fotr2001Recently, a scene from the movie The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) came to mind:

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.

In Tolkien’s book, the scene appears much earlier in the story line. Peter Jackson puts it later in the story and imbues it with more hope. I was in the market for hope so I gravitated to the movie version of the scene.

2014 began with the disturbing news that State Muslim officials, backed up by the police, had raided the Bible Society of Malaysia’s office in Petaling Jaya ( The officials confiscated sixteen boxes of Bibles and took two leaders of the Bible Society to a police station for questioning. One of them, Lee Min Choon, the president of the society, is a friend. This became personal. Muslim officials only have jurisdiction over Muslims. Here they were raiding the premise of a Christian organization, backed up by the police. The raid represented a very serious escalation of state Islamic intimidation of peoples of other faiths in Malaysia. (I need to say that not all Muslim folk in Malaysia condone such actions. Many are also upset by the action.)

I was very disturbed when I heard the news. I feared it was only the beginning of more persecution of the church in Malaysia. I never thought I would see the day when such things would happen. And then I remembered the scene from The Lord of the Rings. We can’t choose when we will be alive. This was one of at least three points we can glean from the scene in the movie.

1. We can’t choose when we will live our lives.

We cannot decide when we will make our entry and our exit from a particular stage of history. Every time I gripe about the times we live in, I can remember my mum saying once that whatever difficulties we are experiencing today is nothing compared to what she and her generation went through in World War Two. Every time I visit her in Penang I tell myself not to be such a wimp. Mum didn’t choose to be around during World War Two. We don’t get to choose when we will be around. Get over it.

2. We can choose how we will respond to the times we have been assigned.

I must believe that God in His sovereign wisdom had some purpose in mind when He placed me, and all who are alive today, at this point in history. So, instead of wishing I were living in another era, I must ask the Lord how He expects me to be a good steward of the time He has entrusted to me. Lord, how am I to be salt and light in the realities of today’s world? Lord, You have said: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21 NIV). How do you want us to do that?

3. God is in sovereign control and working out His good though we may not see His handiwork.

This was one of the points that my friend Mark Chan made when he preached last Sunday. We shouldn’t be too quick to call something “good” or “bad” in God’s bigger scheme of things. Joseph, for example, went through one setback after another. But this was his perspective on the evil things his brothers did to him.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20 NIV)

Indeed, there may be bad things happening in Malaysia and elsewhere, but God is still at work and we do not yet know how it will all pan out in the end. But we know that God and His good cannot be defeated. The Cross of Jesus reminds us that He can bring the greatest good out of the worst evil.

We are already in the second week of 2014. How will this year unfold? God knows. But I am called to trust that He is sovereign and working out His purposes in history. And I am called to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. So thank you, J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson. Thanks for reminding me of three key spiritual principles I need to face any year.