Grace in the Arts: Thomas Hardy: The Tragedy of a Life Without Christ -- By: James A. Townsend

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 10:1 (Spring 1997)
Article: Grace in the Arts: Thomas Hardy: The Tragedy of a Life Without Christ
Author: James A. Townsend


Grace in the Arts:
Thomas Hardy:
The Tragedy of a Life Without Christ

James A. Townsenda

Bible Editor
Cook Communications
Elgin, IL

I. Introduction

A. Why Read an Agnostic?

The evangelist Charles Finney stated: “I cannot believe that a person who has ever known the love of God can ever relish a secular novel…Let me visit your…books. What is here? Byron, Scott, Shakespeare and a host of triflers and blasphemers of God.”1 To that list Finney would have undoubtedly added Thomas Hardy the agnostic. Therefore, why read such a writer?

First, there are solid biblical reasons for reading worthwhile non-Christian literature. Frank Gaebelein popularized the maxim: “All truth is God’s truth”—no matter what the literary source. The apostle Paul believed this idea, for on at least three occasions (Acts 17:28; 1 Cor 15:33; Titus 1:12) he quoted from secular sources. Paul was obviously versed in more than the Bible.

Second, if we desire to understand the mindset of the non-Christian culture, then we must be aware of the particular philosophies and notions rampant at any given time. Great literature is usually an index to cultural concepts.

Third, if we would have a heart for unbelievers, then we need to grasp where and how their head is functioning. Thomas Hardy himself spoke of the “ache of modernism.” The Christian who has experientially understood that life without Christ is a tragedy should have an ache in his or her heart for unbelievers to find the fulfillment that is in Christ.

To counter Finney, then, read the playboy Byron’s magnificent biblical poem “The Destruction of Sennacherib”; read Sir Walter Scott, who operated out of a Christian consensus; and read Shakespeare (as a past article in this journal indicates: JOTGES, Spring, 1991; pp. 47–63).

B. Who Was Thomas Hardy?

If you had literature’s leading lights—James Barrie (author of Peter Pan), John Galsworthy, Edmond Gosse, A. E. Housman, George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling, as well as the prime minister of England—as your pallbearers (as Thomas Hardy did), you’d have to be thought rather important. Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) never graduated from college, yet he received honorary doctorates from the universities of Aberdeen, Bristol, Cambridge, and Oxford. Hardy’s five mos...

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