J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a fantastic character study. I don’t just mean a study of characters and character development. I’m talking about actual character. I often reread LOTR with a view toward how certain characters respond to the oncoming devastation, because in many ways each person is established in who they are — their responses are an exploration of a lifetime of choices and beliefs. While the main protagonists are the most inspiring of the characters, I am often drawn to study the character of Denethor, the Steward of Gondor.
Stewardship and The Steward of Gondor
Denethor and his fathers despaired of the return of the king, then despised it. The city of the king fell into disrepair. The stewards became desperate and cruel as they bore the brunt of Sauron’s incursions. Despairing the king’s return, they became king in all but name, but without a righteous character or sacrificial love of their people. They were servants who abandoned what they knew and lost hope.
Denethor is by no means a trivial or easy to miss character. We’re meant to see him. His is a cautionary tale about what happens when the servant despairs of his Master’s coming and assumes the rights of privileges that are reserved to the master. While LOTR is primarily about the nobility and sacrifices of the protagonists, the cowardice and usurping behavior of Denethor strikes me every time I read or watch this story.
Denethor is a picture of what happens to Christians when we despair of our Lord’s coming. We take matters into our own hands. We assume privilege and luxury that is not our prerogative. I suspect for some of us, we are even in danger of despising the Lord’s return.
Christian living with a stewardship mindset means that we are always mindful of God’s ownership and our responsibility. God is the rightful owner of the earth, its resources, and even our live. And yet, God has given us the responsibility to manage every spiritual and temporal resource according to His commandments. Our temporal and spiritual priorities are interwoven. Let me say it even plainer: what we do with money and the Gospel are inseparable. The posture of one of these will always affect the other.
Stewardship is the recognition of our responsibility to serve God by taking care of what He’s left in our charge. I believe we must always fight the temptation that overcame Denethor — we must never despair of our Lord’s return. Jesus will call us all into account regarding how we cared for and cultivated His resources, both physical and spiritual. The hope we have of Jesus’ return is a powerful truth against the lie and temptation to usurp His ownership. This hope is vital for faithful stewardship.