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!

Diary of a Teenage Girl: Becoming Me by Melody Carlson

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 Summary
Sixteen-year-old Caitlin O’Connor is pretty sure that her life is too boring to write about in a journal. But at the start of a new year, Caitlin begins to chronicle her day-to-day life as she encounters the drama of peer pressure, popularity, and dating. Her life becomes more interesting than she bargained for when she uncovers a dark secret about her dad and when she gets caught between the attention of more than one popular high school boy. As she abandons old friendships, makes new ones, and asks where God is in her life, Caitlin struggles to find out who she is and who she wants to become.

Pros
Written through diary entries, Caitlin’s voice is realistic, candid, and relevant to young adult audiences. She doesn’t hold back how she feels about the cute boy she know she shouldn’t like, or how she isn’t sure how she feels about God anymore. In her diary, Caitlin is completely open about her experiences, even when she is making excuses for her actions.

Caitlin’s story explores various issues that teens face today, such as teen drinking, peer pressure, teen sex, and affairs. Many young adults will be able to relate to different aspects of Caitlin’s story and appreciate her honest voice throughout the novel.

Cons
While Caitlin’s voice is realistic and honest, I didn’t personally like Caitlin. Perhaps this is because I am a bit more removed from this age, but I found her to be rather whiny, self-centered, and not terribly interesting. That’s just me. I’m sure that other readers, be they adult or young adult, will find Caitlin’s brash journal entries engaging and will like her for that reason.

Conclusion
While this book didn’t tickle my fancy, there is certainly merit in the way the content connect with a young adult audience. This is a great read for young adults struggling through the dramatic high school years, or those trying to make sense of what they believe about God.

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“Beyond the Skyline” by Brody Lane Gregg

Summary

Alex Lane is getting released from a juvenile detention center at eighteen years old for reasons he doesn’t want you to know about. Writing has become his outlet, and he shares his story beginning when he gets picked up on his release day by his estranged brother, Brandon. Turns out, Brandon is now a millionaire living with his wife and daughter in a New York mansion. Alex gets to stay with them, but soon learns his end of the deal is going to high school. Out of his element, Alex goes to school, quickly finding a band of misfits who befriend him as well as trouble. Then there’s the girl he met at his sister-in-law’s church, Ana. Alex feels something for her, but he thinks he’s just the same criminal who doesn’t deserve anyone or anything. As he tries to move on with life, making friendships and learning to love, Alex resolve is tested when he asks himself if he is worthy of this new life, or if he has really changed at all.

The Pros

Told through Alex’s journal entries, the reader gets a deep first person narration of the story. Alex’s voice is strong throughout the story, and though he’s a rough, broken young man, the author keeps the narrative clean of any foul language. As the story progresses, the reader can see how Alex is changing because of the people he meets, the stories he hears, and the circumstances he faces. Alex’s story is a strong proof of God’s redemptive power to change anyone’s story.

The friendships, situations, and relationships in Beyond the Skyline are realistic, portraying issues that many young adults face today. The author, Brody Lane Gregg, provides insight into characters dealing with abuse, rape, drug addictions, alcoholism, and grief.

One of the underlying themes of the novel is breaking stereotypes, or judging people before you know them. Gregg reminds the reader that everyone has a story and unique hurts by including many characters with emotional baggage and backstory that makes them who they are.

The Cons

While I was engaged throughout the story, the pace isn’t overly fast until about three-quarters of the way through the novel. This isn’t a real issue since the narration is well done and I cared about the characters, however, when the pace did start to pick up it was a bit jarring and some of the events occurred with little lead-in.

Conclusion

Gregg does a masterful job telling Alex’s story through journal entries, and I got a clear sense of who Alex is, how he changes, and how he represents so many young adults today who need Jesus in their lives. This is a powerful and realistic portrayal of the Gospel’s redemptive power to change a life.

Make sure to get your copy of Beyond the Skyline, available on Amazon!

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“Miles From Nowhere” by Amy Clipston

Summary

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 12.05.00 PMChelsea Morris is excited for her final summer before going to college. She has big dreams of working in fashion design, and part of making that dream come true is working as the lead costume designer for a local theater group while working a part-time job and babysitting her younger brothers. Chelsea’s dream summer includes spending time with her boyfriend, Todd, but with his schedule filling up with work and Chelsea becoming more involved in the theater, the summer isn’t going quite as planned.

Then, there’s the good-looking actor, Dylan, who’s paying extra attention to Chelsea. Though Todd dislikes the friendship, Chelsea finds herself drawn to Dylan and his free-spirited personality. As Chelsea and Todd grow further apart, and Chelsea shirks her costume design duties to sneak out for parties at Dylan’s, she begins to wonder where God is in her life and how to get back to where she belongs before it’s too late.

The Pros

Chelsea’s story is written in clear, accessible language. It’s a story many can relate with–wondering if the heart is leading in the right direction and how to discern truth from lies. Chelsea is a great character with unique interests. She has passions, goals, and she’s willing to work hard to achieve them. Through her experiences, the reader learns a lot about real friendship with positive examples of Christian girls confiding in one another and encouraging each other in their faith. The author, Amy Clipston, deals with some real issues for Christian teens, including teen drinking. The situations that Chelsea puts herself in are realistic–how should young Christians handle teen drinking and partying? Why is it so difficult to stand up to peer pressure? Clipston doesn’t shy away from this issue, and her characters make decisions that are ultimately a positive example for young readers.

The Cons

It took me a while to connect emotionally with Chelsea. While I knew plenty about her–she’s dependable, hard-working, driven, loves fashion and costume design–I didn’t really connect with her until she started struggling with her relationships. At times, I had a hard time understanding her reactions. While most of the story was relatable and believable, there were moments when Chelsea overreacted or made decisions that seemed out of character, especially when it came to the partying scenes.

Conclusion

This is a great read for young adult and new adult readers. Clipston tells a wonderful story of young love, responsibility, friendship, and faith in the midst of peer pressure. While the story is fairly predictable, readers will be able to relate to Chelsea’s story and will enjoy the insight into the theater scene.

You can order a copy at Zondervan or check out a copy at your local library!

Clipston, Amy. Miles from Nowhere. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015. Print.

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