One of my favorite novels (and movie) is Lord of the Rings, a classic and wonderfully told tale of good versus evil. An interesting sub-plot in the Lord of the Rings is the danger faced by those living in peace and prosperity, oblivious to embedding doom. The Hobbits are peaceful and hardworking, blissfully ignorant of the rise of Mordor and the danger that it poses to them and the inhabitants of Middle-earth.
There is a similar and troubling description in the Bible of another group of people living in peace and prosperity, unaware of their impeding destruction:
Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were there, how they lived in security … quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth … and how they … had no dealings with anyone ... But the people of Dan … came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, and struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire. And there was no deliverer because it was far from Sidon, and they had no dealings with anyone... (Jdg. 18:7; 27-28)
Lessons to be Gleaned from Hobbits and the People of Laish
Peace and Prosperity can be Dangerous
When our lives are characterized by peace, tranquility, and prosperity, we are prone to be lulled to sleep. The Hobbits were unaware of the looming danger and were not prepared for Sauron's assault with his armies from Mordor. The people of Laish thought all was fine—their lives were quiet, peaceful, and prosperous. They did not suspect a thing—then, they were attacked and destroyed.
This happened to Americans prior to September 11, 2001. Few suspected that evil men were planning to crash planes into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon. Evil did strike—unexpected and horribly on a beautiful, peaceful September morning. Many lives were lost and destroyed.
What is true nationally is also true of our souls. Complacency through preoccupation with the material and temporal at the neglect of our souls leads to false security and spiritual danger. We naively assume that everything is fine when in fact we and our students face two mortal dangers.
Danger from Within
We have evil natures
In Genesis we read that Cain was angry when the Lord rejected his offering. God responds by saying to Cain:
If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it. (Gen. 4:7)
Our sinful natures are always crouching in our hearts—ready to destroy our testimonies, our marriages, our careers, and our students. We must be keenly aware of the sin within us that, like the dark forces of Mordor, seeks to rise from within to devour our lives. This is why Jesus taught us to pray: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Mt. 6:13) He also tells us to: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mt. 26:41)
Peter was convinced of his loyalty to Jesus—he proclaimed confidently that he was willing to die for Jesus. Jesus knew Peter better than Peter knew himself.
Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. (Mt. 26:33-35)
The tendency for us to think more highly of ourselves than we should sets us up for failure. If we think we are strong enough to overcome our own sinful natures in our own strength we are destined to fail and to fall.
Dangers from Without
Satan is a real and active enemy
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Pet. 5:8-10)
We must not, therefore, slip into a comfortable complacency. We must in fact be sober-minded and watchful—looking for Satan’s attacks and snares—from within and from without. He is crouching, looking, and ready to rip us and our students apart. He is ready to have us and them for dinner. Only the ignorant and complacent walk about unaware and unguarded.
Our Protection—Christ, His Word, and His Shepherds
In the end, Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Pippin Took, and their allies saved Middle-earth and the Hobbits. In the end, only Christ, His Word, and His Shepherds will save us from dangers within and without.
Christ Prays for Us
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. (Lk. 22:31-32)
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Ro. 8:34)
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb. 7:23-25)
We must pray for each other and our students
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. (2 Th. 3:1–5).
Christ will finish what he has begun
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. (1 Thess. 1:3)
We must work as God works in us to both will and to do
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13)
We cannot isolate ourselves from the church
We cannot isolate ourselves spiritually like the people of Laish. The Bible describes them as having no allies, “And there was no deliverer because it was far from Sidon, and they had no dealings with anyone.” We need each other for encouragement and accountability. Attendance at worship and engagement in Christian community are essential. There are no Lone Ranger Christians. We need each other!
What This Means for Our Students
- They must be taught not to flatter themselves. Contrary to everything they hear from the world, they are not good—they have sinful natures that will lead them astray and destroy them.
- The world is not neutral nor a friend—the value system in this world is used by Satan to entrap and destroy. They must be alert to the dangers, they cannot be like Hobbits. They must lean on Christ and his word so that they are “not conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of their minds.”
- They must nourish their souls in God’s word and through engagement with God’s people. A malnourished improvised soul is no match for a sinful nature, Satan, or his allies in this world.
 Translated Black Land or Land of Shadow and in Chinese “a place where demons are many.”
 Tolkien noted that the "angelic" powers of his constructed myth "were capable of many degrees of error and failing,” but by far the worst was "the absolute Satanic rebellion and evil of Morgoth and his satellite Sauron.