remade in such a way that our sin no longer prevents us from becoming who God intended.
Then, once the flaw has been removed, the rest of our lives become a journey of becoming our true selves – a process often referred to as ‘spiritual growth.’ The apostle Paul summarizes it this way: “You were taught, about your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Tolkien intentionally built these ideas (and more) into the background and story of The Hobbit. The main character, Bilbo Baggins has his own flaws and is incomplete. Throughout the story, Tolkien presents the hobbit with a series of opportunities to overcome that flaw and take another step toward becoming the person he was created to be.
Bilbo’s willingness to take advantage of these chances allows him in due course to shed his “old self” and “put on the new self.” In other words, he becomes a new creation. He is born again.
Interestingly, Bilbo’s opportunities for growth almost always involve some kind of hardship, another connection between The Hobbit and Christian doctrine. Scripture clarifies several times that believers often experience the most spiritual growth amid difficult circumstances. For example: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. “(James 1:2-4)
There are also other characters in The Hobbit that are given opportunities for moral development and spiritual growth. Some take advantage; others do not. Thus, it is for us as Christians, we are given opportunities for moral development and spiritual growth. Some take advantage, some do not. It is up to us. Are we willing to get rid of the old self?