So, today I decided I would start a series with the blog. I don’t think it will be a consecutive series, meaning that I don’t think every week for the next 3-4 weeks will be about this. But I have several different posts in mind and I think I will write them all eventually. What I want to do in these posts is explore the Gospel in Literature. What I mean by this is… I believe that the gospel is written into almost every great story, whether the writer knows it or not. It’s not always direct and explicit, in fact, it is typically under the surface. But if you look for it, you will find that almost every popular novel, movie or play contains some narrative of redemption, of good triumphing over evil through self-sacrificing love, or of a savior who stands as a representative for another individual, group, tribe, clan or maybe even all mankind and battles against an enemy. We are all drawn to this storyline like moths to a flame, no matter how many times we see it. As if it is somehow written on our hearts and all stories are somehow unconsciously judged as good or bad by how much they reflect this story. Our story. God’s story.
Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet
I have been inspired to start with this one since I just saw the movie Gnomeo and Juliet last weekend with Gavin. And while that movie didn’t particularly follow Ole’ Willie’s original plot line (You know kids…. Never wanting all the good guys to die in their movies!) it did bring back a lot of memories of the play.
One of the popular theories behind the meaning of the play is that Shakespeare was actually creating a metaphor to condemn the feuding between Protestants and Catholics in England at the time. That’s why the theme of “names” is so prevalent in the play. He is trying to show that there is a glorious love story that is being hidden and potentially destroyed by a war over names. I absolutely see how this could be true true and, in fact, the very words he uses are, at times, almost explicit in their reference to the gospel.
Read this excerpt from the famous balcony scene:
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
There is an exchange that occurs when someone becomes and Christian. But many people believe that the exchange is about behaviors. As if all God wants from us is to be better people, surrendering our bad behaviors and replacing them with good ones. This is moralism, believing you earn favor with God by what you do. And if you think you are above it or beyond it than you are probably doing it right now. This kind of thinking is always just a step away from every one of us. It is our natural tendency to try to maintain control our own lives and so we always want to pay for what we receive. That way we don’t feel obligated to anything or anyone. We decide what needs to be surrendered and what is fine the way it is. But God is not asking for you to surrender select behaviors and exchange them for new ones. He asks you for no more and no less than your name. Your identity. Your sense of self. The thing that makes you feel secure. The thing in which you find meaning and win approval from others.
But, this requires a loss of control. It requires us to trust God to make our lives meaningful and not in ourselves. So, we often remain partially surrendered followers of Jesus who still wear our old names. Drawing on our accomplishments as a worker, leader, mother, artist, or good person as our source of self-worth and identity. We often think, “Well these things aren’t that bad. They’re good things like being a good mom or a hard worker. What’s wrong with that?” What’s wrong, is that even a good thing, slipped into the space that is only meant for God quickly becomes an idol. And as long as you wear this thing as your name (no matter how “good” it is) you will never be able to accept the name that God offers you through Christ.
The invitation of the gospel is not that different from Juliet’s invitation to Romeo, “doff thy name, and for that name which is no part of thee. Take all myself.” We surrender our name and He gives us His self. We lay aside our identity that is soaked in self reliance, pride and the a desire to justify ourselves and we take on the identity of one who is loved and accepted by God apart from what we do. We can say with Romeo “I take thee at thy word: Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized; Henceforth I never will be Romeo.” (Well, maybe you shouldn’t say “Romeo,” unless your name is Romeo – that would be weird) Isn’t that what baptism is all about – The death of the old self and the raising to life of the new Christ-named self.
Like Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”