Thursday, 22 June 2017

Flaming Swords East of Eden

A Tortured, Confused Prophet

John Steinbeck is one of the more notable secular prophets of our age.  Consider, then, the following recitation from the "Steinbeck Confession of Faith":
I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder.  Humans are caught--in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too--in a net of good and evil.  I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence.  Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners.  There is no other story.  A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil?  Have I done well--or ill?  [John Steinbeck, East of Eden (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1980.  First published in the USA by The Viking Press, 1952), p. 413.]
The first thing which strikes us is that this statement accurately reflects how most unredeemed, fallen sinners think.  It is indeed an apt statement of faith for most men born "East of Eden", driven out of the Garden of God to a wild desert place, and kept from returning by the swords of the flaming angels.

It begins by presupposing the existence of good and evil.  But Steinbeck must know that at the same time he has no standard to determine what is good or evil.  He, like so many, assumes that there is such a standard, a moral measuring stick, but it hangs on skyhooks, grounded in no certain foundation.  Steinbeck would likely not have survived the moral agosticism and radical relativism of the post-modern world in which we now live.

Steinbeck lived in an age of "works-righteousness" where it was believed possible to construct a weighing balance, with good one one side of the balance, and evil on the other.
 It is, he tells us, the only story in the world.  At the end of his life, man will have only one "hard, clean question": Was my life good or evil?  Have I done well, or ill?

The Scriptures, however, tell us that everyone who lives in that matrix lives under a divine curse, for "all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”  [Galatians 3:10].  Since human beings are caught in a "net of good and evil", divine wrath and judgement is inevitable, because God is infinitely holy and will neither tolerate nor accept any evil whatsoever.  Therefore, the image of a good-evil balance scale where we must strive to ensure that our good deeds outweigh the bad is thoroughly false.  Contrary to Steinbeck's assertion, the moral balance scale theory does not lead to one hard clean question, to be faced by all--namely, whether we done more good than evil.  The true balance scales operate in another manner entirely:  if there be any evil act--whether in thought, word, or deed--divine judgement falls.  "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it."  [James 2:10]

We suspect that biblical imagery notwithstanding, Steinbeck is an atheist: he does not believe the Living God.   If so, right and wrong, truth and lies are meaningless constructs at the end of the day.  Those who followed after Steinbeck eventually realised that this was the case.  The succeeding generations moved from moralism to atheism.  In the case of the latter, to speak of a moral balance at all is a nonsense; there is no right and wrong.  There is no measure, no balance.  There are only different ways of looking at things.

It is significant that at another place in his novel, Steinbeck implies that he has already moved from moralism to atheism:
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable ting in the world.  And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.  And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.  This is what I am and what I am about.  I can understand why a system built on a pattern must true to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system.  Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.  [Ibid., p. 134.]
Steinbeck, a secular prophet, is sure about one thing: the God revealed in Scripture does not exist.  What he has not yet worked out is that if this be true, we are all "uncreative beasts".  But since he hates that possibility and will fight against it, he and all who walk in his footsteps have but one choice: to repent and humbly bow at the feet of "God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth" and seek His mercy offered to all by His Son, Jesus Christ.

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