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Monday, June 21, 2010

The Light in the Darkness – How Reading a Vampire Book Taught Me More about Faith - Attacks from Within

(Click for previous chapter: Fear - Faith's Enemy)

When Bella chooses to go with Alice to rescue Edward in Italy, leaving Jacob behind at a potential turning point in their relationship, she reveals her heart, the love she still feels for her perfect lover. Her decision is not based on any notion of getting something from him in return. She does it to honor his value, protect his worth, and acknowledge his significance. Even though the treasure isn’t hers any more (so she thinks), she cannot allow it to be destroyed. He’s too important.

She’s even pretty sure she’ll die.

But that’s okay with her because she realized that she’d rather die than live in a world without light.

This decision, while reuniting her with Edward, placed her in the most dangerous situation she’d yet to encounter – in the middle of vampire world headquarters, Volterra, surrounded by the self-appointed rulers of their kind, the Volturi. These vampires were powerful, experienced and traditional. In other words, they were not at all Cullen-esque vegetarians.

And they did not like the relationship she and Edward possessed.

They didn’t say they didn’t like it. They disguised their irritation with amazement and empty praise that prickled with the terror of veiled threats. Bella’s especially afraid because she had no experience with these kinds of vampires. The way they wielded authority and issued warnings sent shivers to her very core. Even though Edward was doing everything he could to protect her, Bella’s at the mercy of the Volturi, and she knew it.

The code these kings of vampires lived by read much differently than the Cullens’. For certain, if Bella had encountered the Volturi before ever meeting Edward, she wouldn’t have given Edward a chance at all. Come to think of it, the Volturi wouldn’t have given Bella a chance either. They’d have feasted on her.

The Volturi governed by might, rules and repercussions. Although they had few laws, the wages of sinning against them was death. No exceptions. All the vampires in the world knew the rules and abided by them for fear they’d draw the attention and consequent wrath of the Volturi on their heads if they didn’t.

The Cullens respected the laws of their society, but discovered and integrated a Better Way, one that did not require or condone the killing of humans to slate their thirst for blood. Aro, seemingly the most powerful of the vampire royalty, called this lifestyle “unorthodox,” and admitted his surprise at its success (NM pg. 472). He’s surprised because he would never consider in all of his centuries of living surviving on anything but the blood of humans, the thing that he craves above all things. But he’s confronted with the ultimate example of the Better Way as Bella and Edward stand in front of him, a vampire in love with a human to the extent that he refuses to kill her despite the pain it causes him physically. Aro can’t comprehend a love that transcends his base instinct, the need to kill.

The Cullens’ Better Way also involved the formation of large covens, or families, of vampires. The bonds between Edward and Alice and Carlisle and the rest of them were based on love, unlike the tentative balance between members of the Volturi based solely on power. Marcus, one of the other royal vampires, with the power to see relationship bonds and their intensity, noted those existing between Edward and Alice right away (NM pg. 471).

So, while living within the technical limits of the Volturi Law, the Cullens set themselves apart from the rest of their kind. When they had opportunity, they sought to convert other vampires to the Better Way, but not in a way that threatened the Volturi. Having the freedom to do that really was all they asked. No harm, no foul.

But those in positions of power who have no regard or respect for relationships despise any display of freedom even if its practice doesn’t exactly break any laws. Therefore, rulers utilize manipulation, deception, and judgment as weapons to procure what they want. Their actions not only impede freedom, but also wage war on relationships.

In Bella’s eyes, her relationship with Edward was already irreparably damaged, though she comforted herself with the memories of the relationship they once shared. Seeing him again fuels her so-called delusion of his affections, but if she hoped in a long lasting reunion at all, those hopes had little chance of surviving in the presence of the Volturi and their Law because everything that Law represented and required rendered a relationship with her perfect lover impossible.

Like a defendant in an epic courtroom battle, Bella is caught between the interpretations of the Law of the world she finds herself in, Edward serving as her attorney, Caius and Marcus (vampire royalty) acting as prosecutors, and Aro reigning as judge. Look at these few snippets from an excerpt in chapter 21:

Edward hissed. “Join or die, is that it? I suspected as much when we were brought to this room. So much for your laws.”

“Of course, not.” Aro blinked, astonished. “We were already convened here, Edward, waiting for Heidi’s return. Not for you.”

“Aro,” Caius hissed. “The law claims them.”

Edward glared at Caius. “How so?” he demanded.

Caius pointed a skeletal finger at me. “She knows too much. You have exposed our secrets.”

“There are a few humans in on your charade here, as well,” Edward reminded him…

Yes… But when they are no longer useful to us, they will serve to sustain us. That is not your plan for this one. If she betrays our secrets, are you prepared to destroy her? I think not… Nor do you intend to make her one of us… Therefore, she is a vulnerability. Though it is true, for this, only her life is forfeit. You may leave if you wish.” (NM pg 477-478)

The point is, Bella’s life is at stake because of the letter of the Law. Each party argued their case according to the Law. And the outcome, although happy enough since Bella wasn’t killed then and there thanks to Alice providing key witness evidence, was a compromise that didn’t fully satisfy either party.

Nothing about this encounter reinstates Bella’s faith. In fact, it delivered a decisive blow, descending in the darkest hour, placing a threat over her life and her hopes like a curse. For Bella, life couldn’t get much worse. Her light, while present at the moment, had not promised to stay. Her life is forfeit if he leaves, not only because she isn’t alive when he’s gone, but also because the Volturi would carry out their punishment in accordance to their Laws. Any shred of faith she might have salvaged during her long and dark wilderness experience drifts formlessly in the air like a puff of smoke soon to be dissipated and gone forever.

Part of the faith test in the wilderness requires sifting through our beliefs to separate the chaff from the wheat. And by that, I mean, how much do we live by The Law instead of under the grace of Jesus’ cross? (Rom. 6:14-15)

The Volturi have always reminded me of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, the orthodox Jews who had morphed God’s Law into an impossible list of dos and don’ts and established a relentless system of punishing and shaming those who didn’t follow it to the letter. Although based on the covenant between God and Abraham as well as the Law God gave to Moses, the Pharisees’ code also contained misinterpretations, embellishments and ungodly restrictions that served their own interests with no thought of glorifying God through obedience. They mastered manipulating the letter of the Law for personal gain as well as destruction of those they wished to squash, the ultimate “victim” being Jesus Himself.

Jesus confronted the Pharisees multiple times, probably more than the occasions recorded in the Gospels. Each showdown revealed the Pharisees to be “whitewashed” (Matt. 23:27) posers and highlighted Jesus as the Better Way, full of love and grace. Examples include the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8:1-11), the woman with the alabaster box (Luke 7:36-50), several instances of healing (Luke 5:17-26, Luke 6:6-11, John 9), philosophical and theological examinations (Matt. 15:1-3, Matt. 19:2-8), down to eating dinner with a tax collector (Matt. 9:10-12).

Many other comparisons exist between the Volturi and the Pharisees, but here I’m concerned with the effects of the Law on Faith, the key to relationship.

When grace is absent, relationship is impossible. The Law demands blood atonement, a death sacrifice, and under its restraints, a relationship with the Perfect Lover is difficult if not impossible. For our faith to survive, the hope of that possibility must exist. Believing in anything other than grace exterminates that possibility. Failing to cover the Law with Grace leads to the death of faith. Pharisaical belief systems and impositions erode relationships and impede any hope of uniting with our Perfect Lover.

Be on your guard against such poison, especially at the most vulnerable moment in your wilderness. Don’t water down a potential relationship with the Perfect Lover by attempting to be good enough for Him through following rules, as if that will draw you from your wilderness experience sooner. Our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). We can’t do anything such as bargaining or collecting good deeds for our redemption. And don’t sell your rights to that relationship by believing that a mistake disqualifies you. Our Perfect Lover already paid that price, and repentance acts as the eraser (Acts 3:19).

Even in our darkest hour, having faith in a relationship based on love, His first for us, is our only hope in enduring the wilderness.

Remember that on the heels of darkest moments comes dawn – the light.

(Click for next chapter: Re-Establishing Trust)

(photos by photobucket.com)

4 comments:

lynnrush said...

Love that phrase: "Remember that on the heels of darkest moments comes dawn – the light."

So true. So hard to remember through the darkness some times, though.

Great post. Nice insight.

Lori Lundquist said...

Thanks for stopping by, Lynn!

KM Wilsher said...

This phrase got me first: When grace is absent, relationship is impossible.

But also the one Lynn picked out. Lori, you always come thru with just what I need to hear!!!!

Love you girl :)

Lori Lundquist said...

Thanks, KM! Love you, too! :-)