Flotsam and Jetsam
At just a passing glance, this may seem an outright contradiction to previous musings. After all, the Ents are exemplars of the unhasty, of pausing and moving slowly so as to appreciatively experience all things as they are. Yet part of the beauty of The Lord of the Rings derives from its paradoxes: that the smallest of things might be the most valued, that the weakest of creatures might change the course of the future, that so much of the good and beautiful must be lost in order to save the good and the beautiful from outright destruction. So too with the Ents and one being “positively hasty.”
It takes a lot to enrage an Ent: the wanton destruction of nature, the betrayal of trusted neighbor, liquid fire pouring forth. It is an anger of both fury and calculation: uncontrolled yet controlled, a whirling storm yet a strategic operation. In all of it, it is a righteous rage, a hostility against that which is not good. As a reader, we sympathize and support the anger of the Ents. We recognize Saruman as a threat to their existence, note that he has upended much that they love. Righteous indignation is much easier for us to understand in the pages of a story than in the happenings of our own lives.
For as a people, we have maintain a strange understand of our relationship with anger. Our culture is hypocritical on the matter, blowing the trumpets of outrage and protest across the plains of social media and streets of cities on some occasions, while more often than not expecting people to suppress their anger as the price of being civilized. The smallest of crimes invoke our passions while the greatest of injustices we brush aside. We share, like and subscribe and consider our work to be done: we rage in pride, not in justice.
As Christians, we have our own unique tension with zealous anger, even supposedly just fury. The images of Christ as peacemaker and gentle shepherd have taken precedent over the notions of Christ as judge and the sword. Wrath is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, of course, yet we recall important occasions of Christ’s righteous rage, of his being “positively hasty:”
‘Jesus found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me.’ (JN 2:14-17)
How then should a Christian understand anger so as to seek justice without falling into sin? How do we upend a society of indifference without stoking the cultural fires of anarchical chaos and biased hypocrisy? There is always a paradox in life and in living: we must keep our heads when becoming “positively hasty.” Perhaps the Ents can teach us anew the ways of virtuous wrath. For the Ents’ anger is not the norm but the exception, bridled and habituated so as to prevent it from defining their being. For the Ents’ rage is not savage but disciplined, letting the Men of Isengard go and not being unkind to the likes of even Wormtongue. For the Ents’ fury is not destructive but restorative, to wash away the filth of Saruman so that the river can run clean again. Nevertheless the anger of the Ents is necessary: we must not shy away from being at times positively hasty. The love of justice and the passion for good should seethe within us in the face of sin, for such zeal can even be invoked in God Himself enfleshed.