Gandalf the Grey – Tolkien’s Apostolic Archetype

2 08 2008

(Warning: If you don’t enjoy fantasy you probably want to skip this post.)

Ever since my friend Luke Crook forced my to read The Lord of the Rings in 7th grade I’ve been enamored with the character of Gandalf.  What is it about him that resonates so deeply with me?  As I’ve been studying the nature of apostolic ministry I continue to be struck by the similarities between Gandalf’s role (and the role of the 5 wizards) and the developing biblical picture I’m getting regarding God’s apostles.

Here are a few parallels:

“The Wandering Wizard” – Gandalf is itinerant and insists on building up other groups but being beholden to none.  He takes REAL responsibility for his role in providing guidance and strategy without settling down in any one place (the flaw of Saruman).  In the Silmarillion there is an interesting narrative about the White Council (Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf, Saruman etc.).  Galadriel wanted Gandalf to be the leader of the White Council but Gandalf refused because “he would not be subject to any summons”.  He will not be rooted to one institution because it would interfere with his ability to serve many (this also must be true of apostles) which leads to my second point.

“Servant of the Secret Fire” – My favorite scene in The Fellowship of the Ring is when Gandalf faces the Balrog of Morgoth.  Gandalf is already visibly shaken by being hit by a counter spell at the tomb door and suddenly Legolas cries out Ai! Ai! A Balrog!  And you know when the powerful, wise, hundreds-of-years-old elf freaks out you’re in serious trouble.  But when Gandalf faces off with the Balrog on the bridge he tells the creature “I am a servant of the Secret Fire” and the second I read that for the first time I was entraced.  Tolkien has amazing literary restraint.  He tells you very little about the history of Middle-Earth but just enough to give his works a sense of almost endless depth and history.  Now I’m a big enough geek to read Tolkien’s other books and notes and I know that Gandalf was sent by the Valar to Middle-Earth to counter the growing threat of Sauron.  But Gandalf’s self-identity as a servant of something secret and unseen by those who knew him is exactly the kind of self-identity needed for an apostle.  Apostles are not superstars they are servants of the unseen Kingdom of God, not building fortresses like Saruman but on the move, tirelessly serving and building up the forces of God’s people to face their enemy which leads to my final point.

“Stormcrow” – Gandalf was given the name Stormcrow by some because his arrival always seemed to be perfectly timed with a season of war of either expansion or defense.  Likewise God’s apostles often arrive to shake up foundations and move God’s people forward which can be unsettling for those who are desperately trying to defend the status quo.

There are many others but I thought I’d list a few and expose my hopeless geekdom for public display once again.

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