I love The Lord of the Rings. It is an epic tale of struggle through darkness, both personal and military struggles. As a theological writer, I could easily write about LOTR’s allegory of the worldly struggle with darkness and connect it to sin, but I’m going to focus on something else that’s never discussed: Sam and Frodo’s friendship. I’ve heard and read asinine theories that Sam and Frodo are gay. Because they are so intimately close, they surmise, this must mean they’re gay. Certainly two male friends cannot have an intimate relationship without being gay (sarcasm). In a society that highly sexualises everything, this “theory” is not surprising. In our society it is not acceptable that two men are so close that they cry in each other’s arms, kiss the other on the head in a non-sexual manner, and carry the other up to Mount Doom to destroy evil—taking the other’s burdens upon himself. Is this really a secret homosexual relationship, or is it something deeper in which they exemplify true masculine friendship? I argue that the friendship Sam and Frodo portray is one in which a true masculine friendship is one where the men carry each other’s burdens and are unafraid to show their love for one another.
Since I am a man, and Sam and Frodo are men, I will be focusing specifically on friendship between men rather than women. Women can certainly relate to what I’m going to discuss in their own same-sex friendships, and men can also use this friendship towards women friends and vice versa, but just keep in mind that I’ll be specifically talking about masculine friendships. By “masculine” I do not mean hairy men who grow bushy beards and belittle those who cannot grow them, wrestle each other to show their domination to the opposite sex and over each other, yell at sports while drinking beer, and hide all their emotions. That is a false sense of masculinity our society has created. True masculinity is a Godly man who is willing to make sacrifices, speaks up for the benefit of his friend, perseveres in the midst of troubles throughout the friendship, and is not afraid to show his love for his friend.
Friendship is about Sacrificing
One of the marks of being a true friend is the willingness to sacrifice. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Everything Jesus did was never out of an ulterior motive, but in His humility He became nothing for us so that we might become everything for God. To count others more significant than ourselves is not to ignore our necessary needs such as food, water, and sleep. Instead, counting others as more significant than ourselves is to sacrifice our desires for their needs rather than our needs for their desires. Our greatest need was to be saved from our sins, and Jesus performed the greatest sacrifice for that need even though we don’t deserve it. Frodo sacrificed comfort and safety by taking the burden of destroying the evil ring. He counted himself as nothing in order to give the world everything—their very lives. What did Sam do? Sam also sacrificed comfort and safety in order to help Sam carry this heavy burden. Sam saw his friend needed him. He could have easily chosen to stay behind in the relatively safe confines of Rivendell, or embark on Frodo’s dangerous journey to destroy the ring.
What do we men do when our friends are in need, whether they’re men or women? Do we stay in the shadows and do nothing, or do we sacrifice our comfort zone and reach out to them to help them carry their burdens? There is vulnerability in every relationship. If you’re going to be in a relationship with someone–whether romantic or a platonic friendship—you have to be vulnerable. It can be scary at times. As an introvert, I for one have a difficult time opening up to others, particularly because I’ve been betrayed by so many people I once considered to be my friends. But I can’t do everything by myself, so I have to learn to trust people. Of course, not every person is trustworthy, but if we want to be trustworthy towards other people we have to be willing to sacrifice our desires to meet the needs of our friends—to step out of our comfort zone in order to help them carry their burdens. If we want to be trustworthy, we have to show we are trustworthy. We can each only carry so much. Sometimes, we need help carrying that burden, and God has put certain people in our lives precisely for that purpose; they’re called friends.
Friendship is about Speaking Up
I’m not talking about speaking up in defence of our friend when they’re insulted or being threatened, because that’s obvious. What I am talking about is calling out our friends on their rubbish. When a friend is sinning and is unrepentant, being silent about it is not being a good friend. I think we are often silent because we’re afraid to offend them; therefore, we are afraid we’ll lose the friendship. If you lose the friendship because you were essentially telling them to, “Go, sin no more” (John 8:11), then clearly they’re not a “friend” worth having. Not only are true friends willing to call their friends out on their hogwash, but friends are also willing to listen to constructive criticism. Jesus called the disciples out on their rubbish all the time. Let’s look at Luke 18:15-16, for example: “Now they were bringing even infants to Him that He might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him, saying, ‘Let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.'” Like Baptists and other Christians today who refuse infant baptism, the disciples were doing the same by preventing the people from having their children be received by Christ since infants are incapable of making independent decisions. However, Jesus called them out on their rubbish and rebuked them by demanding they allow the children to come to Him in order that they may receive the kingdom of God (i.e. salvation).
I remember a particular instance when Sam called Frodo out on his rubbish. Frodo was trusting Gollum to bring them through a secret passage to Mordor, and Sam was aware of Gollum’s inevitable betrayal. With this knowledge, he tried warning Frodo and admonished him about his blind trust in this deceitful creature, but Frodo wouldn’t listen and even banished Sam from continuing on the journey with him. Obviously Sam was being the good friend here, not Frodo. How often do we men call our friends out on their crap? When we see our friend is in sin and/or practising foolish behaviour, do we have the fortitude to call them out on their rubbish and help them reform their behaviour and lead them toward repentance? Or are we cowards and prefer not to take risks with our friendship and just allow them to wallow in sin? Don’t be that guy. Be like Sam who was wiling to sacrifice his friendship with Frodo in order to help him see the danger in his actions.
Friendship is about Perseverance
I’m not talking about individual perseverance, but relational perseverance. A true friendship perseveres through challenges in the relationship. Every relationship requires work and effort whether it’s a romantic relationship or a friendship. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood around the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Not only must we be on the lookout for the Devil’s attempts to send spiritual attacks on our friends, but also on the friendship itself. Disagreements and betrayals may arise. I mentioned earlier I’ve been betrayed by friends in the past. Some betrayals have been so severe that the friendship was unreconcilable. In others we were able save our friendship by one being humble enough to forgive the other. For example, in my longest friendship of 18 years, let’s call him Jay, in middle school I ended up hating him for silly reasons. It was because of me that I lost my best friend. However, when I became wiser in high school, I realised my foolish behaviour and apologised to him, asking him to forgive me, and he did. We remain best friends to this day. Jay had no reason to forgive me, but he chose to.
Going back to Frodo throwing Sam out of their friendship, Frodo eventually realised his foolish behaviour after Gollum inevitably betrayed him. After they found each other again, Frodo sought forgiveness from Sam, who forgave him. It takes a state of humility on both sides to make this happen. Frodo had to humble himself in order to realise he was in the wrong and ask for Sam’s forgiveness, and Sam also had to humble himself in order not to be angry and have the mercy to forgive him unconditionally. How often do we men seek to reconcile a friendship we have that’s in danger, or one that’s lost, especially when it’s our fault? When the friendship means a lot to us, we are willing to ask for forgiveness in our humility. Or say a friend hurts us and later on they return and ask for forgiveness. It takes the same humility to forgive them rather than staying angry in our pride. “Then Peter came up and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times'” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus was not saying a literal 77 times, but rather an infinite number of times. Consider how many times we’ve sinned against God and asked for His forgiveness or received it in the sacraments. They’re impossible to count, yes? We’ve all sinned against God hundreds of times, perhaps even thousands, yet there is no limit to God’s forgiveness. In the same way, so must there be no limit to our forgiveness for our friends. A true friendship perseveres because of the mercy the two parties give each other.
Friendship is about Showing Love
Emotions are not exempt from friendships, even those between two men. We never question two women’s sexuality when they say they love each other, hug each other, or even give a non-sexual kiss. When men do that, however, people often immediately question their heterosexuality. I mentioned earlier that people theorise Sam and Frodo are gay because they don’t hide their love for each other. In the films we watch many scenes of them having deeply emotional conversations in tears, intimate hugs, and Frodo even gives Sam a kiss on the head before he departs for Rivendell at the end of the trilogy. Love is not about being sexual; it is about showing genuine love and care for a human being. Paul says to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16). A holy kiss was an ancient Christian tradition as a sign of greeting to men and women alike, much like our handshakes today. A holy kiss was simply how the early Christians greeted each other, much like the cheek kissing we commonly associate with snobbish European aristocrats. It is also similar to a gentleman kissing a lady’s hand as a form of greeting and respect. If two men were to do this holy kiss today, people would see it as strange and likely assume they’re gay. Now, I don’t have a male or female friend in whom I’ll kiss on the head because not only is this not a cultural custom I practise, but I’m also not close to anyone like that. My point is that there is nothing wrong with such a kiss.
True friendships are about having the willingness to communicate, and this includes our emotions. Friends are there for us to talk about what makes us angry, sad, depressed, and even happy. When we’re sad or upset, friends are there to comfort us. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). True friends comfort those when they mourn and when they’re sad. True friends cry with their friends. True friends feel the emotions their friends are feeling. Friends are also there for us to have joy! I experience great joy with one of my really good friends, let’s call him D, when we play video games together and have deep theological conversations and even talk about sensitive things like our personal spiritual attacks. We are both there for each other when we are sad or angry. We both struggle with a certain condition, and we are there to support one another and aren’t afraid to talk about it with each other. I have several male friends with whom I’ll give huge, intimate hugs, much like Sam and Frodo.
Friendships are not about keeping to ourselves. Friendships have everything to do with making necessary sacrifices for each other, having the audacity to call our friends out on their rubbish, striving to help the friendship persevere, and not being afraid to show our love. Without any of these characteristics in a friendship, it is not a friendship but merely another person whom you just happen to bear their presence. Friendships are intimate relationships—not sexual intimacy, but a spiritual one in which we help our friend carry his darkness and his burdens, in whom we never give up, and are not afraid to show we love them. We are foolish to think love can only be expressed in sexual ways. That is not love; it is lust. Love for any person is shown in willing sacrifice, mercy, perseverance, and genuine joy in that person’s existence.