For it must be understood that this is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown ups; The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funniest to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realize what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may prove a classic.
—C.S. Lewis, “The Hobbit” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), p. 486
This post was originally published on December 15, 2014 and was lightly revised on March 23rd, 2020.
Habakkuk: “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?”
Yahweh: “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”
—Habakkuk 1:3, 5
Habakkuk begins in lament and ends in praise, yet, nothing has changed. As far as the circumstances on the ground are concerned, violence abounds. Habakkuk begins in lament and ends in praise because nothing has changed. God is still God.
Habakkuk laments because of the violence and injustice committed by the leaders of Judah. God answers by telling Habakkuk to zoom out and see the bigger picture. God sees on vastly larger scale than we do and in His revelation, He gives us a glimpse of His perspective. Imagine someone who has only seen an ugly part of Yosemite and when asked about the park replies he finds it repulsive; or the person who has only read or seen the darkest part of an epic tale saying it’s horrid. Zoom out. God is calling for Habakkuk to read on to the next chapter and beyond.
Frodo and Sam queried what kind of tale they had fallen into. They knew, that as in all good tales, they they couldn’t truly know the ending, yet, when they began to think of their tale in light of the bigger one it was wrapped up in, they took hope.
Yes, that’s so,’ said Sam. ‘And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on—and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same—like old Mr Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?’
‘I wonder,’ said Frodo. ‘But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.’
‘No, sir, of course not. Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it—and the Silmaril went on and came to Eärendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got—you’ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?’
‘No, they never end as tales,’ said Frodo. ‘But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended. Our part will end later—or sooner.
‘And then we can have some rest and some sleep,’ said Sam. He laughed grimly. ‘And I mean just that, Mr. Frodo. I mean plain ordinary rest, and sleep, and waking up to a morning’s work in the garden. I’m afraid that’s all I’m hoping for all the time. All the big important plans are not for my sort. Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We’re in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: ‘‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!’’ And they’ll say: ‘‘Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, dad?’’ ‘‘Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.’’’
‘It’s saying a lot too much,’ said Frodo, and he laughed, a long clear laugh from his heart. Such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth. To Sam suddenly it seemed as if all the stones were listening and the tall rocks leaning over them. But Frodo did not heed them; he laughed again. ‘Why, Sam,’ he said, ‘to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you’ve left out one of the “chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. ‘‘I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, dad? That’s what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?’’ ’
‘Now, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam, ‘you shouldn’t make fun. I was serious.’
‘So was I,’ said Frodo, ‘and so I am. We’re going on a bit too fast. You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: ‘‘Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.’’’
‘Maybe,’ said Sam, ‘but I wouldn’t be one to say that. Things done and over and made into part of the great tales are different.’ *
Habakkuk finds himself in a dark part of the tale and God’s answer is that the next chapter is even darker. God’s answer to violence is greater violence, but, it is used violence. This is not the last chapter, nor is it even the darkest. We’re not at the end of the story yet, but we’ve seen the climax and if you look at the tale that has been told thus far, you may be confident that the Author isn’t going to botch the ending. He wrote Himself into the very darkest chapter and burst through the other side with life and light and eternal bliss for His people. The greatest injustice ever was that of the cross and it was an injustice ordained by God for His glory and His people’s good (Acts 2:22–24). God has answered in bold red the question, “Why do the wicked prosper?” For His glory and His people’s good, and nothing more.
*Tolkien, J. R. R. (2004). The Return of the King. London: The Folio Society LTD.