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George MacDonald (7) – Faith, Hope & Love

May 19, 2009

Faith and hope are vital for MacDonald’s heroes, but it is charity that brings them through and saves them. Faith has to do with the past, and MacDonald sees the awful consequences of a creed that has fossilized  and become an end in itself. He grew up in a tight doctrinal system which taught that only a right way of thinking about the atonement would save men, and that they were saved without any attention to merit and predestined to either heaven or hell. His character Robert Falconer had a gut-reaction of rebellion to this. His moving Christian solution to the problem shows MacDonald’s own heart-felt belief. Falconer made his speech in Scots; I’ll give you some of it in English:

“Well, if I win to Heaven, the very first night I sit down with the rest of them, I’m going to rise up and say…It’s just tugging and pulling at my heart to think of them that are down there…We’re washed clean and innocent now, so now that there is no weight lying heavy on ourselves, it seems to me that we might bear some of the sins of them that have too many. I call upon any of you who have a friend or neighbour down there to rise up and take not another mouthfull of food or drink till we all go together to the foot of the Throne and pray to the Lord to let us go and do as the Master did, and bear their griefs and carry their sorrows down in hell there; so that it may be that they may repent and get remission of their sins, and come up here with us at long last and sit down with us at this table – all through the merits of our Saviour Jesus Christ, at the head of the table there. Amen.

In the same way, MacDonald portrays several ineffectual characters whose outlook is governed by a vague form of hope for the future. They have good intentions but never seem to get beyond speculation about the promises of Christ and his way of life.

To them, MacDonald says over and over again: the only way to know God’s will and to test his promises is to get on with the demands of love here and now. He sometimes seems rigid and stern in his insistence that the one essential thing is duty. But the rigidity and sternness disappear when we see that what he meant by duty is “love-in-action” at this very moment and towards the person right at hand. He is sure that overmuch concern for the past or future is sub-Christian. He is in agreement with those theologians who have talked about the Sacrament of the Present Moment or have described God’s life in eternity as an Eternal Present – because love is to do with the present.

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