“Always resignation and acceptance. Always prudence and honour and duty. Elinor, where is your heart?”
― Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
Sense and Sensibility
A friend introduced me to the work of Jane Austen a few years ago, one affectionate story at a time. The above quote from Sense and Sensibility portrays the interplay between affectionate concern and obligation. Throughout the story, Marianne so desires love that her passion blinds her good judgment and eventually leads her to a shattered heart. In contrast, her sister Elinor places duty and honor above the longings of her heart, suffering tremendously after she resigns herself to accept the dreary reality that the man with whom she has an attachment already gave his word of engagement to another woman. Knowing that this man, Edward, no longer loves the woman whom he has not yet married, Marianne questions her sister’s refusal to ask Edward to part with his obligation of upholding the promise of his engagement. Marianne recognizes that love cannot be reduced to mere obligation when she asks, “Elinor, where is your heart?”
Covenant: Mutual Obligation and Concern
The story of Elinor and Marianne is not unlike our own story of love with God, which we see portrayed in both the Old and New Testaments and still in our lives today. We can all relate to the prophets, who experienced the concern that God had for man. Some people take the prophets to be little more than the voice of God, proclaiming the coming destruction of many people who deserve punishment for their sins. Such an interpretation misses the mark in so far as it has lost sight of the heart of the covenant. And that heart is a big mark to miss.
The covenants that God established with his people throughout salvation history entailed a relationship of not only mutual obligation but also mutual concern. The words of the prophets reveal God’s concern and His attempt to win back the heart of man. Salvation history is not simply about laws that man must follow, but a real relationship between God and man, heart to heart. God desires us, and His pursuit is strong. The prophet Amos portrays God as a lion whose hunger and deep longing for his prey leads Him to roar: “Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey? …The lion has roared; who will not fear?” (Amos 3:4,8)
When you hear the lion’s roar, how do you respond? Do you run like our first parents, hiding in shame? Surrender, rather, to the pursuit of the lion, so as not to surrender to the pursuit of the evil one. This is one time when the prey should do what he ordinarily would not, seeking the lion as Christ instructs: “Seek, and you will find” (Matt 7:7). When you pray and when you work, in all your daily activities, seek and surrender to the lion not only your external actions but also your heart. He is already offering His to you.
How the Story Ends
Every story has an ending. So how does Jane Austen’s story end? In case you haven’t read it, I won’t tell you everything. I will only give you a snippet, and even that only because of its suitability as a prayer in response to the lion’s pursuit. When we entered the New Covenant through baptism, we received a new heart, and the law was written within our heart. When we commit to participating fully in our covenant with the Lord, we can say with one of the characters at the end of Austen’s story, “I come here with no expectations, only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is and always will be yours.”
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