The Tragedy Of Goodman Brown And The Folly Of Pedestalism

Who is Goodman Brown and what does it have to do with being on a pedestal?  Young Goodman Brown is a short story written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in the 1800s. The story centers around a young man, who grew up in a small Puritan community called Salem Village. It was located near Boston.

Goodman Brown is a devout Christian, who believed everyone was far holier than he. So much that he has placed everyone on a highly pedestal.  He ceased to see them, as fellow imperfect human beings.

I am guessing Goodman Brown may have misreading Philippians 2:2-4:

2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The above Scripture says we are to consider other people, before ourselves.  However, this should not be confused with placing people on a dangerously high pedestal.  When this is done; we seldom see the real human being or their needs. Instead, we treat them as idols.

What if they fall and have their sins exposed?  Would you continue to think kindly of them?  Would you respond to their needs or recoil in horror?

This is precisely what happened to young Goodman Brown.  He has made idols of everyone in his village. They could not possibly have a hint of sin in them or so Brown thought. He saw them, as perfect.

In the story, Brown has a fateful encounter with the Devil.  As a result, Goodman Brown had his eyes opened to the sins found in many of those, whom he idolized. Brown was so shaken by the revelation that he lost faith in himself, his wife and everyone else, including God.

The story ends with Brown becoming cold and cynical towards everyone.  Brown lost sight of the message of the Gospel.  He lost sight of God’s redemptive plan for humanity.  He could offer no help or consolations to those suffering in their sins.  How could he? Goodman Brown ceased to have compassion on his fellow human beings.

Consider how Hawthorne ended his tale:

And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman, and children and grandchildren, a goodly procession, besides neighbors not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom.

How did Brown lose faith in God?  Here is the second tragBrown has forgotten whom he served. Goodman Brown has forgotten why Jesus came into this world.  The reason could be found in John 3:16-17:

16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Jesus did not come to condemn humanity and this is precisely what Brown was doing.  Jesus treated sinners with compassion, kindness and love. In fact, Jesus was even willing to die for sinners like us.


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