Do you ever get the feeling that some things are simply meant to be? Maybe you don’t exactly know why, or you might not understand how something came to be, but it simply seems right. Maybe you ended up at a certain place at a certain time, and you really cannot be sure why a particular thing happened, but it simply felt a certain way.
I wish I had a better way to describe it for you, but I think we have all been there. Some people describe meeting their eventual spouse for the first time in this way. Some people talk about how certain career opportunities just appeared out of nowhere at the right time and turned out to be the perfect fit for their skills. Even some things that may not be great, but they still have that feeling of destiny or, in the words of George McFly, “density.” (Incidentally, I was talking to some younger coworkers the other day who had never seen Back to the Future. They have no idea what they are missing.)
I have been thinking about this a lot lately in the context of a quote from The Lord of the Rings which probably comes as a surprise to just about no one. As they are nearing the end of their journey to destroy the Ring, Sam is carrying Frodo and the road is becoming remarkably difficult. He is dehydrated, malnourished and exhausted in a barren wasteland, and he is carrying his friend up a mountain. That’s a tough time.
In the midst of all that though, he finds a path. Sam sees it as something that was simply meant to be for his benefit, but that’s not the entire story.
This is a fascinating passage. Notice what we have here based on the different perspectives. Sam does not know much about the geography of Mordor. He simply knows that there is a path in front of him, and he is grateful that it is there because it will make his journey that much easier. However, he attributes the purpose behind the path to some benevolent power who put it there for his benefit. The reader is not given any more insight into Sam’s thoughts at this moment, but they are obviously characterized by gratefulness.
What the reader does know in the next sentence is that this path was actually created for nefarious purposes. It was built to allow the Dark Lord to move around his own domain more efficiently. It was not designed for Sam at all. In fact, a little further down on the page, the reader is informed that even Sauron’s minions maintain the road. It wasn’t just created originally for the Dark Lord, but it was actively maintained for his purposes.
There are a few potential options here for the reader. I find this passage perplexing in some ways. After all, the road was indeed built for a specific purpose. I do not know the implications of the construction of that road. Had it created a great deal of pain and suffering by allowing agents of evil to move more quickly around their own land? I am not sure. Maybe so, or maybe not. We simply do not know. Maybe there were certain conflicts that would have turned in favor of the good armies if the evil hordes were not able to effectively move troops. Perhaps there is some reference in the legendarium I am not aware of, but I don’t believe there is. All that we actually know is that it was indeed constructed for the purposes of Sauron.
However, if Sam’s evaluation of his own situation is accurate, then this road was also what ironically brought about Sauron’s defeat. If Sam would not have been able to ascend the mountain without that path, then the forces of evil had been committing time and energy to creating and maintaining exactly what would ultimately bring about their own downfall.
Was the path intended by a higher power? Was it not intended by a higher power but nevertheless used by that higher power for the facilitation of a good outcome? Now we have run into our classic theological debate about the nature of free will. I’m not necessarily going to dive into it, but no matter which perspective you take, the actual facts of the situation remain identical. There is a road that had been used for bad purposes but was ultimately used for a wonderful purpose. In fact, it was used for the purpose of saving the world.
I don’t know where you are spiritually. However, I imagine you have probably had some tough times in your life. We are all different and have our own obstacles to face, but we share the common reality of living in a fallen world. That is the one thing I think people of all religions or no religion can agree on. Our world is a pretty messed up place a lot of the time, and we are really good at making a mess of it ourselves.
However, we find the signs that seem meant to be, and they surprise us. We end up surrounded by all of these things that may not always go our way, but sometimes those detours are the things that work out for our benefit in the long term. We don’t like them in the short term. They might be objectively bad. That being said, they also seem to have this strange quality that makes them either ultimately beneficial or seemingly beneficial even if they were not intended that way by their creator.
This passage of The Lord of the Rings never really stood out to me in my prior read throughs, but it really stood out to me this time. The theme has seemed remarkably powerful to me in just about everything lately. I don’t know exactly why. Maybe I just want to see the activity of Providence in the world, or maybe I am seeing it more, so I am becoming more attuned to its presence. Either way, these types of things are not just limited to fantasy. I think you can find them around you as well.