You Shall Not Pass

A few coworkers around the office have given me the nickname Gandalf - the great wizard from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books and The Hobbit. They have not given me that name because I am a wizened old man gifting sage advice and calling in giant Eagles to save the day; while I enjoy providing guidance, my eagle-calling skills leave something to be desired. Not because I have a long flowing beard; I generally will not allow my stubble to grow for more than a week. Not because I wear a pointed floppy wizards hat; if there is anything covering my head, it will likely have a Seahawks or Mariners logo on it. And it is not because I dress in threadbare grey robes; although, grey is my favorite color.

They have christened me with the Gandalf moniker because of what I do. If they forget their passwords, I am the person that fixes it for them. As soon as they see me, their first thought is "You shall not password." They have even said that out loud the second I walked in the room. It is tempting to tell them "It's a dangerous business, going out your door."

I have become the Gandalf of our corner of the corporate world. But I will not complain. While I hope to live another 40 years before my appearance begins to resemble Tolkien's good wizard, I do not mind being compared to him now in my relative youth, especially when the line of dialogue that prompts such association is one from a moment of Gandalf’s greatest sacrifice.

Gandalf and the fellowship fled through the mines of Moria to escape the wrath of an ancient and dangerous balrog. Realizing the plight of his friends, Gandalf stopped while crossing the Bridge of Khazad-dû and turned to face the beast. He took a stand so that everyone else would be able to escape safely and continue their journey.

image courtesy of New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.

He told the balrog, "You cannot pass. I am a servant of the Secret Fire, a wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the shadow! You cannot pass." After that, Gandalf used his staff to crumble the stone bridge and sent the balrog plummeting into the abyss below, unfortunately plunging himself to the same fate as his foe wrapped its whip around Gandalf's legs. With moments remaining before falling, Gandalf looked to the friends he saved and told them to go, "Fly you fools."

Then he was gone. For the fellowship, this was heartbreak. Their leader and protector was gone and presumed dead.

Gandalf was the fictional embodiment of words once spoken by Jesus, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." Gandalf gave up his life in order for his friends to keep theirs.

This is why we love characters like Gandalf. They represent the better natures of humanity, those that set aside our selfishness and hold the lives of others as greater than our own. We see this quality in Narnia's Aslan, in The Matrix's Neo, in Harry Potter, and (surprisingly) RoboCop. There is something powerful and alluring about those characters who willingly face death for the benefit of others. This is the same intent that drove Christ to the cross.

Today is Good Friday, the day when Christians around the world celebrate Christ's sacrifice, as he was crucified so we might live. Today we honor his selfless act. And hopefully we are compelled to respond through the way we live our lives. If Christ died so that I may live, then I should live as if his efforts were not wasted.

In this, I am reminded of Paul's instruction to the church in Philippi: "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

In the letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul said "Be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God."

As a Christian, it should be my goal to model my life after the life of Jesus. To be best of my ability to live like him. While I frequently fail that pursuit, I still aim high. Someday, it may require me to humble myself in obedience to the point of death, to give myself as an offering and sacrifice to God. And maybe not. But if I am to love, I should be willing to lay my life down for those whom I love. To be honest, I am not sure if I am capable of such selflessness.

When I look into the world of Middle Earth, Gandalf was (as far as can be achieved in fiction) an imitator of Christ. He loved his friends and died so they may live.

If I am to be compared to any of Tolkien's characters, then I welcome the name Gandalf. If only I could live my life so humbly.


  1. Good post for Good Friday. It also reminds me of a pastor who tried to connect the Die Hard movies to the Gospel. He still has a group of men gathering every Thursday morning for Bible and bacon.

    1. Anyone who attempts to pull the gospel out of pop culture has my respect. I would probably enjoy his Bible and bacon group.