Story: Greed's War
All-you-can-eat buffets are a phenomenon prone to American culture. Sneeze-guarded stations stretch down the restaurant farther than the famished person’s eye can see. With his grumbly stomach singing its song for all to hear, the hungry diner dashes to fill plate after heaped upon plate. Though his stomach possesses limited capacity, the desire of the earnest eater and the siren song of available delicacies tell him he needs more. Greed will pressgang the buffet sailor into indulging his gastronomic lusts, but, in the words of Janwillem van de Wettering, “Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it is never enough.”
With the news of Smaug’s demise, Thorin and his dwarven band feasted themselves on their newly gained gold. As their hungry eyes roved the buffet of fortune, they could scarcely comprehend their newly won status. One fact stood indisputable to the band, however: their treasure would never again be seized.
While Thorin claimed the gold as his patrimony, an alliance of men and elves begged the dwarven king for a share, for they had suffered greatly under Smaug’s flame. Though the request was a pittance, the treasure-struck monarch heartily refused his supplicants and turned them away.
Dismayed by the greed ruling Thorin’s heart, Bilbo burgled the king’s coveted Arkenstone, the treasure of all his treasures. Under night’s cover, the hobbit shadowed away to the opposing camp. There he offered Thorin’s prize to Bard, the leader of the men and elves, as a bargaining chip with the gold-besotted king of the dwarves.
When Bilbo returned to the dwarves and revealed his duplicity, Thorin nearly burgled the hobbit’s life. Before the king could act, however, Bard appeared again to negotiate. Eager to have back his precious jewel, Thorin begrudgingly agreed to compensate the alliance’s losses. However, the diminutive monarch secretly hoped that an army of his dwarven kin, led by Dain, would arrive to level the battle lines. Thorin would willingly strike a blow against those who had fought Smaug. All for a pile of gold.
A New Enemy
Before greed transformed into casualties, however, an unholy army of goblins and wargs arrived to plunder the dwarves’ treasure. Former foes became allies as they banded together to combat the encroaching hoard.
Though men, elves, and dwarves fought valiantly against the goblins and wargs, they were soon overwhelmed. Before their defeat was final, however, the shapeshifter Beorn and a convocation of eagles came to rescue the beleaguered alliance. Together they turned the tide and the war was won.
The War of Greed
Greed can turn the dearest friends into the bitterest foes. Thorin and his dwarves were willing to ignore the suffering people of Lake Town in order to keep all their gold to themselves. Their willingness, in fact, would tolerate raising a sword to protect their blood money.
While this story may seem fanciful, we daily battle greed in one form or another. For some, this vice manifests in voraciously accruing mounds of money. For others, it takes shape in the lust for more power, prestige, or influence. Whatever the object, greed is the idolatrous pursuit of more. Reflecting on this, James wrote:
“Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).
The longing to gain more births a nursery full of other sins. With an army more terrifying than wargs and goblins, our mounting desires will rage to conquer us; this evil hoard will battle mightily to drag our souls to hell.
If we believe that our greed is great, God’s desire for our affections is greater. When the army of our avarice appears wider than the ocean, the Lord raises a striking banner against it. With the protective ferocity of Beorn and the swiftness of eagles, Christ slayed our wicked lusts. Through his work on the cross, Jesus won the battle against our greed. As we look upon our conquering king, we will know that he is enough.
God offers us something immensely more satisfying than our greed: himself. “Let Almighty God be your gold,” the biblical writer implores, “and let him be silver, piled high for you. Then you will always trust in God and find that he is the source of your joy” (Job 22:25-26). The joy of knowing God was the whole reason we first set out on our adventure. He called us out of our narrow narratives to gaze upon him and truly relish him. As we journey toward satisfaction in the Lord, may this prayer sink deep into our longing hearts:
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26)