I originally wrote this as a devo for whillschurch.org. I’ve edited/added, now post it here.
I just finished reading The Great Gatsby again. I was pretty sure I read this in high school. I at least took a test on it – don’t remember how well or poorly I did. However, I downloaded it (for free on iBooks!) and I walked away with two distinct thoughts.
First – I didn’t remember anything about the story. I get why high school English teachers force these kinds of books on students – they are classics and should provoke stirring conversation about cultural issues. But I remember none of that and that kind of bums me out. I guess I was too much of a knucklehead back then.
Second – it’s impossible to keep the Gospel out of a good story. And The Great Gatsby is a good story.
If you plan on reading the book (or seeing the movie) – just stop now because I’m going to spoil the ending for you.
Okay – can’t say I didn’t warn you.
It’s pretty apparent that Fitzgerald wrote the book as a stinging commentary of the culture of the ’20’s, particularly the East Coast. Fitzgerald saw those people as shallow, self-focused, materialistic, calloused, and self-absorbed. All except perhaps Gatsby – but that will come later. It’s amazing how much culture in general hasn’t changed since then. Sure – music, hairstyle, clothes have – but the general ethos of the culture is the same.
In the final chapters of the book, each character has their understanding of “love” challenged – however shallow or deep it may be. Every character is exposed as a selfish cheat in some way. Every character is confronted with an opportunity to change, to be better, to be different and – none of them do. Maybe the narrator.
The only one close to really understanding love is Gatsby. He pursues Daisy for decades. Trying to make himself the kind of man he thinks she wants. He takes the blame for the Daisy’s sin – I’ll save that spoiler. This act ends up costing Gatsby his own life – didn’t save that spoiler.
No one else in the book makes a “self-less love” decision that costs them anything. Daisy walks off in the sunset with her husband – after cheating on him and he on her. Who knows if they are destined to live the same compromising life in another city or if they will be changed by this experience. Gatsby is used by his acquaintances – not a real relationship in the whole bunch. Every relationship is compromised at some point.
Obviously, Gatsby has his own issues so he isn’t exactly the greatest Christ figure. He is willing to compromise anything for Daisy, Daisy doesn’t have to change a bit. Christ loves us unconditionally but requires us to change afterward – for our own betterment. Gatsby doesn’t really seem to see Daisy for who she really is either – she is this made-up dream in his mind.
This kind of thing – figuring out what real love is – isn’t new. It’s been tackled in stories, movies, TV shows, songs – you get the picture. Love is a basic longing of the human spirit – how to be loved and how to love. It’s a legitimate longing. It’s a real feeling inside us. It’s one put there on purpose. By God. And He is the only one who knows how to fulfill it. We just keep trying alternate fuels.
Unpacking this and discovering God’s answer’s to the questions our arts are asking – this is why we do a Film Festival every year as a sermon series. It helps us look at film and media through theological lenses. I hope it helps people to see the glimpses of the Gospel in every good story.