The second component of the “no harm, no foul” standard of morality is that it fails to take into account the spiritual effects of the behavior upon the internal (and sometimes physical) person. There are consequences for following a standard other than the Lord’s standard. Scripture tells us that not following God’s law can lead to separation from God, a darkening of understanding (both Eph. 4:18), a decrease in our desire for God (Rom. 3:11), and a coarsening of our wills that causes a turning from God (Rom. 3:12).
As Jane buttressed herself against Rochester’s questions, she was confronted with considering both her personal happiness and her view of romantic love, two issues that have been elevated to divine status in today’s culture. For those who know the story, how is it that Jane was able to choose and adhere to a standard she knew to be right despite Rochester’s pressure and her own adoration of him? Perhaps a good place to look for the answer is to examine the life of the creator of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë.
Charlotte Brontë, the third of six children, was born to a poor English clergyman in 1816. When Charlotte was five, her mother died of cancer. Her two older sisters died when Charlotte was nine, from tuberculosis brought on as a result of the poor conditions at the boarding school the three attended. For a time, she worked intermittently as a governess, until she and her younger sisters, both of whom would enjoy literary success (Emily with Wuthering Heights and Anne with Agnes Grey), decided to start their own school. Their venture failed miserably. Despite their advertisements, they didn’t have a single enrollee. Fortunately for literature, the sisters focused on their writing, with Charlotte publishing under the pen name Currer Bell.
Just as Jane Eyre was experiencing commercial success, the specter of death appeared again for Charlotte. Her sisters Emily and Anne and brother Branwell all died during an eight-month period. The earlier tragedies Brontë had suffered bled into the themes of Jane Eyre—struggle, long-suffering, and endurance. Even C.S. Lewis, in a letter written to his lifelong friend Arthur Greeves (a letter, it is important to note, dated March 6, 1917, when Lewis did not yet believe in God), acknowledged the prolonged struggles of Charlotte Brontë. Lewis wrote, “When God can get hold of a really first rate character like Charlotte Brontë to torture, he’s just in his element: cruelty after cruelty without any escape.”1
Through sufferings and hardships the roots of our faith often take hold and grow, manifesting themselves in our worldviews. Jane’s response to Rochester’s persuasive enticement appears to be a derivative of Charlotte Brontë’s personal orthodoxy, perhaps sourced in her own sorrows and difficulties. Encapsulated in this response is a theological underpinning that is almost nonexistent in our culture: the concept of self-denial.
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