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Tolkien’s Eagles, Angels, Intervention, Agency and Grace

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Eagles and Angels

Now I realize that Tolkien’s trilogy “Lord of the Rings” is fiction, but I remember wondering at the end of Return of the King, “Why couldn’t the eagles have just flown the ring to Mordor and drop it into Mount Doom”? Every now and then I’ll read a similar criticism here and there online or in discussing the topic with friends.

This past Tuesday I was reading in 1 Nephi 3 where after two failed attempts at retrieving the brass plates, an angel intervenes to stop Nephi’s enraged brothers from beating him. The angel appears and says:

“Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities? Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands.” (vs. 29)

Just for kicks I pondered the question, “Why didn’t God just send the angel to get the plates and bring them to Nephi? Then Nephi wouldn’t have to kill someone and Laban wouldn’t have to die”. That’s when Tolkien’s eagles came to mind and I pondered on the connection between the two situations.

If God and J.R.R. Tolkien both have the means to miraculously deliver people, then why don’t they use these means all the time instead of allowing people to suffer?

Intervention and Agency

I think the answer to the question of why God only intervenes at certain times becomes fairly obvious if you ponder doctrines relating to the purpose of life. We were created with the ability to act and so that we might not be objects to be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:14).

In reference to the purpose of this mortal life God said:

“We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;” (Abraham 3:24-25)

Frodo and Nephi both had to endure a long and challenging journey, but why? Think about it; though the way was hard and almost impossible tasks were before them, intervention came when necessary, but without violating their agency and when there was no other way but for God to intervene to allow their mortal experience to continue.

Because we are agents unto ourselves, we are at liberty to exercise our moral agency and this is just as God intends.

We know that God “giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7).

We also know that God “will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).

When and how God chooses to intervene in our lives is up to him and in accordance with our needs and his purposes. Consider the words of the Lord to Joseph Smith as he suffered imprisonment at Liberty Jail:

And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.

The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?

Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever. (D&C 122:7-9)

Grace

Ultimately and all-encompassingly (is that a legit phrase?), it is God’s grace that “saves”. We acknowledge that through the atonement of Christ, we are saved from sin and death, but when it comes to experiences, it seems that we are only saved from them under certain conditions.

LDS Church leader, Bruce C. Hafen observed:

Adam and Eve learned constantly from their often harsh experience. They knew how a troubled family feels. Think of Cain and Abel. Yet because of the Atonement, they could learn from their experience without being condemned by it. Christ’s sacrifice didn’t just erase their choices and return them to an Eden of innocence. That would be a story with no plot and no character growth. His plan is developmental—line upon line, step by step, grace for grace.

So if you have problems in your life, don’t assume there is something wrong with you. Struggling with those problems is at the very core of life’s purpose. As we draw close to God, He will show us our weaknesses and through them make us wiser, stronger. If you’re seeing more of your weaknesses, that just might mean you’re moving nearer to God, not farther away. (The Atonement: All for All, General Conference, April, 2004 )

What do you think?

  • How have you experienced God’s intervention?
  • What have you learned about how and why God intervenes?
  • What does the understanding of these doctrines teach us about God and about ourselves?