Finding God In



Gollum as Everyman

David K. Naugle, Ph.D, Th.D., is chair and professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University. He is the author of Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans 2002) and, most recently, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness (Eerdmans 2008, from which this essay is adapted, also with kind permission of The Trinity Forum’s journal, Provocations.). Visit for more information about this book, including additional study questions for personal use or group discussion.

“There is not any thing in this world, perhaps, that is more talked of, and less understood, than the business of a happy life.” Seneca said this centuries ago, and it is still true today.

What we love
makes us
who we are.

Down the ages, the best human thinking has connected our happiness with what we love. What do you love? How do you love the things that you love? What do you expect from the things you love? There aren’t too many questions more important than these. The reason is that what we love makes us who we are. If we love something that cannot sustain the weight of our expectations, or if we love something in the wrong way, such disordered loves will destroy the very happiness we seek and will eventually disfigure us.

One of the most dramatic illustrations of this is the character of Gollum in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Early in the novel we learn how the Hobbit Trahald (or Sméagol) became the loathsome little creature Gollum.1 His friend Déagol found the ring first, but Gollum wanted it as soon as he saw it because—along with other reasons of which he was perhaps not even aware—“the gold looked so bright and beautiful.” Consequently, Gollum said, “Give us that.” “Why?” asked Déagol. “Because it’s my birthday, my love, and I wants it,” Gollum responded. When Déagol refused, Gollum strangled him. Having obtained the object of his desire, he put it on his finger. It was the one thing Gollum loved. He called it his “precious,” and he talked to it, even when it wasn’t with him.

Gollum is a poignant example of the consequences of disordered love.

Mythic characters like Gollum—who “have their insides on the outside” and “are visible souls,” as C. S. Lewis once put it,2 possess a remarkable power of illumination. Gollum is a poignant example of the consequences of disordered love. The ring distorted his life in body and soul. His inverted affections mastered and maligned him. His “precious” did him in. What he was inwardly he became outwardly—a weird, ugly, unhappy, and ultimately tragic little figure, destroyed by his own desires. At the very end of the novel, Sam Gamgee can only marvel at “the agony of Gollum’s shriveled mind and body, enslaved to that Ring.”

It doesn’t take a lot of self-scrutiny for us to realize that all of us have a little, or perhaps a lot, of Gollum inside. Because of his obsession for the ruling ring of power, Gollum was no longer the Hobbit he was supposed to be. Neither can we be the kind of people we are supposed to be when our ignorance and disordered loves generate multifaceted disorders in our lives. Idolatry and the seven deadly sins are all forms of disordered love. Bad habits, addictions, and even violence, crime, and warfare can each be traced back to disordered love.

In Jewish and Christian understanding, we must put what is best and most worthy of love—God—as the first priority in our lives and reorder all other people, places, ideas, and objects in relationship to him. If we fail to do so, we will quickly become obsessed with a variety of “precious” objects of apparent grandiosity, treating them as if they were lucky charms that will guarantee our happiness.

one of the primary purposes of the gospel is the reordering
of our deepest loves and affections

The Christian good news about the person and work of Jesus changes all this. To be sure, Jesus “saves” us and promises us a place with God eternally in “heaven” when we die.3 But this is almost to miss the point, for in reconnecting us to God, one of the primary purposes of the gospel is the reordering of our deepest loves and affections. Those who follow Christ are given new desires and new purposes—for our lives in this world here and now!

Our disordered loves are displaced by reordered loves as we learn to (and are given the power to) love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves, as the first and second great commandments require.

Reordered love also reorders our lives in significant ways. Various idolatries give way to the genuine worship of God. Intellectual, moral, and physical virtues begin to replace multiple vices. The power of God’s renovating love breaks the chains of our habits and addictions and also undermines inclinations toward crime, violence, and warfare. All this happens as God becomes the source of our fulfillment and we increasingly turn to him to secure what we need.

The reordered loves that reorder our lives become the source of deep and enduring happiness rooted in God through Jesus Christ, who enables us to esteem and enjoy everything else as well, in its proper place.

Our efforts at Christian discipleship—and even cultural transformation—must first be aimed at the reordering of our deepest loves, affections, and desires. Our restless hearts, as Augustine reminds us, must find their rest in God, or our search for happiness will self-destruct, hurting us and everyone around us. Given the human condition, it is, in the end, either Gollum or godliness.


1. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994).

2. C. S. Lewis, “Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings,” in C. S. Lewis, On Stories and Other Essays on Literature, ed. Walter Hooper (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1982, 1966), p. 89.

3. More accurately, our eternal destination with God will be as resurrected persons living in a new heaven and a new earth (1 Corinthians 15; Revelation 21–22).