Gollum personifies how evil takes hold of you, enslaving and devouring you. And the genius of Tolkien’s Gollum is that the evil that destroys the once kind, playful hobbit does not come in an ugly, obvious form of evil. Instead, it seems beautiful and lovely; it is precious! Outwardly, Gollum’s “Precious” does not look as dangerous as Saruman’s pride, treachery, and manipulation or Sauron’s destroy-anything-that-gets-in-my-way-of-absolute-power. And yet, I know of no other literary or cinematic character that so graphically portrays how sin begins so craftily, but ends in destruction.
“[Unmortified sin] untunes and unframes the heart itself by entangling its affections. It diverts the heart from the spiritual frame that is required for vigorous communion with God; it lays hold on the affections, rendering its object beloved and desirable, so expelling the love of the Father (1 John 2:15; 3:17); so that the soul cannot say uprightly and truly to God, “You are my portion,” having something else it loves. Fear, desire, hope, which are the choice affections of the soul, that should be full of God, will be one way or other entangled with it.”
John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, eds., Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, 64-65.
Notice how Owen describes sin: “it lays hold on the affections, rendering its object beloved and desirable.” Sin is ultimately calling something other than God, “My Precioussss!” It’s not merely doing bad things; more fundamentally, it is making good things into god things, as Tim Keller states. And when this happens we become incapable of experiencing or enjoying the love of God because our affections are diverted away from him. Something else has taken his place, and to it we say “You are my portion; you are my Precious!” That something is to us a substitute savior, a damning idol.
And sin, like the ring is not content to be just an add-on in our life: it’s desire is to enslave. Remember when Gollum, then Smeagol, acquired the ring? His servitude began right away! It lead him to murder his own cousin. It drove him from the ones he loved. It reduced him to living like an animal, eating raw fish and dwelling in caves. It owned him! It destroyed him.
Together, Owen and Gollum remind us of this central truth: whatever we love, whatever we worship…we will serve. You’ve got to serve somebody, may you take Jesus at his word and serve him!
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.