Everyone has a voice, and a choice to use it well, use it poorly, or not to use it at all.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pride and Prejudice and...the Gospel?

I reckon nearly all of you have heard of the book Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Around half of you ladies, and about a tenth of you guys, have actually read it. I just finished reading it about a week ago. It was assigned reading for my "Enjoying Literature" class. I was a little apprehensive at first, because:

1) it was written a couple hundred years ago
2) it was written by a woman, and I usually prefer the content of books written by men
3) there are no pictures

However, I was also looking forward to reading it, because it was recommended to me by a couple people whose literary tastes I trust, and because it has stood the test of time so well that it seems like there must be something in it worth reading.

Well, there IS. First of all, I enjoyed the book for its own sake.

Basically the story line is that ( WARNING, I'm going to tell you the whole plot!) a girl (Elizabeth) who starts out hating a guy because of her false perceptions of him and the world, ends up loving him because of his persistent and graceful love for her. The title - Pride and Prejudice - is talking about Elizabeth's own pride and prejudice. She thinks she has the world figured out, and is incapable of believing herself wrong until the truth is written out and set in front of her. At that point, she sees the world as it truly is and loves the one who loves her best, one Mr. Darcy. The book is also pretty funny.

Second, after finishing and reflecting on the book, I realized that my liking this book is a Cosmic Snail Trail, and that the reason I like it so much is because it contains themes I was made to deeply appreciate. This book contains, purposefully or by "accident", a story that is very similar to the gospel.

Similarity 1: The Original Position of Elizabeth and the Original Position of Mankind

Elizabeth is in a hard place for the first part of the book. She is the daughter of a fairly poor man, is not as pretty as her older sister, and is not particularly talented at signing or embroidery.  All of these things make it hard for her to snag a husband - yet she desperately needs one. Once her elderly father dies, she, her mother, and her four sisters will be without a protector and provider. Elizabeth's mother recognizes the seriousness of the situation and often (over)reacts will fits of grief, worry, and hysteria.

Mankind is in a hard place. We are the sons and daughters of people who were in the same bind we are. There is nothing about us that is particularly spectacular. Sure, some people are richer or more beautiful or more intelligent than others, but in the end we can't hang onto our money, and our beauty and brains rot away. We may look good on the outside, but compared to Jesus, we are ugly and unlovable. We do not deserve a savior - yet we desperately need one. We are guilty of rebellion against God. Everyone has sinned and fallen far short of God's glory.

Similarity 2: Elizabeth's Initial Perception of her Savior vs. Our Initial Perception of our Savior

Elizabeth originally misinterprets what she sees and hears about Mr. Darcy - who will one day be her earthly savior by marrying her and giving her security. She initially hates him, so much that when he proposes to her, she says she wouldn't marry him if he were the last man on earth. When others say good things about him, she won't believe it. She is stuck in her own mind, unable to take an objective view of things.

Many people misinterpret what they see and hear about Jesus - who stands ready to be their eternal savior by grace through faith. We hate Jesus, if not emotionally than practically, by ignoring or opposing Him. We hate Him so much that, even when we hear of his gospel, we reject it and pursue anything other than Him. When we hear the testimony about him from other people, we won't believe it. We are stuck in our own minds, unable to look at the facts objectively. Our eyes are clouded by sin.

Similarity 3: The Character of Mr. Darcy vs. The Character of Jesus

Mr. Darcy's character falls far short of that of Jesus Christ, but there are some similarities. Mr. Darcy is willing to leave his high position to pursue the one he loves. Though he lives in the highest circles of society, he leaves it to go to the lower social levels to convince Elizabeth to marry him. Mr. Darcy is patient: though Elizabeth rejects him at first, he gives her another chance to say yes.

Jesus was willing to leave his high position to pursue the ones he loves. Though he lives in heaven, in constant fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, he left that perfect fellowship to come into the ugly, fallen, sinful world to show the world what unity with God looks like, and to essentially show people how to be married (unified, atoned) with God again. Jesus is infinitely patient: though all of us reject him time and time again, He continues to hold out his hands to us obstinate sinners. Even after we are saved by his grace, He continues to forgive us time and time again when we sin.

Similarity 4: The Fate of Elizabeth vs. The Fate of the Repentant

Elizabeth eventually repents (changes her mind) because of a letter Mr. Darcy writes to her. She decides he is actually a top notch sort of guy. Consequently, when he asks her again to marry him, she says yes, and they are married. They live in his home which is vastly bigger, fancier, and more valuable than her prior residence. She had done nothing to deserve that new home - even her change of mind was the result of Mr. Darcy's letter.

The ones God has chosen eventually repent (change their minds) because of the gospel which the Holy Spirit communicates to our Spirits. We eventually realize the immeasurable goodness of Jesus our Lord. Consequently, when we realize the free gift of the gospel, we accept it by faith and are unified with God by the Holy Spirit. We will go to His home which is perfect, eternal, and more wonderful than anything we imagined here on earth. We have done nothing to deserve that new home - even our repentance was the result of God's Holy Spirit working in us.

There you have it. The Gospel according to Pride and Prejudice.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Tuning Fork and the Harp

I have already shared this analogy with some of you. I usually am obliged to use it to explain why I sometimes ask strange questions, such as "What do you think of when you hear the world manly/womanly?"

This analogy came to me when I was speaking with my English professor after class. In class he perfectly (though not on purpose I am sure) set me up to share why I believe in God, which I did rather poorly in retrospect. He responded with “That is fine, but you’ll agree that that takes faith.” I replied “Yes, just like everything else”. After class I asked him whether, since I had elaborated the basis of my belief system, he would share with me his own. What was his solid ground, I wanted to know?

His reply was that his solid ground, the thing he has faith in, is the good of mankind. I could have pointed out one of several flaws with this “solid” ground, but instead chose to point out the interesting fact that he recognized, as if by some common standard, good and evil acts done by people, and was able to differentiate between them. I probably didn’t put it as well as I do now, having reflected on it further since then, but I explained to him this analogy that occurred to me at the time.

Imagine you are in a large room. With you in this room are a harp and a tuning fork – a C. The tuning fork is struck, the C note resounds through the room. You notice that all the C strings on the harp are vibrating ever so softly: sympathetic vibration.

Now, imagine you could not see the tuning fork, only the harp. Imagine that you couldn’t even hear the tuning fork when it was struck. If that were the case, you could still hope to find out something about the tuning fork, just by closely observing the harp. You would see the C strings begin to vibrate –and immediately, you would know that a tuning fork exists, and that it plays a C note.

God is the tuning fork. We are the strings of the harp. Though we live in a fallen and rebellious world, it is not so fallen and broken as to not retain any lasting reflection of its creator. How much more can we expect to see something of God’s image in His children, who he has regenerated and is in the process of sanctifying?

The whole point of the analogy is to encourage us to build relationships with people, and in so doing to strengthen relationship with God. As you begin to understand more of people, you will gain insight into what God might be like, and what He might have created us to be. In order to verify whether He is and did, of course, you must go to the Bible. Relying on human art and logic in such things is bound to lead to a disastrous misunderstanding of who God is. 

To apply: by hearing the various responses to the question "What do you think of when you hear the world manly/womanly?", it is possible to construct a model of what people believe manhood and womanhood to be all about. By comparing this model to the Bible, I hope to come up with some ideas I might have realized more slowly without constructing the human model.