Some time ago I went on an adventure. At least, that’s what it feels like whenever I open the pages of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In my reading, I came upon this quote from Gandalf. He says:
“Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”
As is often the case with Tolkien, I had to stop and read it again. Then again. And again.
It is the mood of our times to aspire to be world changers. We are supposed to irrevocably change things for the better. Even in the church. My time in youth and college ministry was filled with language of “changing the world”, “bringing revival”, being a “chosen generation”, and “taking back our country!” Not all of this came from the church. Much of it simply came from the Evangelical subcultural waters I was swimming in. I know, however, that I am not alone in this experience. Nor is such an experience unique to those of my generation. This sentiment continues in the church and in the world. This is an age of protest—many of them good and right—and the younger generations have become fully engaged. Each generation of the modern era has been filled with dreams of utopia: we can fix this once and for all.
I think we know better, deep down. Gandalf’s point speaks to this. We are too finite, too small to ‘fix it’ once and for all. But doing nothing is not an option. We are not without a task. We have a mission. It is not to master every incoming tide. Instead, we are to use all of the strength we have in the times we have been placed to uproot evil on our little plot of earth, in the little time we have. We cannot fix this world. Nor can we determine the weather for our children. But we can uproot evil in our day.
I cannot help but be reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:9–12:
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
The Christian life is countercultural in this way. It does not look like a cycle of drastic upheaval or violent riots: it is the quiet revolution of lives lived in peace, working faithfully, and walking properly before outsiders. It is a quiet resistance of hatred and selfishness, committing ourselves to the love of one another. It is the consistent commitment to repent of our own sins and refuse to tolerate unrighteousness in our midst, no matter how much it may benefit us in terms of power, influence, or riches.
It does not ignore the little foxes that terrorize our gardens. It does not turn a blind eye to evil. It does not make deals with the devil. The sheep do not make alliances with the wolves.
In 1938, Neville Chamberlain lead the UK to make a disastrous treaty with Hitler’s Nazi Germany. His description lives on as a farcical response to a disastrous compromise: “Peace in our time.” But, as the whole world now knows, peace does not come through compromise with evil. But neither does it come through our inner ability to change the world.
If we are to change this world, we must begin by uprooting evil in the field that we know. Jesus said it this way: If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is true that God has and does often raise up heroes who introduce monumental change in our world. There is a place for that. Nonetheless, it seems to me that true change often comes when believers commit themselves to uprooting sin in their own lives, bringing light in their own community, and fighting sin where they see it. We cannot control the weather for tomorrow. We do not know what challenges will come in days ahead.
But we can see the weeds in our garden, and we can root them out by the Spirit.
Only then can we have peace in our time.