I’ll never forget the moment when I finished reading Charlotte Bronte’s book Jane Eyre. I was on a train in China, travelling to Beijing for our debriefing after teaching English in a Chinese boarding school for a year. I was part of a team ten and a family who had come to China to be ESL teachers as a means of sharing the Gospel. On this particular night, I finished the book late in the evening. The overhead lights had been turned off, and being before the time of smartphones with flashlights, I had to crouch on the floor to read by the dim ground lights marking the aisle. I remember the euphoria I felt when I completed the book, how I fell back in my bed, feeling triumphant inside. It is not because the ending of Jane Eyre is particularly happy in many ways; instead, I was happy because Jane Eyre had finally found home.
A Quest I Can Relate To
I knew this search. My life had been filled with various degrees of home where, despite the love of my very good father, tension and chaos often reigned. I longed for a day where I too would find a place where I truly belonged–a place where I could be safe at last.
This desire for home is definitely a biblical theme. When studying the book of Ruth, I came across study materials that outlined the major themes. There were, of course, the obvious ones like loyalty, sacrifice, and redemption. However, the lesson went on to comment that this book was primarily about a quest. As a fantasy-lover, this certainly got my attention. The notes continued to state that this was a quest for home. When I understood that, it reshaped the way I viewed the book of Ruth. I saw, for the first time, the motivation behind Ruth’s intense determination to stay with Naomi.
Ruth’s Fierce Determination
Ruth was from Moab, the land Naomi and Elimilech fled to during the famine in Israel. The Moabites were a people descended from the incestuous relationship between Lot and one of his daughters. They were often in conflict with Israel despite the family connection. Most notably, they did not worship the God of Israel; instead, they worshipped Chemosh, most likely requiring human sacrifice. This was Ruth’s world: disgrace, conflict, uncertainty.
Then Naomi and Elimilech and their two sons come onto the scene. Ruth married one of these sons and lived with the family for about ten years. During this time, Ruth surely saw something she desired, a glimpse of truth that was new to her. When both sons and the father die, Naomi decides to return to Israel. She releases the women back to their families to marry again in their own culture. Ruth refuses. Instead,
… Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
Why should she be so determined? Perhaps it is because she saw in this imperfect family a picture of the perfect God. This God who creates a home for His people, both in the garden for Adam and Eve and in Israel for the descendants of Abraham. Because of this glimpse, Ruth is unwilling to go back to her previous family and their culture of death.
Jane Eyre’s Quest
Jane Eyre, in the novel and in the BBC video series, is searching for a home also. Orphaned as a child, she is sent to live with an aunt who does not want her. She is abused and neglected and then finally sent away to a boarding school that reflects the horrors of Charlotte Bronte’s real life experience. Jane determines to make a future for herself by excelling in school so that she can find a job as a governess. In time, this dream comes to fruition. She finds a position as governess for Mr. Rochester’s ward in the isolated, and somewhat gloomy, Thornfield. Despite its ominous mood, Jane finds a home here–a place where she is first treated with respect and value.
In true Gothic style, there is mystery, intrigue, and a romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester. But, on what should be the happiest day of Jane’s life, her wedding day to Mr. Rochester, a terrible revelation necessitates her leaving Thornfield forever. Through no fault of her own, she has lost her home.
The Pain of Displacement
We all know this sense of loss. It has been the human experience since the Garden of Eden. Jen Pollock Michel in her book Keeping Place notes:
The biblical narrative begins and ends at home. From the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem we are hardwired for place and for permanence, for rest and refuge, for present and protection. We long for home because welcome was our first gift of grace and it will be our last. (p. 33)
Michel goes on to quote another author who states that “displacement is the heart of God’s judgment” (p. 33). She continues to explain that “the biblical drama can be divided into three acts: implacement, displacement, and rseimplacement” (p. 33). We are placed in the garden in a perfect world, but sin causes our displacement. We live in this era, waiting for the hope of our future reimplacement in a world that cannot be sullied by sin again.
Ruth too lives in this era of longing, and it is her longing that encourages her, without a tangible plan, to take the risk of being a foreigner among a people who most likely will dislike her. However, this step of faith is rewarded by the God who always sees. Once back in Israel, God directs her to collect the gleanings from the land that belongs to Boaz. Boaz is a righteous man, who, observing Ruth, creates a place of safety for her.
She is overwhelmed by his generosity, so he explains:
But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
A Home at Last
And the Lord does repay her by using Boaz as the kinsman redeemer. When Israel was first settled, God allotted land according to families. In order to keep the land within families, a custom was created where a redeemer, a close relative, would redeem the land of a family who is in need (Leviticus 25: 23-28). In Naomi’s case, her situation includes the need for an heir. To be the kinsman redeemer, Boaz had to relinquish his firstborn to Naomi to carry on her family’s lineage and inheritance. This is a risk for him who cannot guarantee that Ruth will have more than one child. In fact, there is a closer relative than Boaz who refuses to act as kinsman redeemer for this very reason. Boaz is not afraid to take this risk, however, and is rewarded by being the grandfather of King David and in the lineage of Christ himself. Through Boaz, the kinsman redeemer, Ruth finally finds a home.
After Jane Eyre’s dramatic departure from Thornfield, a few remarkable events occur. For one, she becomes the heir of an uncle she never met and learns of cousins of which she knew nothing. For the first time in her life, Jane is surrounded by a family that loves her, which she values more than the money she inherits. The blessing does not end here because the obstacle that prevented her from marrying Mr. Rochester is now removed. She returns to Thornfield though to find it a husk of its former grandeur, having been burned, and Mr. Rochester, blind and alone.
He, at first, is unwilling to burden Jane with himself, disabled as he now is, but her love overcomes his fear, and they are finally wed. In the BBC version of the movie, the last scene shows Jane and Mr. Rochester, her cousins, and their two children among others adopted into the family, posing happily for a family picture. The joy is palpable even through a television screen. Gone are the gloomy and foreboding images from before. Now they are surrounded by sunshine and flowers and a welcoming home in the background.
Our Quest Can Have a Happy Ending
We too have a hope for a happy ending. Jesus Himself, our very own kinsman redeemer, is preparing our new home. He tells his disciples in John 14:1-3 (ESV):
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
We are not to be left homeless and family-less. He has already paved the way for our new home, for which we wait with anticipation, just as creation itself does (Romans 8). I am often amazed by the beauty of this world where the stamp of death and decay is still prevalent. Imagine a new home where this will not be the case! Revelation 21:1-4 (ESV) gives us a peek at this new world:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
We will finally be in a home that encapsulates our heart’s cry since we were first cast out the garden. We will no longer be separated from God and at the mercies of the evils of our world, our own cultures of death. Instead, we are invited on a quest towards our real home. We can, like Ruth, go on our own quests, not being satisfied with what the world has to offer, but determinedly pursuing that which is better. In this way, we will be able to anticipate a family reunion marked with joy and beauty that will put in the shadows what was experienced before.