Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." —John 14:6
I’m a fan of adventure stories, my favorites being those of J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Whether reading the books or watching the movies, I cannot get enough of this grand story. In the opening chapter of The Hobbit, we are introduced to the primary character, Bilbo Baggins, a self-proclaimed risk-avoider who does not go on adventures. In fact, he prides himself on staying to himself, not bothering other hobbits, and living in mediocrity. Bilbo could have written an enlightening book on the art of living a quiet, safe life, one that has very little conflict. The story opens:
“This hobbit was a very well to do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighborhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, no only because most of them were rich but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected; you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him. This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbors’ respect, but he gained—well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.”
For most of my years of reading the Bible, I interpreted "the way of Jesus" as a destination. Jesus was someone to be acknowledged and attained. Jesus was a doctrine to be grasped, a theological truth to be controlled. In other words, Jesus was method for me to be right and others to be wrong, so that I could live the safe life.
The Hobbit offers an alternative view of the way of Jesus. It is a tale about Bilbo’s reluctant adventure with a small group of companions to take back stolen treasures from a fire-breathing dragon. Adventures are adventures because they are full of ups and does, struggles and victories, failures and pressing through failures. This adventure takes them through a wooded forest where they are bound by large spiders, captured by three huge trolls, imprisoned for trespassing, and almost drowned as they float down a river. And all of this occurred before they even get anywhere close to the dragon!
Adventures like The Hobbit teach us about Jesus' way. For me, and many like me, we begin following Jesus with assumptions that resemble the life Bilbo led at the beginning of the book, one that is defined by predictable outcomes, minimal risk, and getting results without having to give up the safe life. This is reinforced by the common life of our cultures. In our world, the goal is to get to a place in life where you can settle down and not take any adventures, to do what is expected and be respectable, which usually means “keep to yourself.” In other words, keep to an even plain, no ups and no downs. Stick to your predictable routine and all will be well.
But this usually comes with strings attached, like isolation, the absence of belly laughing, and the joy of accomplishing something. Of course you don’t have to worry much about things like allowing others to hurt you, or deep sadness or the pain of failure. But neither do you get to experience things like helping people experience victory of pain, the freedom to be yourself when you feel loved, and the safety that comes with being with a good friend.
The way of Jesus is a way of adventure, not one of safety and comfort. It’s full of risk, challenges, and threats. It’s full of hard-fought battles that lead to celebrations of victory. The way of Jesus is a journey, not a destination.