The Scarlet Letter and Learning to Accept Mercy

Wishing You copyGod graciously extends His mercy to us, but we must be willing to accept it in order for the power to affect our lives. As we’ve discussed, Hester Prynne has confessed her sins to God and walks with new life in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. She accepted God’s mercy, whereas Arthur Dimmesdale has been unable to find peace after stumbling.

After Dimmesdale confides in Hester his torment of serving in the church and having this sin fester in his soul. Hester chides:

1“You wrong yourself in this . . . You have deeply and sorely repented. Your sin is left behind you, in the days long past. Your present life is not less holy, in very truth, than it seems in people’s eyes. Is there no reality in the penitence thus sealed and witnessed by good works? And wherefore should it not bring you peace?” (Hawthorne, 131)

Dimmesdale responds:

“There is no substance in it! It is cold and dead, and can do nothing for me! Of penance I have had enough! Of penitence there has been none! Else, I should have long ago have thrown off these garments of mock holiness, and have shown myself to mankind as they will see me at the judgment-seat. Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret!” (Hawthorne, 131)

Dimmesdale cannot see past his sin. He cannot believe that God forgives him, because his focus is on how He views himself rather than how God sees him. When we don’t accept God’s grace, we put the emphasis of our Christian life on works rather than focusing on God’s gift. This is the opposite of what God wants for us. His desire is that we would understand we don’t deserve grace but receive it nonetheless, and from that grace God’s work is completed in us.

Ephesians 2:8-10 proclaims:

2“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

When we allow sin and its shame to devour us from the inside out, we are limiting God’s ability to work through us. God wants to use our shortcomings to show us how great His mercy is and to enable us to walk by faith in that grace to do His work.

Have you accepted God’s grace in your life, or are you focusing on earning God’s favor through an exemplary Christian walk?

I would like to challenge us to transform our thinking, and allow God to heal us of all self-deprecation. God loves you, and loves me, enough to extend grace when we don’t deserve it. We don’t have to earn his love. He is our merciful Father God, who sees beyond our blemishes and our imperfections to our hearts.

Allow this love to heal you so that you can walk in His love and do the work that He has called you to do.

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The Scarlet Letter and the Power of Confession

Wishing You copyWhile Hester Prynne bears the shame of her sin in a crimson emblem, there is more than one scarlet letter in Hawthorne’s tale. Comparing the lives of Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale, the other bearer of the scarlet letter, the reader learns of the power of sin to wreak havoc in our lives, and the greater power of confession to overwhelm the shadow of sin.

Hester pays daily for her sin in the form of her shame, the ridicule of others, and in watching her daughter grow up the scourge of society. Though Hester was forced to face public condemnation for her sins, her daily response to this sin is a decision that Hester makes of her own accord. When Governor Bellingham threatens to have Pearl taken away, Hester explains how her response to her sins can effect positive change in the future:

“ ‘I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this!’ answered Hester Prynne, laying her finger on the red token.

“ ‘Woman, it is thy badge of shame!’ replied the stern magistrate. ‘It is because of the stain which that letter indicates, that we would transfer they child to other hands.’

“ ‘Nevertheless,’ said the mother calmly, though growing more pale, ‘this badge hath taught me,-it teaches me,-it is teaching me at this moment,-lessons whereof my child may be the wiser and better, albeit they can profit nothing to myself.’ “ (Hawthorne, 76)

Because Hester has confessed her sins to the Lord, she is able to look at her sin as an event of her past that she can learn from and teach her child. Hester is not bound to the shame of her sin, but through it is able to see truth.

Dimmesdale, however, harbors the shame of his sin because he has not confessed it. Daily, he wallows in his guilt, unable to realize the mercy extended to him by the Lord, nor the invitation to walk in new life. Dimmesdale expresses his misery while he meets with Hester in the woods:

“What can a ruined soul, like mine, effect towards the redemption of other souls?-or polluted soul, towards their purification? And as for the people’s reverence, would that it were turned to scorn and hatred! Canst thou deem I, Hester, a consolation, that I must stand up in my pulpit, and meet so many eyes turned upward to my face, as if the light of heaven were beaming from it . . . and then look inward, and discern the black reality of what they idolize? I have laughed, in bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am! And Satan laughs at it!” (Hawthorne, 131)

Because Dimmesdale bears the scarlet letter of sin on his soul, he cannot walk in the light of Christ’s redemption. His focus is on the irreconcilable difference between what people perceive him to be and what is in his heart. Unlike Hester he has not learned to cope with the sin of his past, but instead bears it on his own soul, a weight not can bear.

God promises us that when we confess our sins to Him, he will take away the burden of our shame and give us the lightness of living in His light.

“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:5-9)

Wishing YouGot knows that in our sinful nature, we will make mistakes. That is inevitable. But what He calls us to do is to recognize the gift of redemption He has given us in His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus took our sins to the cross so that we could have life. Refusing to give our shame over to Him limits our ability to recreate us.

Are there sins in your life that you’re still allowing to shame you? If you’ve confessed your sins to the Lord, He will forgive you and cleanse you. Pray that God would help you to realize that forgiveness and walk in the newness of His life.

Thanks for stopping by, friends. Happy Reading!

The Scarlet Letter and Casting Stones

Wishing You copy

The Scarlet Letter is a fascinating exploration of the impact of sin and confession in our lives. It is not difficult to draw numerous parallels between this text and what God says about sin and our response to it, and to learn a great deal about ourselves in the process.

Because this story is set back in the 1700’s, some of the shock of the story is lost on us modern readers. A woman who has a child outside of marriage is not scorned as she once was, though perhaps a woman who is married and has a child by another man receives some public disgrace.

Even if we cannot relate entirely with the circumstances of the time period, the fact remains that we are prone to pass judgment on others, belittling them for our own benefit.

Though Hester Prynne is publicly shamed for her actions, repents, and is yet compelled to wear the emblem of shame on her breast, the Puritan townspeople cannot dismiss her past and allow Hester to live in redemption from sin.

Looking on as she leaves her prison cell, the townswomen converse:

“ ‘The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemen, but merciful overmuch . . . At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead. Madam Hester would have winced at that, I warrant me. But she,-the naughty baggage,-little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown! Why, look you, she may cover it with a brooch, or such like heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave as ever!’

“ ‘Ah, but,’ interposed, more softly, a young wife, holding a child by the hand, ‘let her Wishing Youcover the mark as she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart.’

“ ‘What do we talk of marks and brands, whether on the bodice of her gown, or the flesh of her forehead? . . . This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there not law for it? Truly there is, both in the Scripture and the statue-book. Then let the magistrates, who have made it of no effect, thanks themselves if their own wives and daughters go astray!’ ” (Hawthorne, 36)

Through these voices, we hear judgment on Hester. Though the second shows a modicum of mercy, the others come from women who believe they are in a position to pass judgment, distancing themselves from Sin in order to feel better about their own conduct. Further, they believe that they are in the position to suggest what Hester’s punishment should be.

In the book of John, we see Jesus’ response to very similar circumstances. The Pharisees bring a woman to the temple where Jesus is teaching, a woman caught in the act of adultery. They refer to the law transcribed by Moses calling for the woman to be stoned, trying to maneuver Jesus into a corner where they wished him to either refute Jewish law by letting her go or to refute Roman law which did not allow Jews to enact their own executions.

Wishing You copy 2“But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when the continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’

“And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

“When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers or yours? Has no one condemned you?’

“She said, ‘No one, Lord.’”

“And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’”

“Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’” (John 8: 6-12)

Jesus’ response is perfect. He acknowledges that while adultery is sin, as outlined in scripture, there is redemption in Him. The woman was not defined by her sin, rather, she was permitted to start anew walking in the light of Christ.

Jesus’ focus is not exacting punishment for sin. Jesus’ focus is on breathing life, his life, into the woman. In telling the woman to sin no more, He shows that his focus is on her future.

God has given us great grace and mercy, and by His example we ought to offer the same to our fellow man. This does not mean we don’t know sin for sin, but that our focus is on the future rather than the past.

What if we treated people with the same love? What if we, rather than chronicling some sinner’s past deeds, considered the potential they have in Christ.

This week, the challenge for us is to second-guess ourselves when we think and talk about other people. Are we gossiping as the townswomen did about Hester Prynne, distancing ourselves from Sin to appear more righteous? Or do we show mercy to others as God has shown to us, by allowing us to walk free from the sin of the past?

Thanks for stopping by, friends. Happy reading!