Before the epic and wildly popular Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote its prequel, The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey. The first of three films retelling this beautiful tale was released in December 2012. The reviews of critics, LOTR fans and casual movie goers are conflicting and varied. No matter what one might think of The Hobbit as a film or novel, there is more than a bit of wisdom to be gained from this story.
Hobbits live in a beautiful little country called the Shire; they build cozy homes in the sides of hills called “hobbit holes,” complete with fire places, large pantries and rooms just for sitting. They grow vegetables and flowers, eat more than five meals a day and enjoy each other’s company under fireworks with music and ale in hand. Hobbits don’t venture outside the Shire. Hobbits don’t go on adventures. They are content to live their quiet lives eating, gardening and laughing.
Generations before, the home and wealth of the Dwarf people (a race separate from Hobbits) was stolen by a monstrous and merciless dragon, leaving them to aimlessly wander the earth. A company of 12 Dwarves decide to reclaim what is rightfully theirs and reestablish the Dwarf kingdom. However, they cannot do it alone. They need a spy, a burglar…a Hobbit. One morning, a wizard appears on the doorstep of a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. This wizard invites Bilbo on an adventure.
That night, an obnoxious, bearded bunch of Dwarves invades Bilbo’s tiny Hobbit hole, inhale every last bit of his food and offer him a place in the company. They explain the dangers and rewards of their quest. They show him a map, detailing the length and difficulty of the journey. They give him a job description. Bilbo quickly and firmly refuses, leaving the Dwarves feeling defeated. But, as morning dawns, the curious call of adventure gets the best of Bilbo and he takes off to join the Dwarves!
As days turn to weeks and months, the journey proves more than Bilbo bargained for. The dangers are far worse than he imagined. The food and drink is never enough. Rain and wind are colder and crueler than in the Shire. There is always a dark, evil creature they must escape or outwit. The Dwarves are less than pleasant company and ungrateful for Bilbo’s help. On more than one occasion, Bilbo’s small size and inexperience gets him into trouble, making him no help at all and saddling the Dwarves with an extra burden. He quietly mourns the loss of his pleasant life in the Shire and earnestly believes he will lose his life before returning there.
At one point, the entire company is taken captive and Bilbo is separated from all the Dwarves in captivity. They escape, but Bilbo is nowhere to be found. With a stroke of luck, Bilbo also escapes and has a chance to abandon this awful journey and head home to his warm, dry hobbit hole. The Dwarves would never know. He emerges from a cave, just in time to overhear the Dwarves discussing him, wondering if he had left them and some claiming it was probably for the best since Bilbo had not proven useful. He appears, startles the Dwarves and is asked why he returned to the company. This is his answer:
“I know you doubt me, I know you always have, and you’re right. I often think of Bag End. I miss my books, and my arm chair, and my garden. See, that’s where I belong; that’s home, and that’s why I came, because you don’t have one… a home. It was taken from you, but I will help you take it back if I can.”
The inborn need for and love of home almost kept Bilbo from the journey: the confidence of belonging somewhere, the luxury of owning things and the satisfaction of building a meaningful life. He already enjoyed all of these benefits. Journeying with the homeless Dwarves awakened Bilbo to things he took for granted. His new affection for home stirred him to spend himself completely so a group of large, rude, inconvenient and uninvited guests who did not fully appreciate or believe in him could have a home of their own.
We often don’t contemplate what it meant for Jesus to leave heaven and come to earth. We might assume because He is God, it was part of His plan and He willingly came, it wasn’t a big deal. From eternity past, Jesus had enjoyed perfect fellowship with His Father, ruling at His right hand. He never suffered hunger, rejection, loneliness or pain. Coming to earth was no vacation. It was a dark, lonely journey where Jesus forfeited the praise, privileges and position of heaven to save us. Even on earth, the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). Our home, the one God intended for us, was stolen by sin. The only way to guide an ungrateful, rebellious race to the home they would tirelessly search for and never find was to send One who had a home and desired to share it. This is Scripture’s grand narrative: God steering His creatures home through Jesus.
C. S. Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Every human being has the desire for another home that cannot be satiated or explained away. Christians know this home; Paul (someone else familiar with homelessness for the gospel’s sake, 1 Corinthians 4:11) reminded the church in Philippi of our true citizenship (3:20). Today, we are far too easily satisfied with our earthly homes. Jesus said “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold[a]and will inherit eternal life.”(Matthew 19:29)
Have you written off the prospect of God calling you to leave your dream house, the highly rated schools, your BFFs, the convenient shopping, family and abundance of weekend activity options to proclaim the One who offers a heavenly home to the spiritually homeless? Foreign missionaries will tell you they miss their house with a roof, friends who speak their language and familiar restaurants. In the same breath they will tell you they have lost nothing compared to the home God is preparing for them in glory.
Which home are you more in love with?