These are Gandalf’s words to Saruman in Tolkien’s The Two Towers. Saruman, once Saruman the White, had allowed a lust for power and greatness to corrupt him. But in this scene he stands in the window of his tower surrounded by the ruins of his kingdom. Gandalf invites him to forsake evil and arrogance—to join in the protection of many good things in Middle Earth.
Yet it is Saruman’s invitation to Gandalf that first caught my attention. With a gentle and persuasive voice Saruman invites him to forsake his rag-tag friends and join him:
Are we not both members of a high and ancient order, most excellent in Middle- earth? Are we not both members of a high and ancient order, most excellent in Middle-earth? Much we could still accomplish together, to heal the disorders of the world. Let us understand one another, and dismiss from thought these lesser folk! Let them wait on our decisions! . . . Will you not come up?
I have felt, and in my heart, heard this invitation many times during my forty years in academia. I am not saying any corrupt colleague has asked me join some evil conspiracy. But I have heard the invitation to forsake my rag-tag Christian community and join those who look at Christians with amusement, condescension, and today, rage. Hobnobbing with those who have read the books I have read, have a passion for ideas, and have a grasp of history is fun and wrapped in the fragrance of superiority.
Let’s be honest, Christians may have hobbit’s virtues, but they can also have their vices: provincialism, suspicion of outsiders, isolationism, pettiness. I have been tempted to climb into academia’s towers of sophistication to escape them. One of my older and more astute students expressed great surprise at the discovery I was a believer because, “You seem intelligent.” Yes, yes I am, and I belong in the Council of Wizards. But the voice of Saruman no longer has any power over me. Over the years I have heard it too often and know the emptiness and misery behind it. Like Gandalf I have become merrier as I have aged. After Saruman words had woven a tempting tapestry of greatness, Gandalf simply laughs and, “The fantasy vanished like a puff of smoke.”
After laughing Gandalf asks Saruman, “Will you not come down?” I certainly haven’t become Gandalf the White, but this invitation to Saruman has filled my heart. I know many who could do great good if they were humble enough to come down from towers of intellectual arrogance. Those rich in knowledge, like those rich in goods, find it hard to enter the kingdom of God as a little child or a short hobbit.
Sadly, Saruman refuses Gandalf’s offer of redemption. But it was important to invite him to come down. It is important to show mercy to the Gollums—the down and out and ugly. But it is equally important to extend mercy to the “up and out” whose souls are misshapen by pride and deception. We must invite them to join the meek who inherit middle-earth.