As you know, it was Valentine’s Day on Thursday, so last night Arenda and I went out for dinner to celebrate. Valentine’s Day also marked the five year anniversary of my proposing to Arenda, the commercially-determined romantic that I am. It was the first time we’d gone out for dinner since we moved here. We chose a restaurant called “Chicago-Style Pizza” which my Greek teacher, Mr. Josh Walker, recommended to me at Pipes & Steins yesterday. Pipes & Steins is the weekly Friday afternoon fellowshipping session here at the Manor. It was an outstanding pizza dinner, with half the pizza covered with Arenda’s toppings, and half covered with mine; a model of Scripture’s two-become-one. Afterwards we bought a bottle of wine and went home to watch a movie.
There really are very few movies worth watching. When we decide to rent a movie, it usually takes a good half hour so of searching to find something that isn’t garbage. Sometimes, the only thing available is a family movie, so that’s what we settled on last night. We rented Brave, and were reminded that just because there’s no sex or swearing in the movie, doesn’t mean it’s commendable. Brave is a movie in which Merida, a rebellious teenage princess, spends almost the entire time dishonouring her parents, but which in the end is no big deal because she was simply following her heart.
Sometimes telling the same story, but in a different setting, more clearly reveals what the message of the story is. So, let’s say you’ve got two parents who have raised their daughter in the Christian faith. The father is something of a blustering buffoon, while the mother does the hard work of disciplining and teaching her children. The teenage daughter, however, does not want to walk in the faith of her parents and rebels at every opportunity. Eventually, the daughter gets so fed up with her mother’s instructions and expectations, that she approaches the local drug dealer for something that’ll shut her mom up. The drug that she is given so badly disfigures her mother, that her mother must be hid away from everyone else. However, in the midst of her disfigurement, the mother comes to see her daughter’s point of view and decides that what’s most important is not that her daughter walks in the ways of her parents, but that she follows her own heart instead. The mother’s disfigurement goes away, and the family is happily reunited around the new gospel of self-empowerment.
Because, as we all know, there’s nothing quite so brave as saying “no” to the real world, and dwelling instead in whatever fantasy your mind can concoct; like drug addicts, psychopaths, megalomaniacs, and lunatics do. Yet, like a loaded diaper, this “following your heart” is the message that drags our culture to the ground. Our music, movies, and books loudly assert this gospel, an assertion that has become pervasive by means of technology. It oozes into our homes through television, the internet, radio, and the public library. All of those things, taken properly, can be blessings in our lives; they turn into curses when we don’t realize that the strange flavour that we are tasting is raw sewage.
Because the truth is that the bravery of Brave is not bravery at all. It takes no courage whatsoever to “follow your heart” and to do what only you want to do. It takes no courage to see yourself as an autonomous individual who owes nothing at all to the world around you. This is, in fact, the path of least resistance for us sinners. However, it takes great courage to face the world as it is, to accept the truth of who God is, of who you are, and of what wickedness you have accomplished. It takes courage to resist the temptation of autonomy, of self-righteousness, and instead to see yourself as only a small part of a much larger story. What was it that drove men in World War I to leap out from the trenches and run toward a sheet of bullets, artillery, and nerve gas? Guts. The guts to believe in something so much greater than yourself that you will lay down your life for it. Christ prayed for the cup of God’s wrath to be removed from him; can you imagine if he had followed his heart in that moment? But he did the bravest thing imaginable and instead followed the will of his Father.
Indeed, in the pages of Scripture, heart-followers abound. David followed his heart and slept with Bathsheba; Amnon followed his heart and raped his sister; Peter followed his heart and denied the Lord Jesus; Israel followed their hearts repeatedly, until their hearts were broken in Babylon. In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul tells us that heart-followers get exactly what they want, for the desire of the human heart is for hell. You may ask, however, “But if we have regenerate hearts, hearts of flesh that are illuminated by the Holy Spirit, then isn’t it fine that we follow our hearts?” I would respond, though, by saying that truly regenerate hearts don’t pay much attention to themselves. A regenerate heart has no desire to follow itself, because it belongs to something else. The true fulness of life lies not in directing your heart to embrace itself, but in directing it to embrace the heart of our Fatherly King, and the hearts of those with whom he has filled our lives.
This is a wonderful story to tell, and there are plenty of good stories that portray this heroic self-denial. Samwise Gamgee is perhaps one of the bravest characters in English literature. Even when Frodo, his master and his best friend, is filled with loathing for Sam and rejects him, Sam denies himself entirely out of love and devotion. He has every right to leave, to demand justice and compensation, but he denies himself every right. His pure honesty, his self-emptying integrity, and his unflinching stand for light against darkness contrast starkly with the petulant and self-serving snobbishness of Brave’s Merida. Indeed, Sam’s example draws our minds upwards and outwards, to contemplate Christ’s great sacrifice, while Merida’s example turns us into little Pharaohs with hard hearts. The former shows us a liberating enslavement, while the latter gives us an enslaving liberty. One is the path of true bravery, and the other the path of cowardice. The world has a bad habit of mixing these up, and against this Isaiah speaks strongly: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”