Jane responds to Rochester,
will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man … Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigor; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be.
In these words are the faint echoes of Jesus telling us, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23–24 NIV).
Today self-denial stands almost no chance against the relentless pursuit of self-love, which is often fanned into a flame by technology and entertainment. J.R.R. Tolkien discussed the concept of denial in a letter to his son, Michael, dated March 1941. Interestingly, Tolkien is providing Michael with marriage advice. He writes, “the essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called ‘self-realization’ (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering.”2 Jane might have gone from poor governess to material wealth and comfort combined with an exciting life with the man she loved dearly if only she had succumbed to her emotions and Rochester’s persuasion. From a temporal standpoint, this seemed ideal, but from an eternal standpoint, Jane knew this wasn’t the “best,” to use Tolkien’s word. It was only by saying no to Rochester that she could ever hope to have this “best.”
In fact, this may lead to the greatest lesson we can learn from both the novel Jane Eyre and the character Jane Eyre. As we consider Mr. Rochester’s fixation on his emotional feelings, his elevation of the self as the judge of right and wrong, and Jane’s refusal of his offer of a life of seeming temporal happiness, it may appear to the untrained eye that the whole of Christian life consists of a long list of “thou shalt nots” capped with a resounding deistic no! The truth is quite the opposite. Since sin is an enslaving power (“people are slaves to whatever has mastered them,” 2 Pet. 2:19 NIV), it is only through and in Christ that we are truly set free. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1 NIV). “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 NIV). Freedom as the world sees it is choosing to do what we think we like. Freedom in Christ gives us the resounding yes to live in obedience the life God has for us. We are free to choose God’s will for our lives, “his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2 NIV).
Those who have read Jane Eyre know how the book concludes. “Spoiler alert” for those who have not: Jane and Mr. Rochester finally end up together. After the thwarted wedding, Jane becomes a school teacher in another town. Then a distant relative leaves her a fortune. She returns to visit Mr. Rochester and while on her journey learns that his mentally incapacitated wife has perished in a fire and that Mr. Rochester lost his sight trying to save her. A happy reunion ensues, and it appears they lived happily ever after as husband and wife. In his essay “On Reading Old Books,” C.S. Lewis remarks that by reading old books, we can gain a “standard of plain, central Christianity … which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective.”3 Jane Eyre is an old book that certainly puts the controversies of the moment, such as the elevation of the self and the relentless preoccupation with feelings and happiness, in perspective. For this reason, I commend Jane Eyre and its wisdom to you.
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