In the 1950’s, while Great Britain was trying to quickly put World War II behind it, Hammer Horror Studios was doing the nation a great service by doing the opposite in attempting to integrate the suffering it had endured with its present consciousness. The nation had seen two devastating wars, a collapse of its empire, an extraordinary loss of fathers for its children, and a seemingly first-time questioning of its potency and virility. But the art of that period reflected a desire for Ozzie and Harriet denial rather than soul-searching sorrow.
Except for Hammer, that is. In 1959, the studio released its version of The Mummy… a re-make of the great 1932 Universal film. The opening scene of the former depicts a lush, pastoral English countryside as it pans. The camera then lands on an insane asylum which contains a man raving about “The Mummy” and how it seeks to kill him. Within the seemingly peaceful country is the undeniable psychological wound of great horror.
As the movie progresses, it is clear that the characters who do not believe in The Mummy’s existence are killed by the shaggily-bandaged undead Egyptian played by Christopher Lee. Those who do believe fare better. This brings to mind a point made by FitzSimons Allison (retired Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina and theologian). Speaking about how the Reformers viewed unconscious malfeasance as sin, he said; “Do you think it is sin if a man is unknowingly hurting his wife with his words and actions? Of course, it is!” This is in response to some theologies of sin that state that only thoughts and deeds having the full consent of the will are, in fact, deadly (mortal) sin. This obviously leads to an avoidance of circumspection (you certainly don’t want to fall out of a state of grace) and its resulting repentance. The Mummy illustration is apt for the British circa 1959 and us for right now: if you deny that sin lurks in the unconscious, it will come get you.
The Reformers’ view of sin as a condition that manifests itself in thought/deed resonates with the teaching of Scripture and our own experience. How often have you woken from a shockingly frightening, violent, or libidinal dream? What is actually going on in there? Much more, apparently, than I had previously gathered. How often have you caused great harm and hurt… and never even knew it until much too late? As for me… more times than I would care to mention. What about when it affects our ability to function at work (see the first installment here)?
It is a very strong view of the Law (or the self-emptying love God demands from us) and a very pessimistic view of our capability of fulfilling this Law of love. So, here we stand. Our hearts are pumping out self-actualizing hurt into both our conscious and unconscious. Since we don’t even know the half of it, we certainly can’t get it under control. Could there possibly be any hope for such a desperate position? Yes. In the doctrine of imputation. Christ’s righteousness reckoned to us as if it were our own (Rom. 4:5). It covers it all. We can simultaneously be beings of great wrong and fully justified before God. Why? Because Christ’s blood is so much greater than our wrong. What part of you is too much for the blood of the Lamb to cover? What part is too hidden for the Son of Man to find (Luke 15)?
In the beginning, dispensing with “sin as conscious thought/ deed” as the governing mechanism for your standing before God is terrifying because it also dispenses with perceived control. It is exacerbated by a more robust and complete understanding of what the Law actually demands. That is, until you get to know the God you are dealing with. The God whose agonizing self-sacrifice belies his disposition toward you and the mummy within.