And over their hearts crept a shadow, the fear of a great danger: the end of the Mark in the darkness to which Gandalf was driving them, while Saruman stood beside a door of escape, holding it half open so that a ray of light came through. There was a heavy silence.
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, 184.
“And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?'”- Numbers 14:2-3.
Christians know the feeling well. We look around at all the things we could be doing, the sin we could be indulging, the lies we could contrive to get ahead, the second glances we think would satisfy that lust, and we yearn. The door is being held open to us, and a voice beckons us to return.
It’s probably not a smart thing for the normal writer to construct an entire chapter without much action taking place. Indeed, Peter Jackson can hardly conceive of a scene in Middle-earth without orc heads being lopped off. This is, however, Tolkien’s chapter, “The Voice of Saruman”. Our heroes travel to Isengard, the stronghold of the lesser, but still formidable, antagonist in the Lord of the Rings. The action and tension of this chapter, though, reside not in an epic battle or chase but in a single, powerful voice. Saruman reveals himself high up in his tower, Orthanc, to the heroes down below and begins a conversation with them. In this moment, we read, “Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment. . . they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that was said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves.” Indeed, “none were unmoved; none rejected its pleas and its commands without an effort of mind and will, so long as its master had control of it,” (The Two Towers, 183). Such is the struggle in this chapter. The voice of Saruman causes those who hear it to question what they know to be true. The great wizard, Gandalf, led the Riders of the Mark to great victory a few chapters earlier, and yet, in the trance of this evil voice, they question not only the wizard but their essential mission as well. Now, their mission seems to lead only into darkness. It appears to them that their noble quest to rid their land of evil is futile and hopeless. In this moment, to turn from goodness and to pursue evil seems wise and beneficial. The “door of escape” is cracked only a little, cracked just enough to let the light of a future state of perceived bliss trickle in.
The concept of an enchanting voice leading to a way of escape is sprinkled all across the Scriptures; it haunts us more potently, though, in the story of the Exodus. As soon as the people are led out of their slavery in Egypt, they begin to grumble. They grumble consistently until their Promised Land is in sight, and then they see the people that they must conquer. Their hearts, almost on cue, fail them. Suddenly, slavery looks like home, and God seems like a tyrant. They question the LORD’s goodness and intent and, indeed, the very mission itself. The Promised Land looks like certain death, and Egypt looks like life. The people perceive a door of escape slightly open, letting the warmth of promised joy seep into their minds.
Anyone who has journeyed on the straight and narrow for any length of time knows this enchanting voice. It plagued Eve in the Garden when it said, “Did God actually say…” (Genesis 3:1), and Paul tells us of its effect when he says, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want it what I keep on doing,” (Romans 7:18-29). There are hints of it in Job’s words, “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? Their offspring are established in their presence, and their descendants before their eyes,” (Job 21:7). Christians constantly have conversations with this voice. It tells them that God is not good, that He is driving them to darkness. It tells them that their pursuit for righteousness and true joy is but a pursuit for emptiness and hopelessness. It causes them to question their solid ground. It causes them to look toward the open door. It causes them to look back to Egypt. It often seems like wisdom to continue that argument just to win it, to search one more time for those explicit images, to harbor feelings of superiority or hatred, to return to that slavery which once characterized our existences. It is a strong voice, it is an enchanting voice, and it is a lying voice which tells us that following Christ is futile, that pursuing Him is a dead-end.
Gandalf’s words are true of this seductive voice: “‘In the language of Orthanc help means ruin, and saving means slaying, that is plain,'” (The Two Towers, 184). Adam and Eve sent the human race into death, slavery, and rebellion for listening to that voice. It caused the Israelites to question God’s leadership and wander in the wilderness for 40 years. It caused David to take the wife of another man, and it ultimately cost him the life of his sons and the near destruction of his kingdom. Because His people listened to it, their earthly Promised Land was taken from them. It caused Peter to deny the One who gave Him the only true Life, who was resurrected from the dead and proved to be the Son of God. This voice causes families to be ripped apart today and marriages to be destroyed. It causes heinous evils and innumerable hardships. It has been proved: the promised joy, security, and salvation of this dissenting voice only causes despair, fear, and judgment. The way of escape, then, is actually the way of imprisonment. Christians are aware, though, that these examples are not enough to break the spell this voice casts. We need a stronger voice, a sweeter, more challenging tone. We need the tone that spoke in the beginning, the One that called us from the grave, the One that knows our name.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” (Galatians 5:1). Paul would not have written this warning if not for the reality that this dissenting voice remains inside of believers post-conversion. In the midst of the warning though, he gives us an important truth. He gives us Jesus. He encourages us and reminds us of our present and past state. We were slaves. The “wisdom” of the dissenting voice leads to unsatisfying circles of desperation and thirst and slavery to passion and self. The doorway held open to Christians back into sin leads only to darkness and despair, into slavery under a master who cares nothing for us. But Christ has brought us out from that. Christ is our master now, and He cares for us. He has paid for us, bought us with his blood (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and we are, contrary to this alluring voice, safe. We need a constant wake up call from the enchantment of the Dissenter, a constant cup of cold water to the face to bring us back into the reality of things. This is why Paul reminds us, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Romans 8:13-15). We need to be reminded that we are sons and daughters. We are adopted. We are forgiven, freed, and truly changed. We need to see Christ, and we need to see Him moment by moment, day by day. Only when we cry out in desperate prayer for faith, only when our eyes are turned to Christ can we hope to be released from that voice. As we turn to Christ our sins are exposed for what they really are. As we look to Him we are reminded of all that has gone before, of the slavery in which we lived, and all that is to come. This is why our times in the Word are so vital. This is why Scripture memory is so important. This is why our regular church visits and our taking of the Lord’s Supper are so crucial. This is why godly relationships and accountability are key. They all help us to see Jesus.
Still, often times we fail. More times than not, it seems, Christians are to be found in their tears and unbelief, sitting in muck and filth, trying desperately to re-chain and re-cuff themselves to the sin which they really do hate. But the beauty of the Gospel is that once Christ has freed us, He will not let us go back into slavery. No matter how much we curse or rage, we cannot, ultimately, run from Him who is everywhere nor escape from Him who called us in the first place. Jesus comforts us and says, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day,” (John 6:39-40). Notice the flow. The Father’s will is that Christ should lose nothing of what is given Him. Jesus will raise up all His gifts in resurrection. Then we come to understand that the Father’s gifts to Christ are people. These people are those who look to the Son by faith for help and salvation. Jesus will not disappoint His people; He will raise them up to eternal life and joy.
Our duty everyday is to look on Christ and believe. His voice is the only voice which can break the enchantment of our sinful old men living within us. We will fail, and we will run back to our slavery. And He will restore us by faith and repentance. This is the cycle of our days. Our ultimate hope lies, though, in these words: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it,” (1 Thessalonians 5:24), and “. . . I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 1:6). The Voice who called us forth is the Voice which will bring us to glory. It is more powerful than the enchantment of our sin, and it is more beautiful and satisfying than all our old man could offer.
“But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”