Bilbo Baggins makes a decision

As one of those who watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey within the first 24 hours of its release in Canada, I can say that I enjoyed it.

The following concerns one of the most chilling moments of The Hobbit for me, though it’s probably not what you would typically consider a chilling moment. Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler, although if you’re against watching trailers, this does reference content in the trailer.

You can watch a snippet from 2:00 in this trailer if you wish, just of the exchange between Bilbo and Gandalf.

Bilbo Gandalf

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.
Bilbo Baggins: Can you promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: …No. And if you do, you will not be the same.
[Click image for original website.]

Like Bilbo, I want that assurance of familiarity. Gandalf’s words that you and others will not be the same are almost like a nightmare.

Bilbo Baggins’ fear of change and strangers and uncertainty, his apprehension at leaving all that he knows and loves and values, and his reluctance to dive into a life-changing adventure are all things that I, at the depths of my play-it-safe nature, very much identify with.

This fear is one of the huge challenges for humanity, as expressed in so many of the stories in our culture: letting go of what could have been for what could be.

Frodo Baggins leaving the Shire for the Fellowship of the Ring.

Jay Gatsby refusing to let go of his ideal of Daisy.

Daisy Buchanan pursuing her ideal of love. (Funny how ideal is not far from the spelling of idol.)

Simba leaving his desert oasis paradise to challenge Scar on Pride Rock.

Spiderman taking on his burden of  great responsibility that comes with great power.

The twelve disciples answering Jesus’ call to follow him.

Again and again, we are shown that the world is not static, and that we must adapt as life happens, but we don’t always respond favourably. Most of us are control freaks, in the sense that if things are out of control and beyond our zone of comfort, we freak out. The thing is, if we see what we are as fine-and-dandy, we will abhor change; if we have a healthy discontent that recognizes how we could be changed for the better, we would be more open to change, in reasonable proportions. (I’m not talking complete overhaul for no reason.)

Now, I know my resolution to this fear, and it is something I remind myself of all the time. Yet this is a recurring concern that comes back to taunt me, in case I can be hoodwinked to forget the source of my confidence, so then I fend it off with my sword. I shall leave this post unresolved.

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Mara: bitterness

This wrinkly thing below is bitter melon a.k.a. bitter gourd. It tastes awful. (I think so, and I’d eat almost anything digestible.) Bitter melon is actually quite good for your health.

Here’s the story:

She moved to a difference country with her family. Her husband died. Her two sons died. She had no grandchildren, and only her daughters in law were left. A troubled immigrant who had everything taken from her, with reason to bear sorrow.

She said to her daughters-in-law, “My daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me.”

When she and one daughter in law arrived back in her home province, she said to those who remembered her and greeted her, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has pronounced judgment on me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” [passages from Ruth, HCSB]

——

It would seem that Naomi is a bitter woman because of her bitter life. It would seem that she has had unfortunate things happen to her, and that she is a victim of misfortune. We are, however, informed of a few things that could suggest otherwise. This happens historically in the time of judges ruling Israel, which is a time when men did whatever was right in their own eyes. There was a famine in the land of Judah, possibly a sign of judgment about the wickedness in God’s people, purposed as a wake up call. Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, moved their family to Moab, a pagan land far away from people who worshipped God, to escape the hard times. Their sons married women who did not worship God. There’s quite a bit of disobedience and lack of faith and trust amongst the family.

The deaths (and the rumour of food back in Judah) ultimately caused Naomi to return to Judah with Ruth. When Ruth ends up marrying well and bearing a son, there is no record of what Naomi says.

——

So the LORD’s plans at the juncture of the deaths and returning to Judah appear to be a bitter hand dealt to Naomi. However much of this was her fault is irrelevant; even if Naomi’s personal sin was not a direct cause of this entire bitter fate, Naomi is also not a mere victim. She was bitter, mara, vexed, provoked, annoyed, irritated, angry. Many years earlier, the Israelites had grumbled to Moses about the bitter water, and the LORD’s lack of provision in the desert. They were tested. They discovered that they needed to obey and trust, and not to complain. [Exodus 15:22-27]

——

At the end of Naomi’s tale, the other women in Judah say to her, “ ‘Praise the Lord, who has not left you without a family redeemer today. May his name become well known in Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. Indeed, your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’ Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and took care of him.” She has nothing to say now but does seem to treasure what God gave her eventually. Her life was bitter for a time, but hindsight is 20/20. You see things so much more clearly as you reflect and look back than while you were in the middle of it; and yet we hold on to the past as if we knew better.

In time, the Lord who is good will provide, ultimately in eternity but also somehow in the land of the living. In the meantime, we must be blind to take unsavoury situations with annoyance, irritability, anger, vexation or bitterness in our hearts. God is at work, and we must keep up with Him, being ready to change our minds, change our behaviour, and change our desires. Not easy for change-resistant breeds like us who think we know better.