Several months ago I started reading the ‘classic’ novel Madame Bovary. I finally finished it this week. Set in 19th century France the book tells the story of Charles Bovary a “stolid, kindhearted man without much ability or ambition.” After his first wife dies, he marries Emma, who reads romance novels and feels that she should be living a life of romance and luxury. She “has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life.”
The book is claimed to be a precursor to the Realism movement which challenged writers to depict life and society as they really were. Looking at the bigger picture, for me, this book simply shows the sins of the people that were usually hidden from others. One website states this book was one of the “most influential novels ever written.” Why? Perhaps because it allowed others to feel better about themselves and about their own sins. It flaunted sin in the face of society and broke down the barriers of what was right and what was wrong. And many people loved it.
Sadly, Emma never repented of her sins, or took responsibility for her overspending, but tried to find a way out of her dilemma so that she could go on as before. Not finding a way to fix things nor anyone to help her, she ate arsenic, leaving behind a grieving husband and sad little daughter.
Contrast that book with a small paperback I just finished. Not a classic. Not a best seller. A simple true story of a missionary family living in China in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion. This family walked, rode, and stumbled over A Thousand Miles of Miracles in China as they tried to leave the country before being executed.
While Emma felt she deserved to live in luxury, the Glovers had all of their possessions taken from them.
As Emma purchased hats, fans, silks, and cloaks which she could not afford, the missionaries had their clothing torn from them and replaced with beggars’ rags.
Emma ignored her daughter and allowed others to care for her child, while the Glovers prayed with their children for deliverance, huddled close to keep them warm, gave them most of the food, and protected them from blows and stones by using their bodies as shields.
Emma did what she pleased and never cared for her husband who loved her deeply. The Glovers prayed for their enemies and offered the Word of Life to any who would listen.
Rather than pay the consequences of her careless spending, Emma took poison to end her life.
Enduring the persecution of the Chinese, the Glovers prayed for protection, grace, and strength to carry on. They yielded their lives to whatever God willed. And God provided miracle after miracle.
For Emma, “as the death rattle grew louder, the priest speeded his prayers: they mingled with Bovary’s stifled sobs, and at moments everything seemed drowned by the monotonous flow of Latin syllables that sounded like the tolling of a bell. . . Emma began to laugh – a horrible, frantic, desperate laugh – fancying that she saw the beggar’s hideous face, a figure of terror looming up in the darkness of eternity. . . A spasm flung her down on the mattress. Everyone drew close. She had ceased to exist.”
But for Flora Glover, “on September 19 my wife suffered a relapse and, after lingering through five more weeks of suffering . . . she went to be with Christ on October 25, at the age of twenty-eight. Over all the unspeakable sorrow was the heavenly consolation that the deepest longings of her soul were now satisfied, for God was with her, her God, and had wiped away all tears from her eyes. She was the last of the martyrs of 1900 to pass from the cross to the crown.”
Tell me. Which one was the fool?
Romans 8:5 “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”