Shout or Whisper?

Early in The Fellowship of the Ring, as Bilbo is preparing to depart, there is a marvelous exchange between he and Gandalf about Bilbo leaving the ring behind for Frodo.

Gandalf: I think you should leave the ring behind, Bilbo. Is that so hard?

Bilbo: Well, no. [frowning]  …and yes. Now it comes to it, I don’t feel like parting with it. It’s mine, I found it. It came to me! [growing agitated]

Gandalf:  There’s no need to get angry.

Bilbo: Well, if I’m angry, it’s your fault. [to himself]… it’s mine… my own… my precious

Gandalf:  Precious? It’s been called that before, but not by you.

Bilbo: Oh, what business is it of yours what I do with my own things?

Gandalf: I think you’ve had that ring quite long enough.

Bilbo: You want it for yourself! [near violence]

Gandalf:  BILBO BAGGINS! Do not take me for some conjurer of cheap tricks! I am not trying to rob you. I’m trying to help you.

If you remember from the film as Gandalf speaks these last lines he swells in physical and metaphysical proportion overwhelming Bilbo to thunder, “BILBO BAGGINS!  Do not take me for some conjurer of cheap tricks…I am not trying to rob you.”  Then, normal in size, Gandalf bends down ever so close and tenderly says, “I’m trying to help you.”

In Scripture we see God coming to His people in both ways.  At times He trumps smaller fear with larger and He arrives in the whirlwind as He with Job (Job 38:1).  Other times when He is sought in the dramatic,  He whispers instead as He did to Elijah. (1 Kings 19:12)  God comes in both fashions because we need both.  Sometimes we want the shout but he whispers while other times we  think shouting inappropriate; yet He shouts.  The key?  He knows what we need.  “Your heavenly father knows what you need before you ask“, Jesus tells us, (Matthew 6:8).  Whether He explodes with a shout or bends tenderly to whisper, He is always helping us.

As C.S. Lewis said so well in The Problem of Pain:

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain:  it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world (91). …If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms, but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had.  The same humility is shown by all those Divine appeals to our fears which trouble high-minded readers of Scripture.  It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell:  yet even this He accepts.  The creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered; and by trouble or fear of trouble on earth, by crude fear of the eternal flames, God shatters it ‘unmindful of His glory’s diminution’.  (96)

It was needful and painful for Bilbo to forsake the ring; the object which had given him unusually long physical life but his real “good” was not in that ring.  It is painful and needful for us to let go of things that have given us a feeling of life but are not our real good; our real life .  Eugene Peterson puts it very well:

Whenever we say no to one way of life that we have long been used to, there is pain.  But when the way of life is in fact a way of death, a way of war, the quicker we leave the better.  There is a condition that sometimes develops in our bodies called adhesions — parts of our internal organs become attached to other parts.  The condition has to be corrected by surgical procedure  — a decisive intervention.  The procedure hurts, but the results are healthy….As Emily Dickinson’s spare space sentence is an epigraph: “Renunciation — the piercing virtue!”

God’s arrows are judgments aimed at provoking repentance.  The pain of judgment called down against evil doers could turn them also from their deceitful and violent ways to join our pilgrim on the way of peace.  Any hurt is worth it that puts us on the path of peace, setting us free for the pursuit, in Christ, of eternal life.  ~ Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Discipleship in an Instant Society. pp. 30-31.

Dying to bring us life, Jesus heard neither shout nor whisper from God…until early on the first day of the week!  He is no conjurer of cheap tricks.  Forsaken, slain, but gloriously risen  He meets us in shout and whisper saying, “I’m not trying to rob you!  I’m trying to help you!


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