Nathaniel Hawthorne strikes again!

I first encountered the estimable Nathaniel Hawthorne in high school. Back then I despised the man for his dim view of those claiming to be Christians. You could even say I angry at him because I was still very young and immature and couldn't imagine anyone having such a low and depressing opinion of Christians. Now I pity how muddled his mind must have been by expecting Christians to be shining examples of perfection only to be disappointed. Have you ever once met a Christian who was perfect? If you have I'd like to meet him/her because I certainly can't make the same claim.

Now, don't get me wrong, as a believer myself I'm not knocking my fellow Christians. What I am saying is that I see the sin in my own life and so I can see the sin in the lives of others. I'm very aware of the temptations with which I struggle and it sometimes feels like I'm in a constant battle with myself. I look at every other person who is sanctified by the blood of Jesus as someone who also struggles, just the same as I do. This will be a life-long battle with sin. Our problems and temptations don't just vanish when we accept Christ. Christ never promised we would never be tempted, only that we wouldn't be tempted beyond what we can bear. There's a huge difference between the two. Christ gives us the strength to turn away from temptation just as He is there with loving arms to catch us when we fall.

In the realm of Nathaniel Hawthorne, he pens the stories of depressed and melancholy individuals who lose their faith, either in Christians themselves, or in God's ultimate power to save the lost through Christ's sacrifice. In The Minister's Black Veil, I noticed how the idea of the black veil as a representation of sin had warped both the man and those around him. While it is true that God worked throughout the minister's life and that many, many people found themselves convicted of sin, what good did the black veil do him, personally? It was as if he made a personal statement to himself that he would not allow God to purify him, wash him clean of sin, until he had actually died. As if, through his suffering, the lost could be saved.

There is a book by Francine Rivers called The Last Sin Eater that follows this same hypothesis, where only by the solitude and sacrifice of the sin eater, who took all the sins of the townspeople upon himself, could they be saved. He suffered so that they might find truth. But doesn't that defeat the purpose of Christ dying for humanity on the cross? "I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father, but by Me" is what Christ said in John 14:6. He doesn't need an interim or a go-between for the message to be spoken. He certainly doesn't desire for a godly minister to veil himself as a symbol of the lurking sins inside each man's heart.

I distinctly recall reading Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter in high school and disliking the man's propensity for wanting the Christian to be either wholly good or wholly evil. In reality the Christian, just like any other person, is a mixture of both. The veil might have served its purpose in urging people out of fear to turn away from sin, but I don't see how living that life of intense loneliness separated from God's love did the minister any good. Once we're saved, we're saved, washed clean. There is no need for a physical veil because Christ offered us the veil of His blood on the cross.

All this was to say that as much as I respect Hawthorne's obvious talent as a writer, I cannot agree with his dim view of Christians. We might have the occasional hidden blemish deep in our hearts but I'm firmly convinced that God roots out evil wherever He might find it. Usually, for those who know Him, He provides a pretty solid wake-up call. And it doesn't come in the shape of a terrifyingly shrouded minister.

Comments

  1. Terrific gathering of thoughts. =)

    Hawthorne suffers from the same fate of many other novelists in not truly understanding the motivation behind God's urgings for us to follow a specific path. Because he was not a Christian, he had bitterness against Christianity in the same way that Thomas Hardy did -- he saw merely the external self-righteousness and intolerance of sin, rather than the internal deeper understanding that comes from genuine belief. It is a sad thing indeed.

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  2. I have never and will never like Nathaniel Hawthorne, but I still think he's important to read, much like when I read "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh. Waugh may have even had a kinder view of Christians and their struggles than Hawthorne, which is why I enjoyed his book more.

    Did you ever read "The Scarlet Letter?" It was one of those books in high school that Mom actively insisted upon, so I literally had no choice. What's more, I hope that when I have kids they have to read it too, either in school or forced by me (which might be one and the same thing if I decide to homeschool). It's good to know what the opposition is saying so we can formulate an argument!

    I guess these authors are good for something if nothing other than getting our minds to percolating. :)

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  3. "Brideshead Revisited," if I am not mistaken, is a sort of biographical work that illustrates Evelyn Waugh's conversion to Christianity (or Catholicism, rather), so it's not surprising you enjoyed it more. (I, honestly, found the book so boring I only read half of it, waiting endless for something, ANYTHING, to happen!)

    I read some of it, as I remember -- it wasn't forced upon me, but we have a copy laying around as part of a fancy hardcover classics set. But I did see a version of it on screen, and the storyline doesn't differ much, so I know the overall jist of it -- isn't it a comparison between external sin and internal sin, asking us which is worse?

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