In his masterful trilogy The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien doesn’t portray Tom Bombadil exactly as God, as he does not claim to have created all the world’s wonders. But it’s clear the ancient old man has a unique station. In fact, Tolkien portrays Bombadil with the timeless notion of “pre-existence.”
In the Baha’i teachings, our mortal souls come into being and associate with our bodies when we’re conceived. When we die, our souls leave our bodies behind and proceed to worlds unknown, but we are assured that our souls continue to progress ever closer to God.
By contrast, Baha’is understand the Manifestations of God as a single soul, eternal into the future, but also into the past. This pre-existence of the Manifestations emphasizes the unity of all Faiths. When the Baha’i writings refer to Baha’u’llah as “the Ancient Beauty,” I believe this is an attempt to reflect that eternal, pre-existent essence.
If thou be of the inmates of this city within the ocean of divine unity, thou wilt view all the Prophets and Messengers of God as one soul and one body, as one light and one spirit, in such wise that the first among them would be last and the last would be first… And since in their inmost Beings they are the same Luminaries and the self-same Mysteries, thou shouldst view their outward conditions in the same light, that thou mayest recognize them all as one Being, nay, find them united in their words, speech, and utterance. – Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, pp. 29-30.
Just two pages later, Tolkien gives us this other transcendent episode to chew on. Tom Bombadil speaks:
“Show me the precious Ring,” he said suddenly in the midst of the story: and Frodo, to his own astonishment, drew out the chain from his pocket, and unfastening the Ring handed it at once to Tom.
It seemed to grow larger as it lay for a moment on his big brown-skinned hand. Then suddenly he put it to his eye and laughed. For a second the hobbits had a vision, both comical and alarming, of his bright blue eye gleaming through a circle of gold. Then Tom put the Ring around the end of his little finger and held it up to the candlelight. For a moment the hobbits noticed nothing strange about this. Then they gasped. There was no sign of Tom disappearing!
Tom laughed again, and then he spun the Ring in the air—and it vanished with a flash. Frodo gave a cry—and Tom leaned forward and handed it back to him with a smile.
Just as the Ring had no effect on Tom Bombadil, worldly power had no effect on Baha’u’llah, or Christ, or Buddha. This indifference to worldly power surely stands out as one of the prime characteristics displayed by all Manifestations of God.
Tom Bombadil laughed at the Ring. Baha’u’llah, who began his adulthood by rejecting an invitation to the Persian court and an attendant life of luxury, laughed at the power of kings and high priests, exalting the power of God. For that he faced forty years of exile and prison. He said, however, that no one could imprison your soul.
That spiritual insight, that this material world passes while the inner, more spiritual world lives on, suffuses the worlds that both Tolkien and Lewis created in their masterpieces. Perhaps that’s why so many millions of people have come to love their books, and why I wanted to read them to my sons—to pass on that sense of deathless splendor and spiritual beauty.