Galadriel’s next question cut through like a knife: “Save or rule?”
Halbrand responded, “I see no difference.”
Here we see the disparity between Sauron and Galadriel. For Sauron, the only way to save the people was to rule them and bend them to his will. His absolute reign alone would bring about healing to a war-torn land.
But in her heart, Galadriel recognized he offered her a counterfeit power, rife with the darkness infecting the dying elven tree. What she might mean for good would eventually poison her and the world she loves. Salvation for Middle-earth did not include ruling it. So, though this power continually tempted her heart (fast forward to the Lord of Rings), she resisted Sauron’s call, for she knew that the end goal was not worth sacrificing the light and embracing the darkness.
The Way of the Servant King
Though many people debate the accuracy of this rendition of Tolkien’s world, one theme rings true—dark power corrupts. Rulers are themselves in danger of being ruled by the darkness. Galadriel withstands Sauron’s temptation because she recognizes the darkness in her own heart. No matter how much she would like to be the beacon of good, this power Sauron offered her would ultimately destroy her.
Tolkien’s focus of the twisting power of the Dark Lord most likely stems from his worldview. As an adamant Christian, Tolkien knew about a real Dark Lord who calls and beckons us to choose the way of corrupting power. And sometimes his words promise that we can heal what is broken by ruling over others.
But Tolkien also knew the gospel offers another way, one less fraught with the unknown pitfalls of the darkness in our hearts. We can choose the way of the Servant King, Jesus. He turned expectations on their head. When Israel expected a military victor, God sent his Son, born to a humble woman in a backwater town. Jesus is the one “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7).
When the end of his time on earth drew near, Jesus, “knowing the Father had given all things into his hands,” washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:3). Though a king, he willingly “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). He knew that the way of the cross—his substitutionary atonement for the sins and shame of the world—was the only means to bring true healing from sin and evil.
When a mother’s request for positions of power for her sons caused a squabble among his disciples, Jesus responded,
- “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)
When his disciples asked the resurrected Jesus if it was time to restore the kingdom to Israel, he responded, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8). The disciples mistakenly assumed it was time to rule. However, the King pointed to another way. The disciples would receive power, but power to be his witnesses, to make his name known, and to tell the world of the coming kingdom marked by peace and the new creation healed from sin and darkness.
Sin tempts us to grasp corrupted power for good purposes. The world is broken. People are hurting. Death, sickness, evil, sin, pain, and hurt exist. “Turn from the light and embrace the darkness,” the evil one calls, “for there you will find the power to bring about good.” But in doing so, we touch the darkness and find ourselves controlled by what we thought we could control.
The Servant King calls us to a different path. Deny ourselves, and follow him. Strive for good. Seek the light. Serve, lay down our lives, and most importantly, proclaim the coming return of the king who will finally heal the broken land.