The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Thursday, November 29, 2012

There and Back Again: The Story of the Christian Life

By: Andrew M. Gilhooley

I am fascinated with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, and among my favorites is The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. This epic story is about the unexpected adventures of a peculiar hobbit, namely Bilbo Baggins. He was not the traveling type (at least not before his adventures), and preferred to stay within the bounds of his comfortable hobbit-hole, limiting his journeys to the pantry and perhaps the cellar. The story begins by describing his comfy home:

“It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats - the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill - The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it - and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.”

It was a pleasant abode, one in which I would even enjoy to live in. Tolkien later tells that it even has a cellar full of cider and beer! Bilbo loved his home and never desired to leave it. His unambitious life of contentment within confines of his hobbit-hole, however, is suddenly disturbed one day when a wizard and party of thirteen dwarfs arrive on his doorstep and whisk him away on an unexpected adventure.

Along his journey, Bilbo is continuously thinking of his home from whence he was exiled. In the midst of trials and peace alike, he is always daydreaming, pondering of, longing for, or actually dreaming of his homely hobbit-hole where the kettle is always singing and second breakfast is never forgotten (this is a favourite of hobbit meals.) Here are a few excerpts of his inner thoughts and longings he had on his adventure:

§  “He was thinking once more again of his comfortable chair before the fire in his favourite sitting-room in his hobbit-hole, and the kettle was singing” (chapter 3).
§  “He thought of himself frying bacon and eggs in his own kitchen at home – for he could feel inside that it was high time for some meal or other” (chapter 5).
§  “But I am afraid he was not thinking much of the job, but of what lay beyond the blue distance, the quite Western Land and the Hill and his hobbit-hole under it” (chapter 11).

Bilbo missed his hobbit-hole and desired more than anything to be restored to it. At the end of the adventure his wish is granted, and the story ends with him happily restored to his home (hence “There and Back Again”.)

This story of a hobbit’s exile and restoration to his home typologically parallels the story the Christian life. In Adam, our federal head, we were all exiled from our heavenly abode in the divine presence (i.e. Eden) and thrust into the adventure of life in this accursed world. Like Bilbo, we encounter times of trials and peace alike, but in the midst of them all our eyes are fixed heavenward, longing for our ultimate restoration to life in God’s presence from whence we were exiled. As the Apostle Paul says, we groan and long within the deepest chasms of our soul to be at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 4-5). In a sense, we are therefore typological Bilbos in the adventure of life looking forward to that day when we are finally restored to our glorious heavenly abode.

As The Hobbit, or There and Back Again concludes with Bilbo restored to his home, so will the great story of history end in like manner for the faithful. Death brings us into the immediate presence of God but ultimately we look to greater things, namely the second coming of Christ. For it is then that the dead shall be raised, judgment rendered, and the elect planted in the new heavens and earth to dwell happily in the presence of our glorious triune God for all eternity. We were exiled from our hobbit-hole, but one day we shall be restored.

Therefore, read The Hobbit, go to the theater December 14, and witness the world marvel at the story of the Christian life without even knowing.

--Andrew M. Gilhooley is currently a sophomore at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida. Among his hobbies are fishing, archery, writing, playing piano, and reading classic literature. Upon graduation, he plans to attend graduate school and possibly enter into bible translation ministry.


  1. Dr. Vern S. Poythress taught a course at Westminster Theological Seminary years ago (circa 1978 or 1979), the name of which I don't remember, in which he posed the idea that the doctrines/themes of the Bible could be viewed from a variety of perspectives. He demonstrated this by exploring the doctrine of justification from the perspective of holiness. It was an eye-opener for me.

    We had to write a paper which explored this multi-perspective approach as well. Mine was interpreting soteriology (doctrine of salvation) from the perspective of theophanic glory, which essentially means interpreting God's work in salvation in terms of the presence or absence of God. The results, for me, were astounding. From the moment of the expulsion of man from God's presence in the garden where he and God were co-dwellers, redemptive history unfolds as God begins to bring man back into his presence; witness the early tabernacle and later temple; the God-man, Immanuel (God with us). We have become the temple of God, as Paul reveals. The apocalyptic imagery is the New Jerusalem (a city whose builder and maker is God where the saints dwell) which basks in the light of God and the Lamb.

    So, from the vantage point of God's presence, man's judgment was his expulsion from it and his salvation is his gathering back into it.

    That is truly a there-and-back again story if there ever was one.

    Dr. Poythress has published his work on the validity of multiple perspectives in theology in his book, Symphonic Theology, P&R Publishing, 2001.

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    2. Thank you for your comment, Mr. Booher. I am actually considering to write another article concerning what you are talking about, i.e. that all redemptive-history is one big 'there and back again' story. And I will also look into the book you mentioned.