Planting our foot on God’s word, especially when we disagree with it

April 23, 2014

charlotte_bigLaws and principles are not for the time when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth—so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.”

I did.[1]

So thinks Jane Eyre, as she experiences the temptation to become Mr. Rochester’s mistress. Rochester’s wife has gone insane; he is effectively a widower. Who would blame Jane for giving herself to a man whose own wife is incapable of doing so? “Think of his misery,” Jane tells herself.

I haven’t read Jane Eyre, although I notice this same conflict was recycled for Downton Abbey the past couple of seasons. Lady Edith made the opposite choice from Jane—and we the viewers were sympathetic with her. But…

Jane is the one we rightly admire. She obeys these God-given laws and principles even in the face of their most severe testing.

Timothy Keller uses Jane’s temptation in the chapter “Sex and Marriage” from his book The Meaning of Marriage.

But see how she actually does resist. She does not look into her heart for strength—there’s nothing there but clamorous conflict. She ignores what her heart says and looks to what God says. The moral laws of God at that very moment made no sense to her heart and mind at all. They did not appear reasonable, and they did not appear fair. But, she says, if she could break them when they appear inconvenient to her, of what would be their worth? If you only obey God’s word when it seems reasonable or profitable to you—well, that isn’t really obedience at all. Obedience means you cede someone an authority over you that is there even when you don’t agree with him. God’s law is for times of temptation, when “body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour.”

On God’s Word then, not her feelings and passions, she plants her foot. I’ve never seen anywhere a more clear or eloquent example of what a Christian single person’s inner dialogue should be with regard to temptation. Learn how to plant your foot.[2]

I would only add that Jane’s inner dialogue can assist us as we face all varieties of sexual temptation: sex outside of marriage, adultery, illicit divorce, internet pornography, lust, and masturbation… You name it. In the moment of temptation, as Jane understands, we can easily justify our behavior. We can think of counterarguments against God’s word. As a general rule, of course, this law seems just, but in this particular instance…

But why do we justify it in this particular instance? Because we’re “insane—quite insane.”

1. Charlotte Brontë in Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011), 230.

2. Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011), 231.

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