Sunday, February 12, 2012


No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

The title of the first chapter of The Hobbit is "An Unexpected Party" and the subtitle of the first installment of Peter Jackson's upcoming two-movie adaptation of the book is "An Unexpected Journey." With these titles, Tolkien and Jackson both are emphasizing that what happens to Bilbo Baggins is a drastic change from his normal Hobbit state of utter predictability. Tolkien tells us right off the bat that the thing that made the Bagginses respectable in the eyes of their neighbors, even more so than their wealth, was that "they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him."

That all changes, however, when thirteen dwarves and a wizard show up, unannounced, on his doorstep one day at tea time. Bilbo fulfills his duty as host, but the whole time he is flustered and upset with the intrusion into his quiet routine. To make matters worse, they are all calling him a burglar and expecting him to join them on a difficult journey to the Lonely Mountain, where he is to help them vanquish a dragon and reclaim their treasure. He keeps protesting that he is not a burglar, and he is certainly not eager to leave the comforts of his hobbit hole to travel who knows where into danger. He is acting much more fearful than a burglar probably should, too, and this causes the dwarves to begin to doubt Gandalf's choice of Bilbo as the one who can help them.

Gandalf's response is quick and authoritative: "I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself."

There are two things in that statement that leap out at me. First, the qualifier that Gandalf adds on to his assertion about Bilbo's abilities: he may not be something now, but he will be when the time comes. Second, Gandalf sees beyond the conventional, predictable Hobbit exterior and recognizes abilities and potential in Bilbo that not even Bilbo himself realizes he possesses. 

I imagine God to be somewhat like Gandalf in this instance. He presents us with challenging tasks or allows us to be in challenging circumstances because he knows exactly what we are capable of, even when we aren't so confident in our own abilities, and he prepares us in all sorts of ways to have the experiences and abilities to do what he needs us to do, maybe not right now, but when the time comes. It's both comforting and scary, all at the same time – and it's so exhilarating to come to the end of a situation you didn't think you could handle, having passed the test with at least flying colors, if not wagon-loads of treasure liberated from the dragon's hoard.

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