As a child I enjoyed terrorizing myself by staying up late on Friday nights and watching scary movies. Most of the movies were old Hollywood classics and one such film was the 1931 version of Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff which is based on the 1818 classic novel by Mary Shelley. The movie’s mute and murderous monster scared this little kid, which is the point of a horror film, right? Unfortunately, in the film, the original story is hardly recognizable. For instance, the creature Victor Frankenstein brings to life in the novel (to my point, his name is Henry Frankenstein in the film) is far from mute, he actually becomes articulate and well spoken with human-like emotions. Having recently turned the final page of the original, unabridged version of this book, this now grown woman found it a beautifully written, unnerving tale, rich with valuable lessons.
Lesson number one: Rebellion coupled with an unrestrained, unethical thirst for knowledge and blind ambition is a recipe for disaster.
The word science in its purest form means knowledge. In the last century and a half the definition has shifted more to refer to the natural sciences rather than knowledge in general. Knowledge used for good is a beautiful thing; I love to learn and explore new ideas and experiences and natural science has brought us many wonderful things, such as electricity and antibiotics. In Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein was a bright young man blessed with loving family and resources. He was a young person with the best of what one could have and learn at his fingertips and he was ambitious to do something big. Being warned more than once, both by his father and his professors at university, against treading a certain path of forbidden knowledge. He, not against better judgement but in spite of it, made the decision we all do at some point in our lives, thinking we know better than God and those who have gone before us, acting as if there are no boundaries whatsoever and we are free to do as we please. Victor (he is never referred to as Dr. Frankenstein in the book, in fact he was a university student) did so by secretly and feverishly bringing to life a creature, a non human being.
Unless it’s a surprise for someone else, anything we do that we are compelled to hide from others is a red flag.
When we must hide what we are doing from others, perhaps we ought not be doing it. The consummation of rebellion and wrong headed desires done in secret will eventually take on a life of its own. Victor is, as we often are, horrified at the results of what he has done, rejecting and sometimes running from the consequence of his actions. Denying the truth of what was done. In addition, we may think, as he did, no one else will be affected by the poor choices we so willfully made.
Which is never the case.
None of us live in a vacuum.
Others are always affected either directly or indirectly by the choices we make.
This is what I refer to as stinking thinking and only makes matters worse. I am not going to spoil the story for you and I encourage you to read the book, but I will speak around the edges of the storyline for the key takeaways. The first being, the choice to pursue knowledge of a particular something God has warned us against and acting upon it without consideration of the consequences to self and others is reckless and dangerous. Let’s take for instance the person who chooses to try certain forbidden fruits such as sex outside of marriage or in any way other than how God created for humans to be intimate. Ignoring the boundaries which God clearly laid out, may lead to an adultorous affair or an unplanned pregnacy, incest, pedophillia or the viewing of pornography to name just a few of the troubles that may arise. Others may include but are not limited to the use and abuse of legal and illegal drugs, alcohol, workaholism, power and control, money, food addiction, and I could go on and on ad infinitum. Here’s my point, the choice to act upon these temptations usually boomerangs back on us, and others are often caught in the crossfire.
Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Which leads us right into-
Lesson number two: Whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, the monsters of our own making hurt other people.
As I said earlier, none of us live in a vacuum, other people are affected by the choices we make, whether our choices are for good or for evil and to say otherwise is simply denial of the truth. Whether or not we choose to acknowledge the fact, sin- when we think we know better than God- is pernicious and contagious.
In Victor’s case, the monster he brought to life suffers terribly from rejection, abandonment and loneliness because he is rejected by not only his creator but all of society. In the Afterword of the book, David Pinching sums up the heart of the issue, “ Because Frankenstein meddles with the act of creation, his tale is of parenthood and alienation: of one man’s attempt to destroy his past and his sadness by bestowing a ruined future and an unequalled loneliness upon his strange offspring. “ The results are ruinous not only to Frankenstein and his creature but to his most precious loved ones. Out of pain (hurting people hurt other people) and in retaliation the creature takes on an unquenched appetite of revenge which costs Victor the innocent lives of those he loves the most. Because throughout the entire tale he refuses to take responsibility for his actions. Those are called unintended consequences.
Think no one else is affected by our desire to know better than God? Think again.
The classic Biblical equivalent is the story of David and Bathsheba. David was Israel’s most beloved and revered King, “ a man after God’s own heart”, who became so obsessed with another man’s wife, that his blind ambition to have her for himself leads to an adulterous affair which ends in an unplanned pregnancy. Ya think? David “gets rid” of the problem, her husband, who just happens to be one of his most loyal soldiers – a very inconvenient truth for David because the guy won’t go home and sleep with his wife so David can have his crime conveniently hidden.. How does David repay Uriah the Hittites’ loyalty? By having him killed in battle. See how one bad decision leads to another? The Bible says, and it is still true today, your sin will find you out. And it does. It always does. David is called out by Nathan the prophet, but the monster has been created, the damage is done and the destructive train of events is set in motion. The pain and devastation of this one monster of David’s own making has long painful entailments not only for himself but to those closest to him and his own countrymen in the generations to come. The good news is, David eventually takes responsibility, Victor Frankenstein never does.
Lesson number three: Forgetting and/or ignoring God never works.
A popular saying today is “You do you and I’ll do me. “ I detest this saying. It is incredibly false, selfish and self serving. And what’s more is It. Never. Works. How about we remember what God our Creator says because obeying God works, especially for those He created.
This never happens in Frankenstein. One bad decision leads to another and things go from bad to worse, to quote Frankenstein’s monster, “ I recollected my threat and resolved that it should be accomplished. I knew that I was preparing for myself a deadly torture; but I was the slave, not the master, of a deadly impulse which I detested, yet could not disobey.”
I was the slave and not the master.
That is what happens when we give in to temptation, we become the slave and not the master. We separate ourselves from God, The Master. Throughout the book I find myself saying (yes, out loud, to a fictional character in a book) ” Victor, just have the courage to be honest and come clean! Tell the truth!” But he doesn’t; he keeps hiding what he has done and trying to force solutions which only makes matters worse. In the end he finally confesses the truth on his deathbed after leaving a trail of carnage in his wake.
We do the same things to one degree or another in each one of our lives. We bring to life things that go terribly wrong and hurt ourselves and others. And in the end we have a choice, we can go on lying to ourselves like Victor leaving a train of damage in our wake. Or, we can start damage control by: 1) Being Honest. Owning up to what we have done, confessing to God (He already knows, He was with you while you were doing it and loved you while you were doing it. Make no mistake, confession is for our benefit, not His) and to another human being the truth of the monster(s) we’ve made. 2) By surrendering our lives to Christ and turning back to God. The Bible clearly tells us more than once, it’s not just enough to believe in Christ, what were Jesus’ words? “Even the demons believe and tremble.” You have to have a relationship with Him, to know Him. Then and only then can we live out the lives He created us to live. 3) And then there is an action step on your part, you must obey Him. 1 John tells us we lie to ourselves if there is no obedience that follows our belief.
And the obedience part would have kept the mess from happening in the first place. Imagine that.
The Final Lesson: Doing the next right thing is always the right thing, it usually costs you something and it may help others.
Frankenstein never gets to resolve this mess he has made. He and several others die far too young and their lives are wasted. But the small glimmer of light at the end of this dark story is because Victor shares his story with the narrator, the narrator learns from Victors mistakes and is able to wield better judgement by being less self centered and choosing for the greater good of his crew, even at the cost of failure of his expedition. Which lies at the heart of that remarkable verse in Romans eight that tells us God (not us) works all things together for good to those who are called according to His purpose. It doesn’t say all things are good, but that God can use them for good.
Even the monsters of our own making.
Be joy filled always,