One night last fall in Morph, my small group looked at the passage in Romans that says, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25).
I wrote a note in the margin of my book: Jane Eyre.
I adore the novel Jane Eyre. I have multiple copies and if I ever find one for a good price at a library sale, I pick up a copy to have on hand to give away. I’ve given away more copies than I own.
I moved to Alaska in 2005, and while I was packing, I decided to get some audio books and listen as I worked. I picked up Jane Eyre from the library and started in on it. Quickly, I discovered that I was noticing things I’d completely missed in my reading of the text. I was so familiar with it that I often would consume whole pages, rather than read individual sentences.
And then, just before the climax of the story, I came to a line that changed my whole understanding.
Jane Eyre is a redemption tale. It’s a story about a governess who goes to work for a man named Mr. Rochester. He’s wild and untamed, and she’s quiet and chaste. And they fall in love.
On their wedding day, his past sins find him out, and Jane discovers that he keeps a madwoman in his attic—his wife. He intended bigamy, because life had given him pain and he had found purity and joy and wanted it.
It’s easy to see Rochester’s character arc in Jane Eyre. He was sinned against, and he sinned against others in response, and only after Jane leaves, ripping away from him all hope of happiness, and his physical prowess and sight are taken from him in a fire that also kills his mad wife, does he begin to repent of his sins. At the end of the book, he says,
I did wrong: I would have sullied my innocent flower—breathed guilt on its purity: the Omnipotent snatched it from me. . . . Divine justice pursued its course; disasters came thick on me: I was forced to pass through the valley of the shadow of death. His chastisements are mighty; and one smote me which has humbled me for ever. You know I was proud of my strength: but what is it now, when I must give it over to foreign guidance, as a child does its weakness? Of late, Jane—only—only of late—I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were, but very sincere.
It is easy to see Jane as simply the victim of Rochester’s sin. She, after all, entered the relationship in good faith, with pure intentions.
But the line that caught my ear that day was just before everything goes sideways, during the happy weeks of the couple’s engagement. Jane says of that time: “My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for his creature of whom I had made an idol.”
I read Romans 1, and it is so simple to see the list of sins and excuse myself from the remonstrance of the passage because I’ve been “good” and avoided the things on that list. But the ultimate accusation against mankind in that passage is one of exchange: we exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator.
And suddenly I see myself standing with Jane, recognizing the things that stand like an eclipse between me and the sun, the idols I make.
This post was adapted by the author from one originally published at carolyncgivens.com