When you think of Frankenstein, what do you think of? Most would reply by describing a giant green monster with stitches holding together its manically hewn body, walking arms outstretched, wreaking havoc on poor villagers. But those people would be wrong. Anyone attentive and knowledgeable about the classic monster movies would know that was a description of Frankenstein’s monster. Frankenstein was the man who created the monster. But as time and Hollywood have taken a classic work, Frankenstein is merely how we refer to the monster.
This realization gave me pause to think about something that is unfortunately true in society. I began to wonder how often one becomes identified by their monster. In other words, I wonder how often people struggle with who they are and what they have done and struggle against the reputation that may be set against them. We all have sinned and unfortunately a few of those offenses may have reached, or will reach, a public level.
I recently read this classic written by Mary Shelley. Once I got over the shock of how beautiful it was (Hollywood remaining consistent with its reputation of not being able to encapsulate great books), I found repeated themes that spoke to guilt and redemption. The book is actually recorded from a sea captain’s perspective as he saves a sickly man from a floating piece of ice out at sea. As the man is nursed back to health, he reveals to the sea captain his entire story—of love, of loss, and of seeking redemption. The sickly man, Victor Frankenstein, tells of the creation of the monster, the struggle against the monster, and his vain attempts at chasing it down and ending what he started.
As I was reading I was taken back to times where others, as well as myself, have felt and recounted the feelings of moral failures. The ship captain recalls of Frankenstein during the retelling of his story;
Having conquered the violence of his feelings, he appeared to despise himself for being the slave of passion…1
I remembered times when people would recall dark memories, just as Frankenstein thought back to when he created the monster;
I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then, but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.2
I was taken back to long sleepless nights wrestling with myself as Frankenstein did after he had witnessed the work of his hands;
I passed the night wretchedly. Sometimes my pulse beat so quickly and hardly that I felt the palpitation of every artery; at others, I nearly sank to the ground through languor and extreme weakness. Mingled with horror, I felt the bitterness of disappointment; dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell to me; and the change was so rapid, the overthrow so complete!3
This was simply the beginning, like it always is. This was when the monster was known only to Frankenstein. But it did not take long before the monster left its mark on the rest of the world around Victor. Later on Victor’s younger brother is found murdered and, to Victor’s horror, he realizes that it was his creation that was the malefactor.
I remember when my dad would ask me if I had done something wrong (for instance if I had punched my little brother or stolen his cookie), he would always warn me before I answered, “the truth will find you out.” Another wise thing that my father always told me was, “you can fool some people all the time, you can fool all the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” There are times, and there will be times, when our mistakes and our sins will be made public to a certain extent, when the effects of our monsters are made evident.
The problem is this; that our monsters can become our identity on a certain level. There will be people who do not know you that will make judgments based on what they know you have done. You will hear about a great Christian leader who in caught in an affair and you will see the community shaking their head as they grab their pitchforks and torches and burn down his reputation. Much like Frankenstein, when people say your name they will not be referring to you, but to your monster.
These are some of the things that Frankenstein is going to help us address. In the creation of our own monsters one goes through an identity crisis within one’s self, is further troubled with the reputation caused by this creation, and, ultimately, looks down the road to redemption and what it entails. Unfortunately, these issues are deeper and more complex things than we would like to admit sometimes and I will be continuing the topic in a more direct fashion in a second article. But allow me to introduce you to the conversation.
Recently, I was on a walk on a well-known trail around Spokane, Washington. Near the end of the trial I was stopped by a reporter and was asked if I would share my reaction about a person being caught that may be connected with several assaults that have occurred over the past year on the trail. Since this was the first time I had heard of it I talked very generally about the tragic effect that those events have on the psyche of the surrounding neighborhoods. I walked away glad that the bad man had been caught and that people might rest easier—that the people have won their trail back from the grip of fear.
That night I received a text message from a director of the local ministry where I volunteer. He notified me that one of the teenagers that had attended our drop in days and had even gone to Bible camp with our ministry was arrested for assault on the trail that I had walked on earlier that day. He also had a little brother that was more involved with our ministry. The one arrested had expressed a sincere desire to know more about Jesus at camp. “Camp high” or not, these situations can be more complicated than they present themselves.
Let me qualify that I am not trying to speak to the inherent goodness or badness of humanity, but rather the complexity that these situations create in casting judgment. We should be hard pressed to make such definitive judgments so quickly especially when dealing the issue of ultimate identity. We need to remember two things; 1) that humans are dynamic beings and that as long as a person is still alive there is hope for them in Christ Jesus, our Lord, 2) “the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”4 We know generally what God is looking for when He looks into the hearts of man, and to say that we know exactly what God is looking for in each individual’s life is simply dishonest. What God sees each person as, this ultimate identity, is something that can be wrestled with. Identity is a hard thing to determine within one’s self sometimes, so how much harder to do that for another? I will certainly come back to some of these points in the next article, but we must press on.
But really I am speaking about more than just identity. What I have been getting at is the idea of reputation—the view that others have on a certain character or person. Frankenstein was not, nor did he become, his monster, but that is what society thinks of when the name Frankenstein is mentioned. Do you see the ambiguity? For other people, another’s identity is equated with reputation unless proven otherwise. Reputations can be a problem if they are perpetuated by things that the Bible warns us against; slander, gossip, and systems based on self-righteousness.
But Frankenstein does not simply point out the context in which we can find ourselves when we create our monsters, but also the fervor in which we need to try to make things right. After we recognize our monster we need to repent. Repentance is not a destination, but rather it is a road. In Shelley’s classic, the last fifth of the book tells of Frankenstein’s attempt to try to track down the monster and kill it. The monster had taken everything—family, his newly married wife, his happiness, and, soon, his life. Frankenstein’s pursuit is what led him to the very beginning of the work—half dead, floating on a piece of ice, now days behind the monster. Before he died, Frankenstein said this to the ship captain, “‘You have hope, and the world before you, and have no cause for despair. But I- I have lost everything and cannot begin anew.’”5
But that is where the analogy ceases, on a certain level. For you see it is vanity to seek complete restoration by your own work. For you will end up like Frankenstein— unfulfilled in purpose and slowly losing your life to your sins, even in the fight against them. But this is where Paul’s words speak so loudly;
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.6
Chapter 8 in Paul’s epistle to the Romans continues to explain how, as Christians, we are children of God and how we receive the promise of future glory and the love of God as those children adopted in. Our monsters standing between God and us are taken care of, but not because of anything that we do, but because Jesus has already paid for our sins and abolished them. We must acknowledge and be honest about the monsters we have created, but then realize that they are ultimately of no consequence for us because of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
But that is simply where one must start on the journey to redemption. There are many more aspects that, as believers, we still have to deal with in continuing on from this point—the devil’s accusations against us, our own shame, fighting for the reversal of reputation in continuing repentance, and other circumstantial consequences that may be the result of our sin. Vertically, between God and the sinner, Jesus takes care of the monster. But horizontally, between the sinner and the community, the monster may, and often does, continue on.
This is the stage that is set. The monsters that we create give us pause as we consider our own identity in the light of God’s holiness. They often cause the community to turn into a mob against us, and they are the purpose for our journey of redemption. In the next article we will deal more closely into how all of these things interact and what hope or reality we can expect to wrestle with.
If any of you are dealing with the weight of some of these issues, hold fast to the promise that God is working in you. Let me come full circle by concluding with a quote from Shelley’s work that I believe paints the picture of hope in us despite present circumstances;
Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and every sight afforded by these wonderful regions, seems still to have the power of elevating his soul from earth. Such a man has a double existence: he may suffer misery, and be overwhelmed by disappointments; yet when he has retired into himself, he will be like a celestial spirit that has a halo around him, within whose circle no grief or folly ventures.7
May God bring you to a place where you are living in His grace and truly appreciative of things that are worthy of such appreciation, no matter what path that may be.
1. Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. “Letter 4”
2. Ibid. Chapter 5
4. 1 Sam 16:7. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.
5. Shelley, “Letter 4”
6. Romans 7:21-8:1. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.
7. Shelley, “Letter 4”