Recently I began tutoring Hamlet (obviously not his real name), an international student who is attending a Lutheran high school though he himself is, as he emphatically stated, “not Christian.” He further clarified that he disliked all the talk of God that was beaten into his head; he was tired of hearing, “You should believe in God, you have to believe in God.”
“I just think what people say about God makes Him seem so mean,” Hamlet declared. I probed, because I was curious if he were angry with God or just angry at Christians who had been shoving religion down his throat.
Me: Wait so you don’t believe in God?
Hamlet: No not that, I just don’t like Him because what people say.
Me: Oh…(genuinely confused). Do you read the Bible?
Hamlet: No, I hate reading it.
Me: Oh…so all the information you have about God is what other people have said about Him. You haven’t tried to discover for yourself. That’s faulty logic. That’s like me not liking you before I even meet you because some random person says you’re mean and dull.
Hamlet: Hm. That’s true.
His response surprised me. He was open and willing to acknowledge flaws in his logic, contrary to my own pre-judgment that I was dealing with another arrogant, bitter, cynical, closed-off atheist. However, wanting to honor the boundaries he was obviously setting, I didn’t probe any further during that first meeting. As a teacher and someone who’s committed to learning the best way to love each individual person she meets, I desire to give him a safe place.
In one of our next meetings, we were revising a paper he had written on Hamlet. As we discussed the allusion to Cain and Abel that appears in Act 3, Scene 3 when King Claudius laments, “It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t / A brother’s murder,” my Hamlet segued again into how he doesn’t believe the Bible. I was a little tired that evening, and my emotions threatened to get the better of me.
Me: Well I love the Bible. It’s the most beautiful, extraordinary written work ever and well worth reading (said a bit over-zealously). And if you’re going to survive British Literature, you should read it because of all the allusions (said in a slightly catty tone of voice, which I immediately regretted)…and (calming down) you have to know mythology…so yea…so why don’t you believe the Bible? Like, what in it exactly?
Hamlet (opening up again): Just…like how can someone resurrect from the dead?
Me (smiling): It’s definitely possible. (Three testimonies of 21st century resurrections pop into my head. I debate whether or not to share.)
Hamlet: And like, if I believe the Bible then I have to believe that there are demons, and if there are demons, then those demons might drag me to hell.
Me (surprised at the irony of his statement): Yea but…but that’s even more reason to believe in Jesus! Because of Him we don’t have to go to hell.
Hamlet: Well…but like how can someone resurrect from the dead? That’s not possible.
Me: It happens…just…trust me, it did happen and can happen…but, ok, I’m not going to fight with you.
Hamlet: Ok, thank you.
Honestly, I really like my Pupil Hamlet. He’s a smart, bright, intuitive, insightful, and compassionate kid with a gorgeous destiny in the Lord. But for some reason, I felt very hesitant to push the Gospel on him in an attempt to have him confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. Any confession at this point would feel…empty and forced.
I got a better understanding of Pupil Hamlet in a following meeting. We previewed his Winter Break English assignment, which is to write a “This I Believe” personal essay. As I explained that this essay was a personal statement of core beliefs about life, humanity, existence, etc., he said, “Oh so like I have to write that I believe in God because my teacher is Christian.”
Me: Well, if you do believe in God then you could write that. But I think you should tell the truth and not lie.
Hamlet: So then I can write, “I don’t believe in God or the Bible”.
Me: You can, if that is the core of the beliefs that make up your identity. But I think stronger writing–and a stronger core vision of life–would express the positive, the do versus the don’t. What do you believe? Compassion? Generosity? Diligence? If you write or think or act only because you are fighting against a certain set of beliefs, you’re limiting yourself. And, for this assignment then, you’re still not telling your reader what it is that you do believe.
Hamlet: Ah, I see. So I can say that I believe in the Big Bang, that we all evolved from a single cell and things like that.
Me: Sure, if that’s central to your core beliefs about life and part of your “life motto.” But remember, this isn’t a debate paper.
Hamlet: Oh ok, I see.
After this exchange, I began to think about Hamlet’s readiness to refute the Bible. He’s fighting against God so hard, which has got to be tiring. And, ironically, he’s still focusing on the very Person he seems to want to ignore. Like Shakespeare’s tragic Prince Hamlet, right now Pupil Hamlet is fighting too hard against the Ghost (pun intended), against the Kingdom, against the King.
Granted, Prince Hamlet had every reason to be suspicious, paranoid, and mistrustful of King and Country; but I wonder if Shakespeare’s play would not have ended in tragedy had Prince Hamlet decided to fight for something instead of against everybody and his mother; if he had fought for love, justice, truth, and rightful King and Country, how different would the story have been?
Instead, Prince Hamlet’s Fighting Against bred revenge, violence, anger, betrayal, and death, death, death. Literally, in the play everybody dies, except for faithful loyal Horatio and Fortinbras, a foreign prince who is strangely bequeathed the kingdom in Hamlet’s dying breath. All of this Fighting Against looks like a huge misuse of time.
I’m going to push this theory a little further and propose that Fighting Against originated with Lucifer in the moment when he, from pride, rebelled against YHWH. Lucifer tried to stage a coup in Heaven and fought against YHWH’s wisdom, order, supremacy, power, and authority. Most tragic violence–terrorist attacks, shootings, riots, etc.–happens because people are fighting against other people, ideas, institutions, religions, governments.
What about Jesus? Didn’t He Fight Against the powers of hell? Well, after reviewing the facts, I’ve come to the conclusion that Fighting Against was never His main purpose nor focus. Jesus’ “disarming the principalities” was more like an unavoidable step and side effect of His real purpose: to Fight for His Bride, to sacrifice Himself so that all of the human race would be redeemed. King Jesus fights for Truth, Justice, Compassion, Righteousness — and this creates nobility, courage, sacrifice, beauty, glory, and majesty.
As our High Priest, Jesus Christ stands in the courts of Heaven and fights for you, He fights for me, He’s fighting for my Pupil Hamlet because…well, Love Fights For. I think that’s a good starting place for me too.