Why You Should Read 'The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'
What a Biblically-tethered gothic masterpiece can teach us about unchecked sin in our lives.
For well over a century now, superficial images of Jekyll and Hyde have become imbedded in our cultural memory. The Incredible Hulk is perhaps the most commercialized of these shallow portrayals, but their are many more examples. And so, one doesn’t need to have read Robert Lewis Stevenson’s gothic masterpiece — or have even seen a movie adaptation for that matter — to be familiar with the general concept of Jekyll and Hyde. But that should by no means deter a prospective reader from picking up this title and liberating it from its spoofs.
In that regard, some may be surprised to discover that the themes of Stevenson’s thriller are deeply rooted in unregenerate man’s struggle with God, thereby making the book much more Biblically tethered then its superficial portrayals would suggest.
And though it was written to what many today might call “a Christian culture,” it should be observed that Christianity is not synonymous with Christendom. Indeed, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde still speaks volumes to us living today, in the modern post-Christian west. And like today, the Victorian-era was not so much Christ-centered as it was haunted by the Holy Ghost.
Stevenson’s classic follows the life of Henry Jekyll — a very respected young doctor who held the esteem of all his peers. Being considered the most upstanding of the local gentry, Jekyll dare not expose his secret carnality. But neither was Jekyll willing to deny himself any of his unspoken indulgences. Indeed, Jekyll hypocritically valued his reputation of virtue whilst in a lifestyle of vice.
“Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures; and that when I reached years of reflection, and began to look round me and take stock of my progress and position in the world, I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of life.”
Having long ago surrendered to his flesh, Jekyll had applied his abilities as a brilliant though eccentric chemist, hoping to create a serum which would separate his two personas. His hypothesis was that he could actually become two distinct people sharing the same body, allowing him to literally live a double life.
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At controlled moments, Jekyll’s most base qualities would be given free reign of his physical being, allowed to roam unencumbered by conscience. And with his flesh satisfied, his more reputable persona would be able to live guilt-free, excusing his “other” self in the knowledge that it was not really him who had engaged in such licentious behaviour.
At least, that was the idea. And truly, the serum did induce a separation of sorts. When Jekyll would consume the concoction, he would undergo a hideous transformation into the cruel and terrible Edward Hyde. Mr. Hyde was inhuman in his appearance, a merciless being whom witnesses had difficulty describing. His mere smile would fill people with revulsion for the completeness of his evil.
Following these “lost weekends,” when Hyde would again yield to Jekyll, the shared memories of Hyde’s wickedness would fill Jekyll’s mind with all sorts of tantalizing impurities.
“I sat in the sun on a bench; the animal within me licking the chops of memory; the spiritual side a little drowsed, promising subsequent penitence, but not yet moved to begin.”
And so, in an attempt to sanctify his shame, Jekyll would try to outdo Hyde’s evil with benevolent deeds. But as the good Lord put it, one cannot serve two masters, for the love of one master will surely overpower the love for the other.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Jekyll’s foolish desire to indulge in consequence-free sin would eventually come to enslave him. Inevitably Hyde would creep up on Jekyll, no longer needing a serum to manifest. And though Jekyll would try his best to wrestle control of his life back from the monster of his own making, his efforts would stop short of genuine repentance.
“There comes an end to all things; the most capacious measure is filled at last; and this brief condescension to evil finally destroyed the balance of my soul.”
In a very real sense, the serum that Jekyll concocts represents a conscious retreat from the war between flesh and spirit: a compromise that amounts to surrender to the flesh. Truly, Jesus affirms that while our spirit may be willing, our flesh is weak. But unlike Jekyll’s serum, God’s word has a very different battle plan for those who would choose Him above our carnal desires — more on that below.
Jekyll’s unholy experiment remains a cautionary tale for unchecked sin in our lives; a warning on how we ought not live. And though this novella was written to a different culture than ours today, it still has much to say to the modern reader. In short, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde teaches that we should not make concessions for sin, but should rather keep short accounts of repentance. The timeless lessons of Jekyll and Hyde deserve to be liberated from their cursory caricatures.
A very different battle plan — Jesus Christ paid our sin debt in full on the cross, and He welcomes all to partake in the free gift of eternal life. But for the Christ-follower who has stumbled, we can find ourselves “nearsighted to the point of blindness, having forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” (2 Peter 1:9) Knowing your identity in Christ is a step toward exiting habitual sin. Through the preparation of this review, I have stumbled across an insightful article by CovenantEyes entitled Killing Mr. Hyde. You can check out that post by clicking here. It’s a worthy read and its thematically on point.