On Realistic Caricatures, Charlotte, and God

For The High Calling book club (led by Cheryl Smith this week):
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me
by Karen Swallow Prior
This week we’re discussing chapters 4-6. Join us!

TheHighCalling.org Christian Blog Network

I couldn’t believe what I read.

“You must never set up a wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build for the Lord your God.”
(Deuteronomy 16:21)

They needed a command for that? Of all kinds of idolatry, that one has got to be the worst. To put an Asherah pole right beside the altar for the Lord?! Such insolence! How audacious!

Those guys I read about in the Bible are grossly idolatrous. It’s ludicrous. I thought of when, under Aaron’s leadership, they melt all their earrings to make a golden calf and then declare it worthy of worship, even saying it led them out of Egypt. Then when Moses calls Aaron on it, Aaron raises his palms, shrugs his shoulders, and says they just threw in the gold and, whaddya know, “out came this calf!” I read a story like this and think, Really?

I thought of King Jeroboam who, similarly, made one golden calf to put in Bethel and another to put in Dan. He, too, told the people these golden bovines are the gods who delivered them out of Egypt.

But most of all I thought of the verse above. How could anyone insult God to His face by worshiping Him on one hand, and on the other hand and at the same time, worship an idol or do something God doesn’t want?

These thoughts came in the space of two or three seconds. I wonder if the Holy Spirit was setting me up, in a way. Because after thinking of Aaron, and Jeroboam, and all those unbelievably idolatrous Israelites, I thought of me.

How many times, and in how many ways, have I done the equivalent of setting up an Asherah pole right next to the altar of God? Have I claimed to love Him above all and, at the same time, desired the love, affirmation, and companionship of people to the point of idolatry? Have I claimed growing intimacy with God as my deepest desire, and yet nurtured greed (which is idolatry)?

What seemed ridiculously ludicrous was actually a lot like reality. What seemed like an unreal exaggeration was a lot like me.

Karen Swallow Prior says about Charles Dickens’ characters in Great Expectations:

They are, paradoxically, realistic caricatures. Dickens’ characters are fanciful and at the same time just like someone you probably know. . . . Wemmick might be said to be the quintessential modern man, and, with closer examination of a character that on the surface seems utterly riduculous, we realize that perhaps he is not so ridiculous after all.

—Prior, pages 59-60.

Caricatures are defined by exaggerated features, yet those exaggerations make the caricature recognizable.

When I read of people whose actions seem ridiculously off-course, I should recognize when they are “just like someone [I] probably know”—just like me. I need the constant realization that God has shown His grace to me, most of all.

And then I can move forward in the hope of that very grace. Last week we talked about Charlotte’s Web in chapter 2:

As she weaves words about Wilbur in her web, Wilbur tries to live up to the meaning of the words. . . . [T]he power of giving something its proper name, in turn, empowers it to become the name it is called.

—Prior, page 42

To me, this sounds a lot like many parts of the Bible. For example, I’ve heard it taught countless times that the biblical meaning of “justified” is “declared righteous.” Here’s another example from Ephesians:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.

(Ephesians 5:8)

At the same time God says I already am light, He also calls me to live like it. God calls us what we are still becoming. There’s no exaggeration in that.

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5 thoughts on “On Realistic Caricatures, Charlotte, and God

  1. I think this is one of the beautiful things about literature, Monica. We see ourselves in ways that encourage us to grow and learn. I love the parallels you draw to scripture. Jesus knew that we needed story to pad those ugly places that need conforming, didn’t he? Such a beautiful thing.

  2. As you were progressing through this, it hit home with me, too. I can think those Hebrews were crazy sometimes, yet when I take a closer look at me and now, I seem pretty crazy at times too. I’m glad we have their example to at least try to learn from.

    Love this:
    “God calls us what we are still becoming.” Praise God for that!

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