In the classical novel Jane Eyre, Jane and Mr. Rochester are walking up and down an avenue when, as Jane explains, “[as] [w]e were ascending the avenue he thus paused…[l]ifting his eye to the battlements, he cast over them a glare such as I never saw before or since. Pain, shame, ire, impatience, disgust, detestation, seemed momentarily to hold a quivering conflict in the large pupil dilating under his ebon eyebrow. Wild was the wrestle which should be paramount; but another feeling rose and triumphed.” Later Mr. Rochester explained: “During the moment I was silent, Miss Eyre, I was arranging a point with my destiny.” Mr. Rochester had just experienced what Jane called a “paramount” struggle — the kind of struggle that sets destiny one way or another.
When I was up late one night in a bit of a gloomy mood and pondering over my seemingly troubled life, I began brooding over all the ill effects that seemed to arise from two particular choices that I had made many years earlier, at moments of great import but also of great weakness. I began to question how almighty God could have left me at those moments to fall into such great error, even when I was at those times seeking guidance that never came. I admit that at one of those moments I was tired and seeking escape, and I turned to loved ones for support and justification for that escape, but heaven was silent. I also admit that at the other moment I was getting what I asked for, although I did not realize at the time how much I would suffer for getting it so easily. In both of these instances, I reasoned, the slightest bit of providence or enlightenment could have significantly altered my life for the better, and saved me years of grief and suffering. So heavy upon my mind was the burden of these mistakes, and so overwhelming was their ramifications, that I fell into despair and lifted my voice to heaven and asked how a loving God could neglect me so much at those moments of enduring consequence. At this point in my life, I wasn’t asking it perniciously, as I had done before, but in earnest. And in answer I received a surprising response. I was suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of peace — one so strong that it seemed to smite into oblivion the gravity of my concerns. So unexpected was this response! The mistakes weighed so heavily on my mind and caused me such desperate grief in their contemplation that I could not fathom feeling any peace about the matter. So incongruent was this answer to all that I was feeling that I laughed in my heart that heaven could treat so lightly errors so great and so painful, not only for myself, but for others. I was utterly baffled and although I fell asleep that night somewhat at peace concerning my mistakes a new confusion was clearly left in its place.
The next morning I awoke still troubled, and I immediately set my mind to untangling the mystery of how I could feel peace (which I was sure was from God, the feeling being so powerful, so absolute, and so unexpected) about such disconcerting matters. This peace had a strange and twisted effect upon me. It filled me with this desire, then, to simply not care any more about what was good or bad, or what consequences might follow, if in a moment all the apparent evil that followed such poor decisions could be swept away in a feeling of profound peace. Something inside of me told me to resist this effect, however; but I was struggling terribly to do so and was on the verge of failing when all of a sudden the peace came to me again, and the words popped into my head “Peace, and Good Will to All Men!” But with these words came the understanding that I sought, in a way inexplicable to Reason alone. As these words came into my head I knew that they were an affirmation that God gives Peace not because I [we] deserve it but because he wants to show his Good Will [to all Men]. I suddenly recognized that I indeed made those decisions and that I was responsible for them, and that God did not intervene on those decisions for some wise purpose as of yet unknown to me. But God does not leave us comfortless! I realized as I thought on this experience that the burdens and benefits of my decisions belonged to me, and would remain with me throughout this life, but that God could, and did, forgive me for those fateful mistakes, even if He would not remove their temporal consequences altogether from me. Although I felt the peace of God, yet I could not ignore the many years that I had not felt peace, nor could I ignore the real impact that those years had on those around me. I realized that if I wanted a better life, and to have a positive effect on others, I still had the responsibility to continue trying to learn from my mistakes and to make better decisions. I also realized that I would make a mockery of God’s forgiveness and peace, if I should use it as an excuse to persist in erroneous attitudes, behavior, and choices rather than to learn and grow and become a better influence in the world.
All of this seemed so novel to me, as I learned it from my own experience, but it also reminded me of the words of St. Paul, who attempted in his own way to tell us the same thing that I had now learned for myself at this “paramount” moment of my life.
30 And God has overlooked the times of such ignorance; but now commands all men everywhere to repent:
31 Because he has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained [Jesus Christ]
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what principle? Of works? Nay: but by the principle of faith.
31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we [still] establish the law. [We still repent and bring good works as we are able.]
Romans 3:23, 27, 31
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ
2 Through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the Glory of God.
3 Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings
4 Because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who he has given us.