Scarlett O’Hara and Sacrifice

I’ve recently been reading Gone with the Wind, the great American novel set against the backdrop of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Though I’ve read it a couple times before, this time through has been a little different. The hardships of war have seemed a little closer to home, given the crisis affecting our world this year (though I do realize that what has seemed a lengthy quarantine isn’t quite the same as having my city sieged and my livelihood torched by my enemies). Early in the book, the recently widowed Scarlett O’Hara and her sister-in-law, the saccharine Melanie Wilkes, attend a bazaar to raise money for the troops. Doctor Meade, a leader in the burgeoning town of Atlanta, takes up a collection of gold for the boys in gray, imploring the women in attendance to donate their jewelry to the Confederate Cause in order to buy medical supplies for wounded soldiers. Upon hearing this request, Scarlett is relieved that her really good jewelry is at home, so she won’t have to sacrifice it. However, in order not to seem stingy, she slips her wedding ring off her finger and tosses it into the collection basket. If you’re impressed by this, you’ve probably never read the book. You see, Scarlett felt no love for Charles Hamilton, her first husband. The ring on her finger was merely a reminder of an impulsive mistake she’d made in anger. However, moved by what she perceives to be Scarlett’s magnanimity, Melanie likewise takes her own wedding ring, and slips it into the basket, thus giving away her most precious piece of gold. For Melanie, nothing was too great a sacrifice for the Cause.

Scarlett O’Hara is one of American literature’s most enduring yet hateable protagonists. She truly is despicable, and, frankly, I wish I didn’t identify with her at all. However, it’s precisely because she is a good literary character that I do identify with her–at least in one way. Jesus exhorted His followers that no sacrifice is too great for His kingdom, saying that losing an eye or a hand in pursuit of holiness would not be too great an expense (Matt 5:30; 18:8-9). However, like Scarlett, I’m often willing to give up only what I think is socially acceptable and harbor the real goodies for myself because I don’t believe that the Cause is great enough.

So, what is this “Cause” that demands everything from me? What could possibly be worth an eye or a hand? Answer: A Kingdom that differs extraordinarily from my own. In my Kingdom, expediency, pragmatism, and selfishness reign supreme. I work to get what I want, and then I’m free to enjoy it. In my kingdom, I must stand up for myself, or no one else will. In my kingdom, I need “me-time” after a difficult day. In my kingdom, it’s wise to hoard my money for the future, not give it away to every charity case that comes along. In my kingdom, I strive for a perfectly behaved child who will sit still in church on Sunday, never spill food on the couch, and never ever embarrass me by throwing a tantrum in Walmart. In my kingdom, I will retire with the house of my dreams, a vacation home in Tuscany, and personal valet to draw my bath each evening so I can relax after a tiring day of reading and playing cribbage. Yes, in my kingdom, life is good.

You’ll notice that my kingdom includes many pleasant things, while many other, not-so-pleasant ones are conspicuously absent. For instance, in my kingdom, there is no cancer, car accidents, or coronavirus. In my kingdom, no one questions, inconveniences, or disobeys me. In my kingdom, my plans work out, my ventures succeed, and my treasures blossom. Who wouldn’t want to live for this kingdom? It’s fantastic!

Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, however, requires that my allegiances change. The Kingdom of Self must surrender to the Kingdom of Christ, which operates on an entirely different economy. In the Kingdom of Christ, only what has eternal value really matters. One of those things is holiness, the very Cause the Savior demands that I support with my body and soul. After all, He did. God values my holiness to such a degree that He gave up communion with His Son—unbroken from eternity past—and poured out His wrath at my sin upon Him at the cross, all so He could “bring many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10).

The Father’s quest for my holiness did not stop with crucifying His Son. While I clamor about for happiness, He is working tirelessly for my holiness. This often requires the removal of things that I wouldn’t choose to sacrifice: my schedule, my health, my family, my possessions, my finances. When the King loosens my grip on these treasures, He does it not sadistically or punitively, but gently. He knows that allegiance to His Kingdom brings genuine joy, not fleeting happiness that lasts no longer than a snowflake on my tongue. His Kingdom offers true satisfaction and fullness (Ps. 16:11); my Kingdom leaves me empty.

It’s to this Cause that Christ demands I sacrifice whatever sways my allegiance. A smart phone? A Netflix subscription? A computer? Caffeine? Vacation plans? Whatever it is, we’re called to give like Melanie, not like Scarlett. A pseudo-sacrifice given just to look good is worthless in Christ’s Kingdom as long as we withhold what the King is really asking for.

This “radical amputation,” as it’s sometimes called, does not change my heart, however. Without a renewed mind and new allegiances, even the most painful sacrifice is just behavior modification. That’s not what Jesus is advocating. The sacrifice is a surrender of the avenue of temptation–the device the enemy often uses to turn my heart away from the Cause of Christ. When I give up this avenue, I’m making it easier to find the “way of escape” promised in 1 Corinthians 10:13. To use an Old Testament example, as long as the kings of Israel and Judah left the “high places” of idols untouched, even if they led the people way from idolatry to worship of Yahweh, they left the hardware in place for an easy return to the pagan gods. No, the people didn’t have to return, but it was that much easier when the temptation returned and their hearts were drawn that way. And so it is with us and the “high places” of our hearts. If you leave an altar in your heart, all ready to worship an idol, you’re likely to turn back.

I don’t know what the King might be calling you to give up. Maybe it’s nothing. Or maybe, like Scarlett O’Hara, you’ve given up what you think you need to in order to appear spiritual, but in the back of your mind, you’re relieved that the “good stuff” is safely tucked away. If so, remember, it will not satisfy. As Scarlett found out, the Yankees are coming, and you might just be left with nothing anyway—if not in this brief lifetime, in the one that lasts forever.

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