Thinking about the controversy over votes for House Speaker this past week, a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring kept coming to mind.
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
As you doubtless know, Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Congressman from California, failed to gain the necessary votes a dozen or so times, due entirely to concerns held by at least twenty of his conservative colleagues, that he is too much that status quo which Americans are tired of, and which we need less rather than more of.
Despite what former President Trump had to say, or perhaps because of it, I am reminded of the wisdom and goodness of Tolkien’s fantastic poetry.
Not all that glitters is gold. At the same time, all that is gold does not glitter.
These two statements are close to saying the same thing, but one is not quite repeating one’s self, if you really think about it, to say both back to back.
These truths are no more redundant than are two sides of the same coin. That is, they are not redundant statements at all.
Yet gold is a thing that sometimes glitters. And we may need to call ourselves to remembrance of that, particularly as leverage against fatalism and cynicism.
Such are always too ready to abandon, rather than support, honorable men, as well as worthy causes, seizing on any excuse which is convenient, at first blush, to quit all fields in the name of picking one’s battles at a future time, even if we secretly hope that future time never comes.
To truly pick one’s battles, one must at a certain point actually take to the field, and engage the enemy. Otherwise the chronicles of history make resoundingly clear that the more apt term is ‘cowardice,’ or perhaps ‘faithlessness,’ not ‘prudence.’
This is not to say that Kevin McCarthy, for instance, is the man who should be supported, to give the recent example of the House Speaker contest. But it is a general truth, that we need to not grow weary, either in doing what is good, or supporting others who are, or make a claim to wanting to do what is good moving forward.
For another example, consider Ron DeSantis, just sworn in for another term as Florida governor. What if he is the real deal, and not just another politician who will disappoint us, saying what sounds good, but sure to renege on his promises once he is empowered?
Weariness in doing good will guarantee a bad outcome. That much is sure. And the Lord loves a cheerful giver, who does what is right, and operates from pure motives. So, then, what is that, except another way of saying we need to remember that not all that glitters is gold, and also that all that is gold does not glitter?
To put it another way, if we were deceived in a transaction in the past, or in many transactions, and tricked by Pyrite into surrendering more valuable things – be they time, attention, opportunities, or resources – that does not mean that real gold ceases to be a thing, or that we should refuse to accept it as currency in future trades. What it means is that we should pay closer attention, and test the metals offered up to find their quality and character by their relative distinctive properties.
But then I suppose that can mean just as surely that we bury our roots deep, to protect them through the winter. We are commanded to guard our hearts, after all, which might mean at times that we hold back from endorsing someone, or making a trade to them of what remains of things precious to us, if they appear at a distance to be a good goose for the gander, yet may just as soon turn out to have been a fraud and charlatan, and another fox guarding the hen house.
On the other hand, one of the benefits of our all living through the last few years of COVID madness together is that we can look at track records – our own, and those of one another. How did various persons handle the crisis, whether to steer us through it, or else to exploit it? Did they tell the truth, and do the right thing, and restrain themselves rather than being tyrannical? Have their principles been tested against threats and smears, and did they stick to their guns?
If you’re looking for guarantees as to someone’s character, that’s as close as you’re going to get. What they have consistently done, and still do, whether for good or ill – that is what they are most likely to continue on doing, in some form or fashion. And if you want more guarantees than that, we’re going to need some divine intervention, one way or another.
But shame on us if those who did what was right through COVID will be lumped in with those who exploited it, just because we are tired of being disappointed. If now the brave ones look the better to us for having done what was right, and reap thereby a kind of benefit, will we deprive them of that credit for the same reason they deserve it? That is an unjust way of reasoning.
But if it is so, I think some of us need to be on the lookout more for the temptation within ourselves, to make excuses to throw in the towel, or leave it, once thrown, where it lies, the hope for a better tomorrow for ourselves and our posterity now seen as a vulnerability and weakness rather than an absolute necessity to life.
Remember, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” And, as Proverbs 18 also says, “The name of Yahweh is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”
That is, even just calling on the name of Yahweh is a security against those who seek our lives. May all the rest of our words be worthy of calling on the name of the Lord, or else let us pray that God would have mercy on us when they aren’t.
But why would this be? The answer lies in what happens both inside of us and outside of us when we call on the name of Yahweh, not in vanity, but in humble sincerity.
On the outside, most obviously – if we love God, and are called according to His purposes – He works all things to the good for us, in His own good timing, and in the ways He knows are best. And surely that means that, in the end, when He hears our cry, God saves us, mind, body, and soul, from our enemies, especially the Enemy of our souls.
Within our mind, body, and soul, however, the very fact of having hope when we call on God, and trust that He will answer, is also a safety. It guards our hearts and minds against the kind of hopelessness that rots one’s teeth, and causes the flesh on our bones to waste and shrivel; which makes us prefer isolation on account of not being able to trust anyone, and gives us excuses for ceasing to do the good works which God created us in Christ Jesus prepared ahead of time for us to do.
Taken together, this guarding both inside and outside of us surely must teach some of the value of trusting, albeit to a limited extent, that people are capable of doing good works which God has purposed for them to do, and that we should trust, support, and encourage people who walk in the same.
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