I never imagined myself writing the following sentence: I am a bit like Gollum. No, I don’t mean that I have a funny cough, proclivity to use the word “precious”, or frequently talk to myself (though, some might disagree on that last point). Nor am I trying to draw an abstract analogy about wrestling with sin nature. No, Gollum and I have similar passions, which Tolkien superbly describes:
The most inquisitive and curious-minded of that family was called Sméagol. He was interested in roots and beginnings; he dived into deep pools; he burrowed under trees and growing plants; he tunnelled into green mounds; and he ceased to look up at the hill-tops, or the leaves on trees, or the flowers opening in the air: his head and his eyes were downward.1
I don’t know about you, but something in me resonates with inquisitiveness and curiosity. Roots and beginnings are fascinating. Why is a wonderful question and I try to use it rather often. These are all drives I seem to share with Gollum. What are we to make of this?
At first, the contrast between Gollum the wretched and Sméagol the inquisitive gives a reason for pause. Could the one lead to the other? Is it possible to let your eyes focus too long on roots and forget where you really are? While Tolkien does not draw this connection, there seems to be a valid reason for concern. Consider what Christ highlights as the greatest commandments:
And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’ (Matthew 22:37-40)2
Studying, getting to the root of things, is clearly part of following the greatest commandment. How else would we love God with our minds? A part though, is not the whole. Our love for God is not merely internal; it spills over into how we live. Hence, loving God is followed up with loving our neighbor. James communicates a similar perspective: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:17-18)
Our love for God results in action. It is outworked in our interactions with others. Simply put, loving God involves loving our neighbor. Conversely, failing to love your neighbor is failing to love God. It is at this confluence of thought and action, inner and outer life, study and application, that we find the answer to the problem of Gollum and Sméagol: a focus on serving others must accompany our ongoing curiosity.
Alternately, as an elder in my church reminds us, you truly know something when you act on it. There is nothing inherently wrong with inquisitiveness and searching for roots. We just need to remember that our gathering of facts and understanding should influence how we serve those around us.
Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables provides a final word picture. Describing Bishop Myriel’s garden, Hugo symbolically portrays the Christian’s combination of contemplation and work:
Indeed, is that not everything? What more do you need? A little garden to walk in, and immensity to reflect on. At his feet something to cultivate and gather; above his head something to study and meditate on; a few flowers on earth and all the stars in heaven.3
Which is more tempting for you, focusing only on study or focusing only on action? How do you counteract that temptation?
How have your past studies impacted those around you?
1. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993), 66.
2. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright© 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
3. Victor Hugo. Les Misérables. Translated by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee (New York: New American Library, 1987), 55.