The Faithful Reader
The Faithful Reader Essays on Biblical Themes in Literature Edited by Justin D. Lyons Cedrus Press Cedarville, OH
Cedrus Press is the digital and print-on-demand publishing service of DigitalCommons@Cedarville, the institutional repository of Cedarville University. Though not an official university press, the work of Cedrus Press is authorized by Cedarville University and thus submissions for publication must be in harmony with the mission and doctrinal statements of the university. Publication by the Press does not represent the endorsement of the University unless specified otherwise. The opinions and sentiments expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the views of DigitalCommons@Cedarville, the Centennial Library, or Cedarville University. The authors are solely responsible for the content of this work. The Faithful Reader: Essays on Biblical Themes in Literature © 2022 by the authors of the individual essays. All rights reserved ISBN 979-8-9862831-1-1 (paperback) ISBN 979-8-9862831-2-8 (e-book) For information, address Cedrus Press, 251 N. Main Street, Cedarville, OH 45314 https://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/cedrus_press/
Table of Contents The Faithful Reader Foreword: Biblical Integration at Cedarville University............................ ix Jason K. Lee Editor’s Introduction..................................................................................... xv Justin D. Lyons Christian Virtues A Beautiful Life in Charlotte’s Web................................................................... 3 Emily Ferkaluk The Power of Mercy in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings..................... 7 Bryana Fern Love Begets Love: The Love of Lily and Harry. ...................................... 11 Alexis J. McKay Penelope’s Titus 2 Virtue............................................................................... 15 Emily Ferkaluk Sin and Human Nature The Enemy Within: Defoe’s Crusoe, A Portrait of Human Sinfulness... 23 Robert J. Clark How Not to Chase a Turkey: Flannery O’Connor and Self-Centered Ambition.......................................................................................................... 28 Stanley Schwartz Short of the Glory of God: Human Nature in Lord of the Flies. ............ 33 Mark Caleb Smith Sin and Repentance Sin and Forgiveness in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Ethan Brand”............. 41 Justin D. Lyons Scrooge and the Death That Gives Life..................................................... 45 Justin D. Lyons
Christian Witness Imago Dei and Spiritual Indifference: Maycomb as a Microcosm of Christian Complacency.................................................................................. 51 Holly Blakely The Parable of Witness in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451........................ 55 Steven Gollmer Trials Trials and Temptations: Freedom Through Conviction in Jane Eyre...... 61 Bryana Fern Purpose in Pain: John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars with the Gospel Truth................................................................................................................. 65 Jasmine DePalmo and Michael Sherr Staying the Course: Endurance and Hope in The Lord of the Rings......... 68 Bryana Fern Suffering and Hope in Still Alice................................................................... 72 Anna Hurt and Melissa Brown Temptations The Redemption of Galadriel...................................................................... 79 Justin D. Lyons All the King’s Men: Power Corrupts............................................................... 83 Mark Caleb Smith “Gatsby believed in the green light”: Materialism and Treasures in The Great Gatsby................................................................................................................ 88 Bryana Fern All Will Be Well The Dream of Narnia’s Kings & Queens versus the Mirage of Edmund 95 J. Michael McKay Jr. Eucatastrophe in The Lord of the Rings.............................................................. 99 Kirsten Setzkorn
Longing in The Wind in the Willows............................................................. 103 Justin D. Lyons Contributors.................................................................................................. 107
The key aspect for distinguishing Christian scholarship from any other types of scholarship is the essential element of biblical integration. Biblical integration introduces a new set of questions into the field of study enhancing the contribution to general knowledge. For any field or discipline, one’s view of biblical integration affects the tools of study deemed appropriate, the scope of study, and the ultimate goal of the study or activity in the field. Christian scholars in various academic fields often struggle to articulate how biblical integration affects their research or teaching because of a perceived lack of overlap between the Bible and the content of their field. Greater clarity on what biblical integration is can help distinguish its value and will increase intentionality in biblical integration regardless of the academic discipline. The relationship of knowledge drawn from the Bible and that discovered in other sources is a key question for biblical integration. Cedarville University takes this question very seriously and expects all of its faculty in all of the disciplines to be able to provide a reasoned answer. All faculty write a biblical integration paper which explores the nexus of Scripture, a theology derived from scriptural authority, and his or her discipline as part of the tenure and promotion process. Knowledge and Truth The Apostle Paul exhorts, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to Foreword: Biblical Integration at Cedarville University Jason K. Lee
x THE FAITHFUL READER obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV). Such biblical texts have implications for understanding the possible tension in how biblical knowledge interacts with some aspects of general (“secular”) knowledge or religious knowledge drawn from other sources. Biblical knowledge and general knowledge often do find complementarity. But some aspects of “knowledge” or enquiry are not compatible with biblical revelation. Paul puts this incompatibility in terms of a spiritual conflict. Theories or research in the “hard sciences” that adopt as a starting point non-theistic ideas will inevitably conflict with biblical teaching. In the social (“soft”) sciences, certain understandings about human nature cannot coincide with the biblical description of humans. In the areas of the humanities and theological disciplines, drawing authoritatively on non-biblical sources has led many throughout history to adopt views that are heterodox by the church’s standards and/or do not provide proper deference to the biblical canon. The warfare analogy depicted by Paul, however, does not mean that all things found in the sphere of secular (general) knowledge conflict with biblical revelation. Christian academics strive to discern what aspects of their chosen field need to be rejected, what aspects can be revised, and which ones can be affirmed. As far as different fields of knowledge discover true things, the affinity with Scripture can be straightforward. Arthur Holmes describes this phenomenon: “The Christian regards the biblical revelation as the final rule of faith and conduct, but he does not think of it as an exhaustive source of all truth… and in the final analysis there will be no conflict between the truth taught in Scripture and truth available from other sources.”1 Worldview and Integration A worldview that amplifies the place of the biblical text as revelation in worldview construction prompts biblical integration into all fields of 1 Arthur F. Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College, revised edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 18. Holmes’ view is extended (and probably improved) in the following quotation from George Guthrie who seems recognize some distinction in the concepts of “revelation” which would prioritize Scripture’s description of God’s character and purpose and “truth” which would include revealed truths but not be limited to this form of truth.
FOREWORD xi knowledge. Along these lines, George Guthrie contends, “God’s revelation is preserved through his inspiration of the Scripture. Thus, every area of human life and inquiry has at its foundation the reality reflected by God’s revelation in Scripture. Therefore, Scripture forms the appropriate beginning point for shaping a worldview.”2 A “biblical” worldview begins with an understanding of God and how humans can know him. The one, true God has revealed Himself definitively in the biblical texts. The Bible not only reveals God’s true nature, but also depicts His activity as consistent with His being. So, to study the biblical text’s depiction and explanation of God’s work, is to have access to God, His truth, and His purposes. The Bible begins with God as the creator of all things. The biblical account of creation is then foundational for every understanding of reality from a biblical worldview. The Scriptures assert that a failure to recognize God as creator, will skew every accomplishment of human knowledge and will darken every motive of human ingenuity. A central element to a biblical worldview is to see life and reality through the biblical wisdom gleaned from God’s character and purposes as revealed in the Bible, an expressly theological task. A theological vision for integration that prioritizes the place of the biblical texts as revelation should ultimately result in an engagement with all disciplines and fields for the sake of the glory of God. Biblical Integration as Central to Christian Higher Education The scholar (or student) with this biblical-theological mindset can pursue and communicate wisdom in predominately “secular” academic fields. This pursuit and communication require penetrating the citadel of contemporary “knowledge” and brings every thought captive in service to others and for the sake of God’s glory (2 Cor. 10:3-5). The mind that has been “renewed” or trained by biblical theology drawn from the biblical texts “sees” and “hears” things differently. 2 George Guthrie, “The Authority of Scripture” in David Dockery and Gregory Alan Thornbury (eds.), Shaping a Christian Worldview: The Foundations of Christian Higher Education, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 28.
xii THE FAITHFUL READER Theology meshes well with other areas of a liberal arts curriculum in a Christian university. Christian higher education should be marked with distinctive characteristics including a central role for biblical revelation and situating an academic’s own discipline with a theological framework. Brad Green writes on a commitment to biblical revelation, “At the heart of Christian higher education is the affirmation that God has spoken. The God of Scripture is a God who has revealed himself. This is a crucial affirmation, not a peripheral one, and a biblical doctrine of revelation has profound implications for a Christian understanding of education.”3 Furthermore, a theological framework must be constructed by drawing on a historical confessional tradition (e.g., Augsburg, Westminster, etc.) or an original document (e.g., Cedarville University’s Doctrinal Statement). The academic’s specific discipline is then engaged within those doctrinal commitments with the goal of a distinctly Christian body of knowledge. David Wells speaks of this intersection of theology and academic discipline as “coherence,” he contends for: a different kind of faculty… who, regardless of their discipline, are able to think theologically and to think of their own discipline within a larger theological frame. What is needed are not more specialists to break down further the coherence of what is learned, but for those who can once again build up this coherence within their own detailed knowledge of their specific field. The only way this coherence will be found again is if it is built upon biblical and theological foundations.4 In 1950, S. T. Ludwig made an impassioned plea for the role of the “church college” in a prospering society. He critiqued the “gaudy” initiatives that many churches and Christians attempt to influence society. Instead, he argued that “it is incumbent upon the church college to help establish a Christian pattern for the future that will raise the level of life and make our 3 Brad Green, “Theological and Philosophical Foundations” in David Dockery and Gregory Alan Thornbury (eds.), Shaping a Christian Worldview: The Foundations of Christian Higher Education, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 73. 4 David Wells, “Educating for a Countercultural Spirituality” in D. G. Hart and R. Albert Mohler (eds.), Theological Education in the Evangelical Tradition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 298–99.
FOREWORD xiii society more nearly Christian.”5 As Ludwig contended, if higher education is not driven by Christian principles and infused with Christian ideas, then people can “can lose their sense of ‘belongingness’ and become isolated units with no chart to guide.” Christian education sets a different course and in so doing forwards the most holistic thinking of the current day and has an opportunity to chart a new vision of the future (both personal and corporate). Ludwig continued, “It is the function of the church college in our disintegrating society to so present Christ and teach principles of His culture in every phase of the curriculum, until the incoming power of His spirit can change lives andmake thema part of God’s great program.”6 What Ludwig later asserted as a need is a collection of faculty who have a “high sense of life purpose” to this calling of changing lives and thought patterns. Cedarville University gathers a faculty who allow the purposes of God to prompt and sustain their labors. The impact of this Christian approach to education is immediate on students, has a long-term effect on society, and will bear fruit in eternity. Careful Bible reading and the synthesis of biblical texts into a theological view of reality prompts the task of biblical integration in literature and laboratories for God’s glory. 5 S.T. Ludwig, “The Church College in a Changing Culture.” Vital Speeches of the Day 17, no. 2 (November 1950): 56. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost, 58. 6 Ibid.
This volume is an expression of a worldview. A worldview is the lens through which we view and make sense of the world, a collection of presuppositions, convictions, and values from which a person tries to understand life and the world. Our worldview determines our self-understanding, shapes our behavior, and gives us direction. There are different worldviews, many of them in radical disagreement with each other. While they may disagree on the answers to fundamental questions, they all concern themselves with the same basic categories: the nature and purpose of human life, the existence of objective standards of right and wrong, the nature of the universe, our relationship to ultimate reality, what happens to us at death, and whether and how we can discover the truth about these matters. Every worldview has a starting point, a set of unquestioned assumptions or presuppositions. But, in providing answers for each of these categories, where one begins determines where one ends up. If you start with a materialist presupposition, for example, you cannot arrive at the immortal soul or concepts of duty, purpose, or justice grounded in anything higher than human will. Thus, the importance of a worldview is not fully expressed in a list of philosophical principles or theological positions; it is in its application to the world around us that its true power is revealed. A worldview affects everything that comes before us, philosophy, science, education, entertainment, politics, etc. It becomes the medium through Editor’s Introduction Justin D. Lyons
xvi THE FAITHFUL READER which we understand and experience the world. The following essays have been written by faculty, staff, and students at Cedarville University and express a biblically-grounded, Christian worldview. The fundamental presupposition of this view is the existence of the living, personal God who can be known through his revelation. “But,” adherents of non-theological worldviews will argue, “your starting point is based upon faith.” In truth, every worldview is based on faith of a kind. The question is: faith in what? The Bible has much to say in answer to fundamental worldview questions and the actions/beliefs flowing from them, either explicitly or in terms of foundational truths and principles to be applied. It is trustworthy because it is God’s revealed Word. Its veracity is anchored in the character of God, who does not lie, who does not change, and who does not make mistakes. Scripture is the ultimate authority for Christian life and practice. In addition to the special revelation of scripture, we have God’s general revelation through the things He has created: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork (Psalm 19:1). If honestly searching, our God-given reason will point us to its author, no matter what facet of His universe we are contemplating—the intricate structure of the human body, the principles of mathematics, the wonders of the stars and planets, the beauty of art and music, an ice crystal, a chemical reaction, a falling stone—all of them point to God. Many subjects are taught and studied at CedarvilleUniversity, and all are approached, both in theory andpractice, in termsof thisbiblically-grounded, Christian worldview. The foreword by Jason Lee indicates the seriousness withwhichbiblical integration is pursued atCedarville in andout of the classroom. The Faithful Reader is a collection of essays applying the Christian worldview to literature and illuminating biblical themes that emerge as a result. *** What makes a work of fiction successful? Putting aside elements of craft, such as plotting and character development, necessary to a gripping story, the end result must engage readers, that is, move or affect them in some way. One way we often express this is to say that a story “speaks to me.”
EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION xvii What do we mean when we say that? It must indicate that the story has touched on something we relate to because of experiencing something like it or believe to be fundamentally true about ourselves or the world. In other words, the most powerful stories are those that are in a dynamic relationship, either positive or negative, to the worldview we hold. The Bible is not a work of fiction, but it does contain stories. The telling of the trials of David and Goliath and Solomon and Bathsheba are universally powerful because they touch upon themes, fear and temptation, that all human beings grapple with to one extent or another. All of these stories are there for a purpose, they all convey lessons about what is true or false, good or wicked, wise or foolish. Jesus was a frequent storyteller: “All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable.” (Matthew 13:34). The purpose of the stories He told was not entertainment but instruction. His intent was to teach truths that would transform the heart and alter behavior. To do that, the parables describe particular situations with universal applicability. But that universal applicability can only be achieved by being attached to the reality of our world. Of course, we cannot say that the purpose of all literature is to convey spiritual truth. But all literature is directed toward an audience and attempts to engage that audience. To do that, it must “speak to them,” which is to address in some way and to some extent, the questions of worldview. It need not do this explicitly or abundantly or with intent; it may just be the atmosphere in which the story moves, but that atmosphere must be breathable for human beings—it must engage the world in which we live to gather the power necessary to move the reader. But what of purely fictional worlds, literary worlds that bear no relation to the world in which we live? There are none. As grandiose as our imaginative constructions might be, they are never entirely original. They never stand fully on their own. Their foundations must be laid on reality. The centaur, for example, is but the intermingling of two pre-existing beings, beings that we did not create—nor could we conceive of them on our own ex nihilo. All this to say only that all imagination has some basis in reality and therefore must bear some indications of the truth of things.
xviii THE FAITHFUL READER We cannot get away from it. God’s reality is evident whether one points toward it or away from it. What follows are essays in which Christian readers react to literature in light of their worldview. The authors come from different academic disciplines and play different roles at Cedarville University. They each bring a unique perspective but are ultimately united by bonds of faith. The works discussed range from ancient to contemporary and belong to different genres of literature. No claim is made that the authors of these works all intended to convey a biblical, Christian message. But they do raise, in one way or another, worldview questions. For Christians, that naturally brings them into conversation with the Bible.
E.B. White’s tender tale of the friendship between a spider and a pig is really a story about the potential beauty inherent in any life. Life is brief, yet it can be lovely if we are willing to risk true friendship. What is True Friendship? The friendship that is key to the story begins on a rainy day that spoils the pig Wilbur’s plans to stay busy, so that instead he is forced to sit and keenly feel his loneliness. He flounders in dejection, hunger, and a dose of medicine forced down his throat. Charlotte has watched Wilbur’s self-wallowing behavior on the worst day of his life but still announces: “I like you.” Thus begins a friendship that enriches both lives. While Wilbur had experienced the love of Fern as a baby, his friendship with Charlotte challenges his notion of love. Fern gave Wilbur an instantaneous love that compelled her to nurture him. It was easy to love Fern in return. Upon first meeting Charlotte, Wilbur thinks: “‘But what a gamble friendship is! Charlotte is fierce, brutal, scheming, and bloodthirsty—everything I don’t like. How can I learn to like her, even though she is pretty and, of course, clever?’” Wilbur has discovered the difficulty of friendship. What is true friendship? It is not based on physical beauty or “cleverness”—i.e., what another can do for you. Friendship can be true if it is by choice and compels us towards selfless actions for the sake of the other. Charlotte can hardly see Wilbur at all because she is near-sighted. Unlike Fern, who fell A Beautiful Life in Charlotte’s Web Emily Ferkaluk
4 THE FAITHFUL READER in love at first sight, Charlotte chooses to love Wilbur despite knowing his bad qualities and not seeing his physical ones. Charlotte also chooses friendship with Wilbur despite their differences. Charlotte is cleverer and smarter—she has more “know-how”—than Wilbur. Wilbur is fearful; Charlotte, cool and collected. Yet as far as Charlotte is concerned, Wilbur is terrific and sensational. The beauty in her friendship of choice is that it doesn’t matter what others think, only the opinion of the friend. Additionally, the spider and pig form a friendship out of mutual respect for the other’s good qualities. The spider is proud to know that Wilbur isn’t a quitter, demonstrated through Wilbur’s trying to “spin a web” for the first time. Wilbur is modest, unspoiled even by fame. Charlotte loves this purity of heart (Proverbs 22:11), and she can love it in part because her own heart is kind, loyal, affectionate, skillful, and true. Finally, Charlotte serves Wilbur even when she herself is tired, and she serves him faithfully until her death. The ultimate act of true friendship is sacrificial love. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Throughout the tale, Wilbur doesn’t appear to serve Charlotte to the same degree. However, by the end of Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur exclaims that he would gladly give his life for Charlotte. And he does, in a way, fulfill that desire. The rest of his life is spent befriending Charlotte’s children and grandchildren. That selfless gift isn’t death, but a life spent in enjoyment of the other and for the sake of the other. The Beauty Friendship Lends to a Life of Necessity Eventually Wilbur looks past Charlotte’s beauty and cleverness and instead sees the virtue in Charlotte’s way of life. Charlotte lives according to nature and necessity. Charlotte loves Wilbur in part because his smelly pen and stale food attract the flies she needs to survive (much to Wilbur’s disgust, since he cannot stand killing). There is a utilitarian aspect to her friendship. Yet there are also limits to the role that necessity plays in our life. The spider’s understanding of both the compulsion and limits of necessity ground her friendship with the pig. Charlotte expounds:
A BEAUTIFUL LIFE IN CHARLOTTE’S WEB 5 “You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” In the end, we come to see that Charlotte has acted consistently upon the rule of necessity, and that friendship is, indeed, a necessary part of life. A life lived only according to necessity—only for the sake of living—is impoverished. It is necessary that we acknowledge the limits of living for the sake of our own existence. To have a satisfying life, one needs true friendship. Wilbur instinctively understands these limits of necessity and the appeal of friendship. He is discontent with the merely necessary physical functions of sleeping and eating. Wilbur loves life and loves to be a part of the world. He wants to “breathe the beautiful air and lie in the beautiful sun.” The pig’s desire to live amidst beauty rightly matches his desire for friendship: both are not merely necessary for his physical existence. As White writes, “Wilbur didn’t want food, he wanted love. He wanted a friend—someone who would play with him.” In scripture we also see how true friendship enriches our lives. Friends give faithful wounds (Proverbs 27:6), make our hearts glad with good counsel (Proverbs 27:9), and love us even in the midst of adversity (Prov. 17:17, 18:24). Charlotte serves Wilbur in all these ways. She often chides him for his anxiety, gives good counsel as to how to participate in tricking the human farmers to spare his intended butchery, and loves him despite the ominous impending death. These activities of friendship ultimately beautify a life that otherwise would be spent focusing on necessity. False Friendships: Alternatives to a Beautiful Life White also pictures for us an alternative to this beautiful life. In contrast to Charlotte, Templeton’s friendly acts towards Wilbur throughout the story
6 THE FAITHFUL READER represent a form of false friendship that doesn’t beautify one’s life. According to scripture, we are not to reproach our friend (Psalm 15:3), withhold kindness from them (Job 6:14), bargain over them (Job 6:27), repay them with evil (Psalm 7:4), or forsake them in time of trouble (Proverbs 27:10). Templeton attempts all such unfriendly actions towards Wilbur, such as when he stalls in obtaining Charlotte’s egg sack or whines at Wilbur to be careful not to trample him when getting penned. These unfriendly acts emit from Templeton’s character. Unlike Charlotte, the crafty Templeton is not well liked nor trusted; Wilbur himself doesn’t think he is a decent animal. White describes him thus: “The rat had no morals, no conscience, no scruples, no consideration, no decency, no milk of rodent kindness, no compunctions, no higher feeling, no friendliness, no anything.” Templeton is above all selfish, always thinking of his own best interest, in particular the satisfaction of his stomach. He is a self-proclaimed glutton. In stark contrast to Wilbur, the rat Templeton doesn’t want to live forever; he wants to enjoy the necessary pleasure of eating even if it kills him. His life therefore evidences the limits of utilitarian friendship. He offers a friendship built solely on achieving physical necessities. Templeton participates in the plan to save Wilbur’s life through appeals to his instincts for survival, namely eating from the pig’s food trough. Hence the rat appears to be a friend but is in truth merely a slave to necessity. In the end, we see that friendship can be false if we use it as an end towards our own existence. On the other hand, friendship can be true if it is used for the sake of another. True friendship elevates a life of necessity to a life of beauty. While none of us can escape the need to eat or sleep, all of us can choose to cultivate the type of friendship that makes eating or sleeping worthwhile as means, rather than ends. May we each choose to be a true friend to another in our brief lives together.
J. R. R. Tolkien has been a renowned and respected figure in fantasy writing since his publication of The Hobbit in 1937, and then The Lord of the Rings in 1954 and 1955. Begun while writing on the back of a student’s empty exam paper, the famous first line has become synonymous with his work: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.” While the main plot of The Hobbit is a quest with Bilbo, Gandalf, and the 13 dwarves of Thorin Oakenshield & Co. to reclaim the kingdom of Erebor and its treasure, stolen by the dragon Smaug, it is a smaller encounter along the way that defines one of the most significant aspects of the story—one that extends into the themes of The Lord of the Rings. When Bilbo meets Gollum, a returning character in both texts, he shows mercy toward the creature that his nephew, Frodo, would repeat. These acts of mercy reflect a larger message of sparing judgment to those who deserve condemnation. Bilbo’s Bravery While traveling through the Misty Mountains in The Hobbit, Bilbo becomes separated from the rest of his party and finds himself in a cavern far below the myriad of passageways. Lost and trying to find his way, he discovers what readers would come to know was the One Ring of Power. After pocketing it as a curious token, he encounters Gollum, the small, pitiful creature who lives in the cavern. Gollum is an emaciated, twisted version of who he once was: a creature very similar to a hobbit. They decide to The Power of Mercy in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Bryana Fern
8 THE FAITHFUL READER strike a deal through a game of riddles: if Bilbo wins, Gollum will show him the way out, and if Gollum wins, he will eat him. Thankfully, Bilbo narrowly wins, and along the way realizes that the Ring he found belonged to Gollum. Bilbo slips the Ring on in a nervous panic and realizes its secret: it has turned him invisible and given him an advantage. Gollum races for the exit, thinking Bilbo has escaped, and Bilbo quietly follows him to find the way out himself. While still invisible, he considers killing the creature to escape. And this is where he hesitates: He was desperate. He must get away, out of this horrible darkness, while he had any strength left. He must fight. He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it. It meant to kill him. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering. Notice the switch in mindset that overtakes Bilbo: he was able to see Gollum as a sad and pitiful creature. He chose mercy. And by letting Gollum live, he shaped the future in ways he could not have realized. Frodo’s Fear In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo is now on his own quest to destroy the very “precious” Bilbo had stolen from Gollum. Gandalf tells Frodo the story of how Bilbo acquired the Ring, and Frodo is disgusted with the thing that nearly killed his uncle, saying, “What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had the chance!” Gandalf, surprised at him, replies, “It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need.” Frodo recognizes the truth in this, but still says that he feels no pity for Gollum because he “deserves death.” Bilbo set an example, though, and chose to show mercy simply because he could, because he was in a position to do so. Note how Tolkien capitalizes concepts such as Pity
THE POWER OF MERCY 9 and Mercy. These terms are crucial and carry power of their own. “The pity of Bilbo,” as Gandalf says, “may rule the fate of many.” In The Two Towers, Frodo eventually gets his chance to show Gollum the same mercy Bilbo did when he and Sam encounter him in the pass of Emyn Muil on their journey to Mordor. Like Bilbo, they find themselves lost, going the wrong way again and again. Gollum has been tracking them the whole time, and Frodo is ready now to kill him, to do what Bilbo did not. But he remembers the conversation he had with Gandalf, and he looks at Gollum and says, “Poor wretch! He has done us no harm. … For now that I see him, I do pity him.” Frodo’s heart is changed, just as Bilbo’s was, and it is Frodo who comes to learn about Gollum, talk with him and understand his past, as a fellow Ringbearer. He is the first one to call Gollum by his old name: Smeagol. He even begs Captain Faramir to show mercy when they are intercepted by the Ithilien Rangers near Osgiliath in Gondor. He has a second chance to hand out judgment to Gollum and still, he declines. “The creature is wretched and hungry, and unaware of his danger,” he tells Faramir. “And Gandalf, your Mithrandir, he would have bidden you not to slay him for that reason, and for others.” Frodo defends the helpless and advocates for his safety, even if Gollum is still undeserving. Samwise the Brave—and Just Even Sam, the character Tolkien listed as the greatest hero of the story, struggles with showing Gollum mercy in The Return of the King. In the end, however, he also achieves a change of heart. While before, he was unable to recognize the bond between Frodo and Gollum through their shared experience of the Ring’s hold, now he understands how his original lack of mercy toward the creature endangered them all: Sam’s hand wavered. His mind was hot with wrath and the memory of evil. It would be just to slay this treacherous, murderous creature, just and many times deserved; and also it seemed the only safe thing to do. But deep in his heart there was something that restrained him: he could
10 THE FAITHFUL READER not strike this thing lying in the dust, forlorn, ruinous, utterly wretched. He himself, though only for a little while, had borne the Ring, and now dimly he guessed the agony of Gollum’s twisted mind and body, enslaved to that Ring, unable to find peace or relief in life ever again. Sam realizes how pitiful Gollum truly is, and he spares the creature even though he would be justified in killing him. In the end, the decision proves to be vital since Gollum is the one who inadvertently destroys the Ring and completes the quest for them. Without Gollum, the Ring would have continued to exist. If Bilbo had killed him back in the Misty Mountains, or if Frodo or Sam had killed him along their quest, they would have inadvertently sealed the fate of the whole world. It is not difficult to look at this story and see the parallels to Christianity. Tolkien was heavily influenced by his faith, and however aesthetically unappealing a concept, it is an apt comparison to see ourselves as Gollum in our pitiful, twisted nature of sin. We do not deserve life, but rather death, and yet the Lord looked on us with mercy and spared us because he had the ability and power to do so. David tells us in the Psalms that “the LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8). Grace refers to freely-given goodwill, while mercy is a far more conscious decision; mercy is the act of withholding judgment that is deserved and that you have every right to deliver. Of the two, mercy is arguably the hardest to extend—it requires one to disregard justice, something we are very eager to demand as humans. All throughout the Gospels, we see people approaching Jesus and begging Him to “have mercy” on them. Paul tells us that “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:4-5). It is our responsibility then, to treat others with the same mercy we have been shown, whether or not it serves our sense of justice. When we see others and pity them, it allows us to empathize with them, and then encourages us to reconsider the judgment we want to enact. It is an incredible act of bravery in faith.
Through J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, we are introduced to the tragic character of Harry Potter. His life is destined to conclude in either his death or the murder of the antagonist, Lord Voldemort. At the beginning of the narrative, Harry lives with his aunt, uncle, and cousin. Their treatment of him adds to his tragic childhood, but the deeper tragedy is that he is not raised by his own parents. We later learn that Harry’s parents were murdered by Lord Voldemort. Most importantly, his mother, Lily, protects Harry and sacrifices her life for him. Harry survives and becomes the “boy who lived.” As we learn of her loving self-sacrifice, we are moved by Lily Potter’s love for her son. As the narrative continues, we are given further details of the effects of her sacrifice, which reveals a beautiful and powerful magic that protects Harry throughout his life. A Beautiful, Powerful Magic Harry must return to his aunt and uncle’s house each summer when school is not in session. It is not until The Order of the Phoenix that we learn why. Lily’s sacrifice not only hindered Voldemort from killing Harry immediately, but it protects him from further harm even after she died. After Voldemort’s attempt to kill Harry fails, Harry receives a unique scar, and Voldemort is left as a bodiless soul. Furthermore, Harry is protected by his mother’s nearest blood relative, which is his aunt. Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, explains this protection: Love Begets Love: The Love of Lily and Harry Alexis J. McKay
12 THE FAITHFUL READER … your mother died to save you. She gave you a lingering protection he never expected, a protection that flows in your veins to this day. I put my trust, therefore, in your mother’s blood. I delivered you to her sister, her only remaining relative…While you can still call home the place where your mother’s blood dwells, there you cannot be touched or harmed by Voldemort. He shed her blood, but it lives on in you and her sister. Her blood became your refuge. As long as Harry can call his aunt’s house his home, his mother’s self-sacrifice continues to protect him from Voldemort. Because of this, Voldemort cannot touch him while at his aunt’s house. In fact, Voldemort cannot physically touch him at all, a detail that foils his plan to regain a body at the end of The Sorcerer’s Stone. Eventually, Voldemort finds a way around this protection in The Goblet of Fire when Harry wins the Triwizard tournament. Voldemort’s elaborate scheme to regain his body requires a sample of the blood of one’s enemy. Voldemort selects Harry as the only satisfactory option, and his plan temporarily works to his benefit. After using Harry’s blood, Voldemort regains a body and is now able to touch him, and it seems the magic of Lily’s loving self-sacrifice has been overcome. However, when Harry recounts Voldemort’s success to Dumbledore, Harry imagines that he sees a “gleam of something like triumph in Dumbledore’s eyes.” In the context of book four, this comment foreshadows the larger plot in the series, which is not revealed until book seven, The Deathly Hallows. In the final book, Harry learns that he must sacrifice his life for Voldemort to be killed. Furthermore, he learns that Voldemort himself must be the one to do it. After Harry learns this piece of information, he goes willingly to his death and allows Voldemort the opportunity to kill him. As Harry walks to the forest to surrender himself over to death, he understands that he must accept death willingly for the sake of protecting his friends. Only Harry’s loving self-sacrifice will give his friends the chance to defeat Voldemort. However, as Voldemort attempts to kill Harry for the second time, Harry survives. He is, once again, the boy who lived.
LOVE BEGETS LOVE 13 How could Harry survive twice? Voldemort and Harry are connected by several similar experiences: they are both orphans, they both grew up in difficult circumstances, and they both called Hogwarts, their school, home. Voldemort and Harry share the same core in their wands. They even display similar gifts. Now, Voldemort has furthered their connection. They are also connected by the power of Lily’s loving self-sacrifice which resides in Harry’s blood. Lily’s protection of Harry now resides in Voldemort’s veins. The previous gleam of triumph in Dumbledore’s eye foreshadows the great effect of Voldemort’s decision to use Harry’s blood. Voldemort’s steps to defeat Harry become the very actions that enable Harry’s survival. Because of the protection of Lily’s self-sacrifice, it is impossible for Voldemort to kill Harry. These themes of love and self-sacrifice are demonstrated in another instance. At the final battle between Harry and Voldemort, Harry understands that his mother’s love and self-sacrifice protected him as an infant, just as his love and sacrifice now protects his friends. As they are preparing to fight, Harry states to Voldemort, You won’t be killing anyone else tonight…Don’t you get it? I was ready to die to stop you from hurting these people…I meant to, and that’s what did it. I’ve done what my mother did. They’re protected from you. Haven’t you noticed how none of the spells you put on them are binding? You can’t torture them. You can’t touch them. Harry follows in his mother’s footsteps and saves his friends by an act of love and self-sacrifice. They are now protected from Lord Voldemort. The Ultimate Act of Loving Self-Sacrifice These themes of love and self-sacrifice reflect the work of Jesus Christ. The story of the Bible culminates in Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross. His reason for coming is his love. The sins of each person are so great, that the consequence is death. However, this price is fully paid by the self-sacrifice of the Son of God. John 15:13 states, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” In Christ’s
14 THE FAITHFUL READER self-sacrifice, great love for humanity is revealed. He lays down his life for the life of his friends. Christ modeled his love for us in his self-sacrifice. Believers are to do the same. This command is not easy to follow. However, the command also accompanies a previous command in John 15, to abide in Christ. It is because of the love and self-sacrifice of Christ for believers, that we are enabled to do the same. Jesus uses the imagery of a vine and its branches. Only by abiding in the vine is bearing fruit possible. Believers are to abide in Christ in order to bear fruit and love one another as commanded. His love begets our love for one another. The self-sacrifice of Christ also frees believers from the fear of death. Second Corinthians 5:1 explains that believers currently live in an earthly tent which will be destroyed. However, once it is destroyed, believers have an eternal house in heaven. Because Christ has defeated death, believers will live with him for eternity, even after their physical bodies die. First Peter 1:3-5 states, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Believers are guarded and protected in this inheritance. Therefore, death need not be feared because of the sure salvation to come. Until this time, the command remains, to love others and model love through self-sacrifice.
The Odyssey famously recounts Odysseus’ daring escapades on his winding way home from the Trojan War. Yet the story instructs us more about Odysseus’ home than it does his homecoming. More particularly, the epic demonstrates the crucial role feminine intellectual virtue plays towards fostering a well-ordered home. The Choice for Home: Penelope versus Odysseus Every home is defined by the people within it, and every person is defined in large part by their choices, especially the choice for virtue or vice. The choices of Odysseus and his wife, Penelope, sharply contrast each other. Both are clever and resourceful. From the first line of the poem the hero Odysseus is defined by the descriptions “many-sided” or “the man of many ways.” We see Penelope’s cleverness in how she delays a new marriage through her weaving. Promising the suitors she will choose a new husband when a death shroud for her father is completed, she weaves during the day and takes it apart each night. Like Odysseus, Penelope suffers sorrow through their years apart. Yet at Odysseus’ homecoming, Penelope tells of what she endured in Odysseus’ absence; Odysseus tells of what he made others to endure. Most importantly, Odysseus often does not acknowledge that his choices affect other people. The plot moves by Odysseus’s constant inward waffling between desires for peace and conflict, between using clever resourcefulness to seek the honor that comes Penelope’s Titus 2 Virtue Emily Ferkaluk
16 THE FAITHFUL READER through adventure and wanting the security of a home that protects him from dishonorable death at sea. More often than not, Odysseus chooses fighting rather than friendship, glory rather than peace, adventure rather than home. In contrast, Penelope recognizes that she has a choice in her circumstances, and she conscientiously uses her virtue to preserve rather than destroy her home. The First Cause of Disorder in Penelope’s Home When we first meet Penelope, she is faced with an unfortunate situation that appears to be her own doing. The Ithakaian suitors bring disorder to Odysseus’ household in his absence by eating up his wine, sheep, and cows without proper recompense. According to the suitors, Penelope’s actions win a great name for herself at the cost of her son’s inheritance. Telemachos also blames his mother for allowing the suitors to eat up his birthright and wealth and pose a threat to his life. Both the goddess Athena and the suitors advise that Penelope return to her father’s household to court and marry again, which would bring a swift end to the apparent injustice. On second glance, however, the disorder and destruction enacted by the suitors is not caused by Penelope, but by Odysseus. Penelope is beset by the suitors against her will. Odysseus’s choice to prolong his absence brings disorder to his household. Although the poet begins by claiming that Odysseus longs for his wife and his homecoming, Odysseus himself is strangely silent in expressing that longing. We later learn that it is Poseidon who frustrates the latter half of Odysseus’ travels as revenge for Odysseus’ act of blinding his son, Cyclops. But why was Odysseus on Cyclops’ island, and why was he trapped in Cyclops cave? Not out of necessity, but out of a thirst for adventure. Odysseus’ love for adventure leads him astray, always further away from home. Moreover, his love for war-making eventually brings danger to his home, as we see at the very end of the epic. Odysseus ironically brings “peace” to his household by slaughtering the suitors, a war-like action that invites the threat of destruction upon his home from neighboring families. Problematically, Odysseus’ absence has also caused Telemachos to
PENELOPE’S TITUS 2 VIRTUE 17 grow up with a disorderly mind that fears to contribute his own solution to the household’s problem. Although Telemachos asserts to Penelope that he has “the power in this household,” and to the suitors that he “will be the absolute lord over my own household,” he later complains that “we have no man here / such as Odysseus was, to drive this curse from the household.” Telemachos cannot govern his troubled heart strongly because his mind is disordered; for these reasons, he doesn’t act on his own responsibility to drive the suitors from the household. The true evil attacking the household is not the suitors or increasing loss of possessions, but the lack of a father. How Penelope’s Virtue Preserves Her Home Although Odysseus is ultimately at fault for the household troubles, Penelope still has a role in the situation. As we will see, Penelope uses the virtue of a sound mind to avoid both of the extreme choices presented to her by the suitors (either a new, hateful marriage or the destruction of Telemachos’ household). In particular, Penelope’s reluctance to remarry is rooted in her recognition that a new marriage would not garner her a well-ordered home. Homer defines a well-ordered home in part by harmony between a husband and wife. The poet shows us this reality by picturing its inverse. Menelaos’ household evidences clear discord between husband and wife; their lack of friendship seemingly also results in a disorder between the household and its community, as evidenced by the active guards. Similarly, Kaylpso’s household confirms that a husband and wife need to be emotionally connected. Although Penelope cannot rival the goddess in “beauty and stature,” Odysseus later reveals that he can “converse” in human communities rather than among “nymphs” such as Kalypso. Penelope suspects there could be no proper harmony for her in a second marriage. Instead, she holds firmly to the value that a well-ordered home can provide. Hence, the suitors eat up the household while Penelope remains faithful to the lord of that household until Telemachos is ready to assume leadership. Unlike Odysseus, Penelope unwaveringly chooses the possibility of a well-ordered home as the standard for all her actions.digitalcommons.cedarville.edu