Last weekend our family celebrated three birthdays. Most importantly, we celebrate our younger son turning thirteen. But as part of that celebration, we had fun on Hobbit Day--September 22--because it's the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, main characters from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. We ended up eating seven Hobbits meals and watching a four hour edit of the three Hobbit films as he opened presents.
It was a fun time for our family, but it also gave me an opportunity to appreciate Tolkien's view of friendship. Maybe it was the streamlined edit, but the theme really stood out to me as I watched the film(s) this time around. Some of Tolkien's emphasis on friendship was born out of his experience in the trenches of first world war. Even more helpful was seeing how so much of what he wrote seems to bleed in from his Christian convictions.
For example, Bilbo begins his journey with the dwarves just as wary of them as they are of him. Yet over the many months they travel and face adversity together, the company become friends. Such is the friendship that many times they risk their lives for one another. And we're reminded that "a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" (Prov 17:17).
At the beginning of the film, Bilbo seems motivated in his perseverance out of a desire to prove himself to the dwarves. But by the end, he sees how much he has at his home, Bag End, compared to the dwarves who have no home. This moved Bilbo, and his motivation changed as he began to bear the burden of others (Gal 6:2).
When Thorin is consumed with a desire for gold and power it changes him for the worse. And Bilbo is willing to tell him to his face. This is more than courage on Bilbo's part. It was an act of friendship towards Thorin. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy" (Prov 27:6).
Of course we're only scratching the surface here. But what struck me most was how rare such examples are today in the real world.
Many sociological reasons could probably be given. Regardless, the point is the same: friendship is weak today, even in the Church. Yet, that is the very place where it should be strongest. Friendship among God's people should the standard by which friendship is measured. After all, our friendship with others in grounded in a work of God. We have a Friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov 18:24), one who was willing to lay down his own life for his friends (John 15:13).
To be sure, there are amazing friendships in the Church. In fact, most Christians are friendly. They will send kind and encouraging notes on social media, help someone move, come to baby showers with gifts, and cook meals for those going through difficult times. But this is still friendship lite.
Imagine what a profoundly Christlike friendship would look like. Imagine friendships that transcend family relationships. Friendships anchored in the gospel. Friendships marked by: frequent conversations about eternal things; conversations born of transparency and deep matters of the heart; a common passion for Christ's kingdom; late nights of prayer interceding for others; vacation time from work used to help care for someone fighting cancer; or allowing someone to use a car or sleep in our home for an extended period of time. It's the kind of friendship that joyfully, sacrificially puts others before ourselves (Phil 2:1-11).
None of us will face orcs or goblins on an adventurous quest. Many of us will never have our friendship tested in battle. But all of us are even now having our mettle tested in the everyday experiences of life. Will we be distracted? Will we be consumed with entertainment? Will we bow to the idol of convenience?
Or, looking to Jesus, will we find forgiveness for past failures, security in his perfect Friendship even unto death, and follow his example as our risen King with those God has put into our lives?