*Warning: Plot spoilers to “Go Set a Watchman” are contained in this post.
When I heard the earth shattering literary news that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, was publishing a second book, I was ecstatic. (If you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird go read it RIGHT NOW.) One of my favorite books, a timeless classic, has a sequel after fifty five years. Then came the disclaimers. Atticus Finch’s reputation tarnished? Was it really Harper Lee’s second book? Or her first book, once rejected, gaining new life not to mention generating a new fortune? Despite the controversy, or perhaps spurred on because of it, I had to read it. I finished it last week and have been contemplating this post since then. For me, the timing of this book was quite coincidental. And poignant.
Atticus Finch is my favorite literary character of all time, brilliantly crafted by Harper Lee, and forever synonymous with Gregory Peck in my mind. (Atticus looks like Gregory Peck. Period. Watch the old movie. Peck personifies Atticus to perfection.) In “Go Set a Watchman,” the new book, Jean Louise, his daughter, discovers he is a segregationist and is utterly crushed.
At some point in our lives, we all have encountered a person that enabled us to grow far beyond our own capabilities. A parent, a speaker, a celebrity, someone that inspired us and pushed us past our shortcomings. One of mine was Tullian Tchividjian. A pastor and speaker, I heard him give a message entitled, “Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything.” That message was incredible. I feel that it accelerated my spiritual growth in many ways. I recently heard the news that Tchividjian admitted to an extramarital affair and resigned. I was utterly crushed.
For some, Josh Duggar was that person. Seeming to have so many things right, the family appeared to all have it together, be brilliant witnesses for Christianity, and an example to imitate. When the allegations of infidelity and the seeking out of impurity arose, many hoped it would be denied and proved wrong. The admittance caused many to be utterly crushed.
What do these stories have in common? A hero toppling from a pedestal. Why does it destroy us so deeply? “Go Set a Watchman” helped me understand myself in a way I had not yet realized. Coincidental timing. Or some would say Providential.
First, I empathized completely with Jean Louise’s attack on her father. An excerpt: “I believed in you. I looked up to you, Atticus, like I never looked up to anybody else in my life and never will again. If you had only given me some hint, if you had only broken your word with me a couple of times, if you had been bad-tempered or impatient with me – if you had been a lesser man, maybe I could have taken what I saw you doing. If once or twice you’d let me catch you doing something vile, then I would have understood yesterday. Then I’d have said that’s just His Way, that’s My Old Man, because I’d have been prepared along the line – “ (Pg 249-250)
Why is it that heroes have to be so darn heroic before we see them crash? Why can’t we see a chink in their armor before the whole kit and caboodle comes crashing down, because as it turns out the inside was completely rotted away? We have all felt Jean Louise’s pronouncement, “You’ve cheated me in a way that’s inexpressible, but don’t let it worry you, because the joke is entirely on me. You’re the only person I think I’ve ever fully trusted and now I’m done for.” (pg 252)
Striking a chord, however, was Jean Louise’s uncle’s words to her when she returned home determined to leave and never come back. Here is where I saw myself, the weaknesses of the human race, and why scandal scares us more than anything else. “…now you, Miss, born with your own conscience, somewhere along the line fastened it like a barnacle onto your father’s. As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart, and a man’s failings – I’ll grant you it may have been hard to see, he makes so few mistakes, but he makes ‘em like all of us. You were an emotional cripple, leaning on him, getting the answers from him, assuming your answers would always be his answers… When you happened along and saw him doing something that seemed to you to be the very antithesis of his conscience – your conscience – you literally could not stand it. It made you physically ill. Life became hell on earth for you.” (pg. 265)
Is it not true? We want to believe our heroes are faultless. We want those that helped us grow and pushed us beyond our own selfishness and weakness, to be perfect. We hate to see them fail. It leaves us terrified, wondering if our own foundation might have cracks where we thought it sturdiest. It creates the feeling that the rug has be pulled out from under our feet. Can we recover?
Yes. You see, the fault is ours. We long to attach our conscience to another like a barnacle. So we do. We want to believe people will never let us down. But they do. Foolishly, instead of realizing what we are doing, we instead pick up our barnacle of a conscience and attach it to the next hero we run into. And so the process repeats over and over again. This is human nature. But it is human nature because our consciences are created to be attached as a barnacle, just not to a fellow, earth dwelling human. It is meant to be attached to Jesus Christ, Who “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He will never fail you. It might hurt a little as your other heroes return to humanity, as Jean Louise “…welcomed him [Atticus] silently to the human race, the stab of discovery made her tremble a little.” (pg 278) But with Jesus Christ, we can rest assured the pedestal will not crash, the reputation will not be tarnished, this Hero will never falter. Attach your barnacle of a conscience to Him. And be at peace.