The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of those stories with a dramatic twist that most people already know before reading it. I hope that the original readers of the story were shocked by it, but very few people have been since. Probably a lot of people could give their opinion on Robert Louis Stevenson’s characterization of human nature without reading the story. I could have.
Regardless, the story still has a gothic horror quality. You might know how it will end, but the creepiness remains. Jekyll believes he’s found a way to separate his good impulses from his evil ones. With this ability, his real self will not be corrupted by the evil impulses that sometimes trouble him. Of course, he tragically fails.
Jekyll’s intentions are good to some extent–he wants to truly be the fine, upstanding person everyone thinks he is. But if I were to name a tragic flaw for Jekyll, it might almost be “impatience.” Jekyll wants to be good–now. So he takes what he thinks is the easy way out. And he destroys himself.
Why bother observing forty days of Lent? Well, maybe because we’re all a bit like Dr. Jekyll. We believe we have a sin problem. We even want to do something about it. The problem is–we want it now.
Fortunately, none of us are capable of splitting our personalities. We are, however, capable of becoming impatient with ourselves, or, worse, with God. Why, we groan, can’t we just make a commitment or something and end the struggle?
The Lent season is about our struggle with sin. It is also about the life and death of Jesus Christ. And if there is one thing that we can learn from the life of Jesus Christ, it is that he was in for the long haul. No quick trip to earth, quick death, and quick resurrection. No. He spent about thirty years living in a particularly narrow-minded hometown, and the three years after that were hardly pleasant. His death may have been “quick” for a crucifixion, but crucifixions were never quick. And he didn’t rise again until three days later.
The author of Hebrews writes that Jesus can serve as our high priest precisely because he understands our struggles. His temptation in the wilderness was a particularly intense struggle, but it was not his only struggle. He was human. When death drew near, his instinct was to run away. Unlike us, he never sinned. But his temptations were more severe than most of ours. I expect he longed for them to be over with. So do we.
Jesus did not try to split his personality so that only one side could suffer temptation. Instead, he persevered. Dr. Jekyll wanted a way to avoid the battle within himself. Jesus faced his temptations head on.
To some extent, Lent is about patience. Easter seems a long way off (especially if you’re giving up something). Lent is also about courage–the courage to fight a battle with sin, although that battle seems unending. Yet there will be an end.
We await the Resurrection.