Great Gatsby & The Gospel

The-Great-Gatsby-and-the-GospelLate in his life, F. Scott Fitzgerald scrawled a line in a notebook that has often been repeated, “There are no second acts in American lives.” There are days when I believe this, or at least live like I do. I feel the discouragement of a familiar cycle running its course. The prospect of ever being free from this path can seem thin and unconvincing. I betray my discouragement with hunched shoulders, lowered gaze, shameful countenance and weary disposition. This is a one act play with no set or costume changes and no dramatic plot turns.

With no context, it is impossible to know what inspired that aphorism from Fitzgerald. But this bleak view is teased out more fully in his most enduring work, The Great Gatsby, recently released in cinematic splendor with a heavyweight cast and sprawling budget. The story is cynical and fatalistic. Gatsby gives all in pursuit of a fantasy that, when realized, becomes a tragedy. The novel ends with the enduring line, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

This is disheartening. Pressing forward, we are just beaten back. Act one never turns to act two. We are stuck on an unchanging course, irrespective of our efforts to change, overpowered by fate.

It is the old-fashioned car ride at the amusement park. There is a functional steering wheel to give the illusion of control, but if you steer more than a few inches off course, a metal guide rail will bounce you back. When the track veers left, you can not go right, no matter how hard you turn the wheel. Even worse, these cars are restricted to a snail’s pace. Pedal to the floor and you inch your way along the track. Progress is minimal. In a setting known for thrill rides that capitalizes on speed and unexpected twists and turns, these cars are an unsatisfying ride.

But this is not the gospel, which in contrast, is a story that insists on a second act. Sharp turns and radical changes are essential to the story. Abram is followed by an Abraham, Saul is followed by a Paul, a first Adam is followed by a second Adam, the fall is followed by redemption, death is followed by resurrection. The possibility of transformation is at the heart of this story. I am not bound to the course I am on. I can change direction, start anew, overcome tragedy, break addiction, restore relationships, set new goals, heal my hurts, forgive my perpetrators, apologize to my victims and become a new creation. In every plotline, no matter how bleak the current course, radical transformation is possible.

Even when Paul is at his most pessimistic, discouraged with his ongoing battle with sin and feeling imprisoned to his sinful desires, he finds hope for victory in Jesus Christ. From “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:24) to “through Jesus Christ the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2) in the span of four verses. The curtain falls and act one is over. It rises and act two begins; a second act full of hope, possibility and freedom. In Christ, all the brokenness of act one can be repaired in act two.

The storyline of The Great Gatsby ends in wreckage – a car wreck serving as the physical emblem of relational and personal wreckage affecting every major character. But the message of the gospel is that this wreckage, wreckage that can be traced back to sin, is not the end. Act one may be dominated by sin. But act two assures us that sin and all its allies can be conquered. “‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

Phil Huber is a freelance writer. He blogs regularly at aploddingpilgrimage.blogspot.com.

 

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