The Secret Garden and the Lonely Bird

 

The Secret Garden

Mary Lennox is a stubborn, ugly orphan girl conveyed from India to stay with her uncle at Misselthwaite mansion. Having spent much of her childhood with only her Ayah to dress and look after her, Mary dislikes almost everyone she meets and finds little joy in day-to-day life.

Wandering the gardens, Mary encounters gardener Ben Weatherstaff. She has nothing better to do than to distract the curmudgeonly worker, and soon sees a beautiful robin skittering onto the scene.

02.14.2016“The robin hopped about, busily pecking the soil, and now and then stopped and looked at them a little. Mary thought his black dewdrop eyes gazed at her with great curiosity. It really seemed as if he were finding out all about her. The queer feeling in her heart increased.

“ ‘Where did the rest of the brood fly to?’ she asked.

“ ‘There’s no knowin.’ The old ones turn ’em out o’ their nest an’ make ’em fly, an’ they’re scattered before you know it. This one was a knowin’ one an’ he knew he was lonely.’

“Mistress Mary went a step nearer to the robin and looked at him very hard.

“ ‘I’m lonely,’ she said.

“She had not known before that this was one of the things which made her feel sour and cross. She seemed to find it out when the robin looked at her and she looked at the robin.” (Burnett, 44)

Much like the conceited red robin, Mary has been left behind. She understood that she was unhappy, but only when Ben Weatherstaff relates the robin’s tale does Mary realize that she, too, is lonely.

As Christians, we know that we are not created to walk alone. Life’s joys and sorrows are too great to bear in solitude. But how often do we convince ourselves that we can handle matters ourselves? How often do we get so wrapped up in our own path that we fail to listen to the lonely chirpings around us?

Paul exhorts, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.” (Romans 15:2)

“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.” Romans 15_2

When we please those around us, we not only allow ourselves to be used by God to reflect His love, but we also experience fellowship and learn about ourselves. Both parties are edified.

What is remarkable about this scene is that Mary-quite-contrary pauses to ask Ben Weatherstaff about the robin. She makes a point to find out what makes him the way he is, and she responds, recognizing her own ailments.

When was the last time we took a moment on our journey to stop and consider our neighbor? Even just to ask them what their story is?

What holds us back from building relationships? Fear? Busy-ness? Apathy?

My challenge for myself this week, and perhaps for you, is to be perceptive enough to hear the lonely chirps around me, and to pause to show love through fellowship.

All of us are on a journey, and all of us need to be loved. As we love others, I believe that we will experience God’s love in return.

Thanks for stopping by, and happy reading, friends!

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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.

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!

The Great Gatsby and the Meretricious American Dream

4Interestingly, Fitzgerald wrote his masterpiece The Great Gatsby in 1924 when he and his family moved to France. With trans-Atlantic displacement and the author’s stage of life, having achieved reputational and monetary success, Fitzgerald was able to reflect on his experience of pursuit of the American Dream and his culture as a whole, a theme that anchors the events of the novel.

It is important to begin our discussion by considering what we mean by the American Dream. Through generations, I believe the definition has changed drastically, but here is a basic definition from Merriam-Webster.com:

“An American social ideal that stresses egalitarianism and especially material prosperity; also: the prosperity or life that is the realization of this ideal.”

Years ago, I believe that social idea tended toward the egalitarian component by which individuals sought a comfortable life for their families and their communities. As time went on, the pursuit of “material prosperity” became the chief objective. People realized their capacity for advancement as individuals, and measured their success in terms of monetary gain, thus sacrificing communal good to outpace their neighbors and even losing sight of the motivation behind this pursuit.

In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald offers great insight into the pitfalls of this pursuit. While Nick Carraway’s character offers a great study for this discussion, Jay Gatsby embodies the fall of the American Dream. We learn through Nick that Gatsby, originally James Gatz, came from humble beginnings and forged his way to success. Nick relates:

“I suppose he’d had the name ready for a long time, even then. His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people-his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God-a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that-and he must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.” (Fitzgerald, 98)

This passage describes Gatsby’s early conception of the American Dream. He envisioned a future version of himself, an affluent self, and discarded his past self to become this person. Through his endeavors, he remained faithful to bring this person into being. He was regimented in his plan to evolve into Jay Gatsby, creating a stringent schedule and personal goals to tailor himself into that personage (Fitzgerald, 173). He is, by all accounts, successful in becoming Gatsby and all his character entails, except for one missing piece.

As we considered last week, Daisy was part of Gatsby’s dream. Gatsby constructed the image his perfect existence, and believed that Daisy was a part of that. We discussed how she was part of his process of self-actualization, of seeking identity. Another way of looking at Daisy is to think of her as the object of Gatsby’s American Dream. After five years of separation, the two are reunited and Nick reflects on the afternoon:

1“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams-not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.” (Fitzgerald, 96)

Here we see Daisy-as Fitzgerald’s conception of the American Dream-falling short of what Gatsby believed her and his dream to be. In the end, he cannot win her. After all his toiling, Gatsby finds what he believes to be the missing part of his dream and realizes it isn’t what he imagined it to be, and was not worth the pursuit. All the fame, fortune, and success leave him feeling empty. Incomplete.

Carraway offers a stunning visual of the culmination of the American Dream. While reflecting on his experience, he considers his view of the East as the region of affluence and achievement, and how he took his own turn at pursuing that dream.

2“Even when the East excited me most . . . even then it had always for me a quality of distortion. West Egg, especially, still figures in my more fantastic dreams. I see it as a night scene by El Greco . . . In the foreground four solemn men in dress suits are walking along the sidewalk with a stretcher on which lies a drunken woman in a white evening dress. Her hand, which dangles over the sides, sparkles cold with jewels. Gravely the men turn in at a house-the wrong house. But no one knows the woman’s name, and no one cares.

“After Gatsby’s death the East was haunted for me like that, distorted my eyes’ power of correction.” (Fitzgerald, 176)

Because of Gatsby, Nick realizes how the flawed ideals of the American Dream, and gives us this memorable image to embody his realization-a woman completely drunk on success, dripping with jewels, and still, a woman who has no worth in this world because she is not known by anyone.

I think that Fitzgerald hits a powerful note with his observations. It is possible to achieve reputational and monetary success, just as he did with his literary career, but to come to the culmination of his dreams and realize how empty it all is. Every labored step on the path to glory was a waste because one can never reach the pinnacle of success. There is no fulfillment in the actualization of the American Dream.

In our culture, there is a strong push toward the individual experience, the New American Dream. Be all you can be. It’s your life, your journey-make life what you want it to be.

But what is all that you can be? Can this goal be quantified?

How can one determine what one “wants” life to be without some sort of standard to measure success by?

Here, we find our way back to one of the inherent questions of humanity. If the satisfaction level in reaching the end point discounts the journey, then he flaw must be in the motivation for the journey. Hence, what is the purpose of life?

I will not presume to answer this question with a few tidy paragraphs, but instead, turn to God’s word for direction to continue this discussion with a Christian lens.2016

Firstly, the flawed idea of the American Dream implies that our lives belong to us, that our lives are lived for our own happiness and comfort. When we commit our lives to Christ, we give up our selves. Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

When we decide to follow Christ, we relinquish authority and choose to live our days as Christ-an impossible pursuit for our selfish nature, but a goal nonetheless. Jesus is our standard, our benchmark for success in day-to-day life. God doesn’t expect us to reach the pinnacle of Christ-likeness–to do so would be impossible–but His desire for us is to live lives that are characterized by love. Love for God, and love for people.

Fitzgerald, while he did not connect the flawed American Dream with a higher calling to follow Christ, understood that his society was pursuing a goal that could never be actualized because our own satisfaction is insatiable and vapid. In our last discussion, we considered what our “green lights” were, what things we hold up in our lives as the epitome of success. Today, I would like to consider what our lives are characterized by.

When people think of you, how would they describe you?

Perhaps more importantly, what do you desire your life to be characterized by?

With these questions in mind, what steps can we take to live as Jesus lived, to show love in our daily walk? Perhaps it’s something as simple as providing an act of service for someone you encounter regularly, or praying for a friend. Maybe it’s speaking words of encouragement. Let God inspire you with new ways to share in His love, today.

Do you have an idea or question about today’s discussion? Please share your comments below to keep the discussion going!

Happy Reading, Kindred Spirits!

The Great Gatsby and the Elusive Light

4The more Nick Carraway spends time with Jay Gatsby, the more he realizes that there is some mystery, some deeply affecting mission which drives his neighbor to abandon reason and logic in pursuit of one thing: the green light on Daisy’s dock.

When Nick first encounters Gatsby, he sees him outside the mansion at night.

“He stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.” (Fitzgerald, 20-21)

It is important to note that the first time the men meet, Gatsby is seen outside of his mansion, outside of the wealth and pomp that have defined him in West Egg. This is an uncharacteristically vulnerable moment for Gatsby. The man known for his extravagant displays of wealth, constantly surrounded by hundreds of important people, a man of mystery and poise is stripped of his material goods, alone, holding out trembling arms toward this distant green light. This image gives us a glimpse into what Gatsby is about, what he is really searching for. It also infers that his wealth and semblance of material and reputational success have little to do with it—an idea we will explore more next week.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 11.06.53 AM

But what is this green light that has him transfixed?

As with any literary device, symbols such as these are up for debate. Many believe, rightfully so, that the green light represents the uncertain future. Others, that the light represents the American Dream. I do not disagree with these ideas, but I would like to explore another perspective in the following paragraphs.

For a time, I believed that the green light symbolizes Gatsby’s Idea of Daisy. He pines after this lady, this perfect woman on a pedestal of nostalgia, a person who no longer truly exists. His quest is to be reunited with her and to share the future together.

But why Daisy? Why now?

The romantic side of me would like to believe that Gatsby truly is in love with Daisy and that he has been waiting for the opportune moment to profess his intentions. The more logical side knows that there is something deeper going on here, something more engrossing than emotion and more compelling than obsession.

One layer of Gatsby’s mission is the need for power. Once jilted for his lack of wealth, he now seeks to prove his worth, both monetary and individual, by stripping Tom, Daisy’s husband, of that worth.

After Gatsby’s party, which Daisy and Tom attended, Gatsby and Nick talk about how she liked the party, her impressions, and the future. Nick relates:

“He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I never loved you.’ After she had obliterated four years with that sentence they could decide upon the more practical measures to be taken. One of them was that, after she was free, they were to go back to Louisville and be married from her house—just as if it were five years ago.” (Fitzgerald, 109)

Certainly part of Gatsby’s reason for asking this of Daisy is to prove her love for him, but another purpose is to siphon power away from Tom. If Daisy says she never loved Tom, Gatsby can take the pride in having held her affection all those years, a position which asserts his worth above Tom’s.

We see another vulnerable moment here, when Carraway challenges Gatsby’s expectations of Daisy:

3“‘I wouldn’t ask too much of her,’ I ventured. ‘You can’t repeat the past.’

“‘Can’t repeat the past?’ he cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!’

“He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.

“‘I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before,’ he said, nodding determinedly. ‘She’ll see.’” (Fitzgerald, 110)

This gives us such a great insight into Gatsby’s character. After all these years of things working out for him, of meeting Dan Cody and obtaining the wealth he never dreamed possible, he believes he can go back in time and fix the one thing that was broken: his relationship with Daisy.

Here, we find that deep, psychological drive behind his pursuit. It’s more than love, more than power, and more transient than wealth.

Essentially, the green light is a search for identity and self-actualization. Gatsby believes that if he can gain the love of the woman who once discarded him, he will find peace within himself. He will also have proof, through marriage, to offer the world that he is a valuable human being.

Gatsby’s story reminds me of an Old Testament hero who also had fulfillment issues surrounding relationships with women. Samson, a man blessed by God with supernatural strength, seemingly has everything he could possibly desire. With God’s power, he defeats a lion and the Philistines. But Samson has some issues as far as women are concerned.

First, Samson insists on marrying a Philistine woman, even though the Israelites were constantly at war with them. His parents asked if there was anyone else, to which Samson declares, “Get her for me, for she pleases me well.” (Judges 14: 3)

If this woman did indeed “please” Samson as he believed she would, one would imagine that he would be content in that relationship. Not so with Samson. After getting into a heated argument over a riddle, Samson gives his wife to the best man from the wedding. Then, the author of Judges makes a point of sharing that Samson visited a harlot while in Gaza, and then that he “loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.” (Judges 16:4)

We all know how well that relationship went.

Samson, in a word, seems unsettled. Despite his good standing, strength, and valor, he needs to have a woman in his life to prove something. To prove his value, his allure, or maybe to curb loneliness. Sounds familiar to Gatsby’s need—a drive for fulfillment that can never actually be realized.

People have different goals, motivations, and dreams in life, but I think we all have some variation of Gatsby’s Green Light syndrome. There is this one thing that we fixate on, believing that when we obtain it, we will find purpose or meaning or affirmation.

We can learn from Samson’s shining moment in history; his most vulnerable hour—standing in the temple of the Philistines. Hair shorn, muscles weakened, eyes gouged out, Samson is led by a boy to lean on the pillars. There, stripped of all power, Samson calls out to God, recognizing that his strength and identity is in God and glorifying Him.

“O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes.” (Judges 16:28)

God grants Samson’s request and defeats the Philistines. This only happens when Samson recognizes his mistakes and his desperate need for God, and God responds in a mighty way.

Are you looking for meaning in material things? In prestige, or wealth, or romantic conquests? I know I’ve been all too guilty of this. But the beautiful thing is, God promises us that we will have life in Him. Romans 6:20-23 says:

“For when you were slaves of sin, you were 2016free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

What a hope we have in Christ. He gives us our identity, our purpose. We need nothing more, because there is nothing greater than that promise.

I challenge you to pray about whatever green light unsettles you in your life. Address this weakness, and talk to God about why you have these feelings. Seek wisdom from God. He loves you, and He wants you to live by His power, His strength, and most of all, in His love.

The Great Gatsby and God, the Spectator

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 11.06.31 AMScott Fitzgerald’s novel of love, obsession, and the American Dream tells the story of the Great Gatsby through the eyes of Nick Carraway. In a tumultuous summer, Carraway is swept into the drama of adultery, deception, and the rendezvous of star-crossed lovers when he moves next door to a mysterious millionaire in New York, a man once known by his cousin, Daisy. As Carraway spends more time with the elusive Jay Gatsby, he discovers that there is much more to the man than his illustrious personage, and that there is a grim fascination with wealth and comfort that pervades Long Island, even those people closest to him.

Fitzgerald uses setting and various symbols throughout the novel to illustrate themes such as class, obsession, and greed. Today, I would like to focus on one of those symbols, one which I believe speaks volumes about how Fitzgerald viewed God’s role in day-to-day life, a perspective that still pervades society today.

As you may recall, the layout of the New York landscape is described as being two eggs: East Egg and West Egg. The characters traverse these realms numerous times in the novel, often traveling between West Egg and New York. This area, called the valley of ashes, is surveyed by an oppressive billboard depicting the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. Carraway describes:

“The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.” (Fitzgerald, 23-24)

As you know, reader, these eyes overlook a terrible incident later in the novel when Myrtle Wilson is run over by a car which belongs to Jay Gatsby. Though many witnesses can attest to what they saw, only the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg truly saw what happened, and the events leading up to that fateful day.

Lamenting the loss his late wife to Michaelis, a witness to the events, George Wilson considers Myrtles actions in life:

“‘I told her she might fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window’—with an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it—’and I said “God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!”’

“Standing behind him, Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, which had just emerged, pale and enormous, from the dissolving night.

“‘God sees everything,’ repeated Wilson.

“‘That’s an advertisement,’ Michaelis assured him. Something made him turn away from the window and look back into the room. But Wilson stood there a long time, his face close to the window pane, nodding into the twilight.” (Fitzgerald, 159-160)

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 11.08.36 AMDifferent readers and literary theorists have different ideas about what the optical sign represents. In the second passage, it is clear that Fitzgerald wants the reader to make a connection between the optical sign and God, even if the idea is only coming from Wilson. That symbol provides the perfect perspective the novel gives on God: an omniscient being who sits back as a spectator to the events below.

I’m struck by this image of a distant, apathetic God, and I get the impression that this was Fitzgerald’s view, one which many after him share: God is not part of the day-to-day trivialities of human life, but watches from a distance—judges from a distance. How cold and depressing that seems to me for several reasons, all of which we find completely refuted in scripture.

First, the symbol of the optical sign as God’s presence in the world suggests that God’s purpose in creating mankind was to sit back and watch it destroy itself. We read in Genesis, after creating the earth, light and dark, creatures of all shapes and kinds, God chooses to create another being.

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:26-28)

This passage is so important because it shows us firstly that we were created in His likeness—meaning His ethical, moral, intellectual likeness. We are not just like any other created thing in the universe; we are created by God with the ability to think, empathize, comprehend, question, and love. These are all actionable qualities given to us by an actionable God.

Secondly, these verses show us how active God is in our world. Apart from creating the universe itself, God creates us as imperfect but beloved creatures in His likeness, and gives us dominion over all other facets of creation.

Finally, God blesses us. In that blessing we see touches of that loving Father who wants the best for us but gives us the latitude to make our own decisions. Blessing infers goodwill, favor, and devotion, all qualities that cannot be genuine unless they are embodied in an active, present God.

The second issue with this apathetic view of God is that God is depicted as only a pair of eyes—not feet to follow, nor hands to direct, nor lips to speak wisdom, nor arms to hold us.

Doesn’t the very idea of God being distant fill you with sadness? I can’t imagine living life thinking that God doesn’t care for me deeply, that He doesn’t desire relationship with me. God shows us how much he desires relationship with us by sending His Son, God in the flesh, to the earth.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

We know these verses so well, but the concept, I believe, is woefully foreign to many. These verses show God in action. God coming down to earth to spread hope, to breathe life, to offer salvation. This is the reason that the symbol of God as the billboard sign is flawed: God is not static. God is not distant. God is with us.

But like Fitzgerald, many people today believe that God—if He indeed exists—only desires to watch our failures and tell us what terrible sinners we are later.

If you find yourself feeling that way, feeling that God has no desire to be part of your life, I challenge you to reconsider. God tells us in Isaiah 9:6 that with Jesus’ birth, we have hope. “For unto us a Child is born, Unto as a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” God is our Father. Our peace-giver. Our Counselor. He wants to help us through life as we seek Him in prayer, reflection, and worship. He knows we will sin, but that is simply part of the journey of life and it doesn’t define who we are or His love for us.

If you understand that God wants to be part of your daily walk, I encourage you to thank God for His Presence, and to think of someone in your life who doesn’t believe she has a loving Father. Ask God how you can be that love to her, how, in His likeness, you can walk in love.

What are your thoughts? Did you view the symbolic meaning of the optical sign differently, or perhaps connect this symbol with other scriptures? Please share your comments, ideas, and questions below!

Thanks for joining me, dear reader. Check back next week and we’ll look another symbol from The Great Gatsby—the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.

Hope to see you then, kindred spirit!