Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Those of you who have been reading this blog since the early days (all 3 of you), may remember that I have done a couple of posts on a book by Timothy Keller, "The Reason for God". Well, I finally finished reading it. Ordinarily, it doesn't take me 7 months to finish a book. I have a plethora of excuses for not finishing until yesterday, but the only one worth of sharing here is that Keller's writing is not something I can simply scan lightly. If I am not completely focused while reading, I am very likely to miss something very profound. In case I haven't mentioned it, I am easily distracted...
Where was I? Oh yeah, the book. In "The Reason for God", Keller offers the skeptic and the believer an intellectual defense of the Gospel of Christ. I am a huge fan of the object lesson, and while I am of the opinion that Jesus was the master of the object lesson, Keller provides some excellent ones in this book. The following is an excerpt from Chapter 11 - Religion and the Gospel:
Two Forms of Self-Centeredness:
In Robert Lewis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll comes to realize that he is "an incongruous compound of good and evil." His bad nature is holding his good nature back, he believes. He can aspire to do things, but he cannot follow through on them. Therefore he comes up with a potion that can separate out his two natures. His hope is that his good self, which will come out during the day, will be free from the influence of evil and will be able to realize its goals. However, when he takes the potion one night and his bad side comes out, he is far more evil than he expected. He describes his evil self using classic Christian categories:

"I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine...(Edward Hyde's) every act centered on self."
Edward Hyde is so named not just because he is hideous but because he is hidden. He thinks solely of his own desires; he doesn't care in the slightest who he hurts in order to gratify himself. He kills if someone gets in his way. Stevenson is saying that even the best of people hide from themselves what is within--an enormous capacity for egotism, self-absorption, and regard for your own interests over those of all others. Self-aggrandizement is at the foundation of so much of the misery of the world. It is the reason that the powerful and the rich are indifferent to the plight of the poor. It is the reason for most of the violence, crime, and warfare in the world. It is at the heart of most cases of family disintegration. We hide from ourselves our self-centered capacity for acts of evil, but situations arise that act as a "potion" and out they come.

Once Jekyll realizes that he has this capacity for evil acts, he decides to clamp down heavily on this terrible self-centeredness and pride at the core of his being. In a sense, he "gets religion." He solemnly resolves not to take the potion anymore. He devotes himself to charity and good works, partially as atonement for what Edward Hyde has done, and partially as an effort to simply smother his selfish nature with acts of unselfishness.
However, one day Dr. Jekyll is sitting on a bench in Regents Park, thinking about all the good he has been doing, and how much better a man he was, despite Edward Hyde, than the great majority of people.

"I resolved in my future conduct to redeem the past; and I can say with honesty that my resolve was fruitful and of some good. You know how earnestly, in the last months of the last year, I labored to relieve suffering; you know that much was done for others...(But as) I smiled, comparing myself with other men, comparing my active goodwill with the lazy cruelty of their the very moment of that vain-glorious thought, a qualm came over me, a horrid nausea and the most dreadful shuddering...I looked down...I was once more Edward Hyde."
This is a deadly turn of events. For the first time Jekyll becomes Hyde involuntarily, without the potion, and this is the beginning of the end. Unable to control his transformations any longer, Jekyll kills himself. Stevenson's insight here is, I think, profound. Why would Jekyll become Hyde without the potion? Like so many people, Jekyll knows he is a sinner, so he tries desperately to cover his sin with great piles of good works. Yet his efforts do not actually shrivel his pride and self-centeredness, they only aggravate it. They lead him to superiority, self-righteousness, pride and suddenly -- look! Jekyll becomes Hyde, not in spite of his goodness, but because of his goodness.
Sin and evil are self-centeredness and pride that lead to oppression against others, but there are two forms of this. One form is being very bad and breaking all the rules, and the other form is being very good and keeping all the rules and becoming self-righteous. There are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord. The first is by saying, "I am going to live my life the way I want." The second is described by Flannery O'Connor, who wrote about one of her characters, Hazel Motes, that "he knew that the best way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin." If you are avoiding sin and living morally so that God will have to bless and you and save you, then ironically, you may be looking to Jesus as a teacher, model, and helper but you are avoiding him as Savior. You are trusting in your own goodness rather than in Jesus for your standing with God. You are trying to save yourself by following Jesus.
That, ironically, is a rejection of the gospel of Jesus. It is a Christianized form of religion.

There's more, but I'll stop here and let you soak that in. Maybe you read that and were unaffected; not at all convicted. I have read books others have considered life changing that, while I considered them good reads, did not affect me profoundly - to each his/her own. Over the past two years, my concept of what it means to be a Christian has radically changed. The Holy Spirit convicts me left and right. All other major faiths have founders who are teachers that show the way to salvation. Jesus was the only one to make the audacious claim that He is the way to salvation Himself. As I wrestle with the understanding that orthodox Christianity is not about being good as a means to salvation, but abiding in His will out of a sense of overwhelming gratitude for the salvation that has already been granted, I am becoming more aware of how often I fail to express this gratitude. Jeff read a passage from Revelation 3:14-16 this morning that hit me pretty hard: "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth."


Shawn W said...

There is a song that has runs through my head when I'm tempted to try and earn "brownie points" with God.
"I have decided that being good is just a fable.
I just can't 'cause I'm not able.
I'm gonna' leave it to the Lord."

My daughter says, "There is no I in holy."

Helen said...

Ironic--Not long ago I told my husband that I don't like myself as much as I used to when I was younger. When he asked me why not my answer was "i know myself a lot better now." It is not that I have changed. It is that I recognize my ulterior motives and the weeds in my heart, and I cringe. If I live long enough, I may not be able to eat at the same dinner table or sleep with myself :-). In my self centeredness, I did not realize that I wasn't the only person who felt this way. Anyway, this was a good post.

Annie K said...

Great thought-provoking post! My friend Bo spoke this morning on being the same in the 'shadows' as we are in front of others. I think it's something I'm convicted of daily and it's a struggle to quit trying to do it myself and letting God have total control of me. Yikes! THAT is living dangerously for Christ, eh?

Sherri said...

This is just good stuff. ALL of it. The journey I'm on right now is one of transparency before God and man. I never realized how many things I had been habitually hiding and not dealing with and covering with good works (you know, one would balance the other.)
It has been a couple of months that I have been uncovering things and trying to break the habit.

I love transparency. It is freeing, it is REAL. I LOVE REAL PEOPLE! JESUS LOVES REAL PEOPLE!
I'e been studying His words in Matthew, and that has been screaming ou to me.

This SUnday I will start a 13 week series in my Sunday School class on Transparency. If you don't mind, I would love to use some of this post. The timing is perfect.

It has given me thoughts to ponder and work out in my own heart and I would love to share it with my peeps!

I beleive you are a REAL person Katdish. Thanks for your transparency.

Mare said...

I read this section of the book and through the end yesterday as well...believe it or not. Seems we are quite like-minded...or like-hearted. I wasn't head over heals for the book but this part got my attention. Favorite line was the quote you too quoted..."I looked down...I was once more...Edward Hyde." Oh me.

I also finished Crazy Love yesterday. What else is a girl to do when she has an entire day with no power and no people? It was good and with all the questions I was facing about whether or not I should stay in such a place as this, it definitely fueled the fire. Geesh.

Thanks for the song by the way...

Sherri said...

Please take my quiz on my site

Beth said...

I think I'm going to have to read this again without A Goofy Movie and a hungry baby dividing my attention so that I can get all this.

But my first thoughts are how easy it is to fall into pride or feelings of worthlessness or both, when neither reflect God's true picture of who I am in Him. What did we talk about in church this week? Why, pride, of course!

Sounds like C3 is going to be a HOT church! (That sounds a little different than how I meant it, but you get the idea.) It's not easy to do, because it's so much easier to be lukewarm. But I'm praying that you guys have an awesome impact on your community. Not because you have lasers and guitars and all that...(easy to be prideful in having a "cool" church...I never struggle with that...ha! Uh, we don't even have lasers.) but because you live out the Bible and its truth.

katdish said...

Hey everyone,

Thanks for all the great comments today.

Helen - Don't be too hard on yourself. We are all works in progress. When any of us think we are actually measuring up, that's the moment when we should be alarmed. But remember that you are His; you are precious to Him. I don't think He wants you to beat yourself up for the "weeds in your heart", just to recognize them and begin to cultivate. I've quoted this scripture on this blog and to myself more times than I can count, and here I go again:

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2Cor 12:9)

On your own, you will never be enough, but He that is in you will always be more than enough.

Annie - Following Christ is a dangerous proposition -- to give up complete control to Him is, I imagine, simultaneously terrifying and completely liberating.

Sherri - Feel free to use any part of this post or any others here. I appreciate your comments about me being "real". Most people just think I'm "real weird". God is working in you. It can be uncomfortable and unsettling, but so totally worth it!

Mare - I agree, I think we are like-minded or like-hearted. And it sounds like you need some more books! Any suggestions?

Beth - Ha! We don't have (nor do we plan to have) any lasers. Although we do have a few Star Wars/Star Trek fanatics that I'm sure would love that. I appreciate your prayers and we are praying for you guys as well. I know that Frank and you were obedient to God when you decided to be a part of the church plant and your role there is vital. But is it wrong of me to think that you guys would be a perfect fit with a bunch of freaks like us? At the very least, it would be awesome just to jam with you guys.

katdish said...

Okay people! You've got me feeling all generous and whatnot.

I'm giving out free CD's to the first 10 people who e-mail me at
(It's a worship CD that I was a part of at my old church -- and it's pretty awesome -- I think it is, anyway)

Helen said...

"You shall know the truth. And the truth shall make you odd."-Flannery O'Conner

Steph at The Red Clay Diaries said...

Love this, katdish. I need to read the book now.

And thank you for putting me on your blogroll. I'll return the favor cuz I'm loving your stuff. :)

JML said...

I never considered Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde like that. Interesting. I've been considering righteousness lately, and just the idea that there isn't anything we can do to create righteousness in ourselves is incredible, but humbling at the same time. When we think we're righteous by our own actions, it's "as filthy rags" but God freely allows righteousness to us, through the propitiation. All we have to do is reach out and take it. Our Dr. friend couldn't do that, and how many more people struggle with the same thing? Great post!!