Sometimes I wonder if we ever even begin to comprehend what took place in Jerusalem when the Son of God hung on that tree. We hear the word ‘salvation’ spoken, preached, taught, and yet do we have any idea what it incorporates? Is it possible that we may be unable to even grasp what happened because we chose to focus on the intellectual aspects of the concept? The facts don’t seem to add up when we theorise and order them. I don’t know about you but it is only my brain that gets excited by the formulas and dissections that ‘ordu salutis’ encompasses. The process of repentance, justification, sanctification and perfection (a condensed version of the progression found in the many Christian doctrines of salvation) may entice my logic and rationale, but my heart, the centre of my being, is untouched. My heart feels as though it has been left standing at the altar, void of the love necessary to live another day. And yet, it is this language of marriage that the Bible uses to describes Jesus’ love for us. Perhaps, then, if we chose to look at the subject of salvation from a different perspective I think we may be truly blown away by the awesome story captivated in that weighted word. This is not an unlocking of the secret of the majesty of God, rather a new set of eyes. A chance to simply sit back in admiration at the actions of the Son of God. A chance to fall in love with Jesus again.
We will look at salvation through the perspective of possibly the famous romantic tragedy ever written. Romeo and Juliet. Yes, the love that required the lives of both participants, because it is that unselfish. I think you will be amazed at the analogy Shakespeare made in his infamous play. We will begin our investigation by reviewing the interactions between Romeo and his beloved and then explore the analogy that this story makes with the Creator of the universe and his beloved bride. And I hope that you may feel that joy and hope that salvation brings; that your heart may experience the passion that God intended it to feel when his love for you took him to the cross. So let’s leave the formulas to the mathematicians and the dissections to the scientists and let’s experience the romance between two characters that re-enacts the love story God has been writing since the dawn of time.
A fact that may be unknown to many readers is that Romeo was in fact in love with another woman at the start of the play. And this is crucial to the whole story. Rosaline, his fancy in Act One is described by Romeo as ‘Diana,’ the Roman Goddess of the Moon (1.2.206). Romeo was infatuated by Rosaline. Even the way he talked about her was different. In fact, whenever he mentioned her he used a ‘rigid rhyme’ type of speech. However, on closer inspection we discover that his love for Rosaline is not actually true love. His attitude towards her reflects the Petrarchan concept of love. Francesco Petrarca was 14th century poet, born two centuries before Shakespeare, who wrote about love as an unrequited feeling. A one-way stream of desire, with no room for healthy growth or development. A term that we might describe in today’s terms as ‘lust.’ His concept of love was the exact opposite of the unselfish love that the Bible prescribes to Jesus, a subject that we will come back to later. As a result, Romeo’s love for Rosaline was only a fleeting and misdirected emotion. He was even portrayed by the other characters as ‘love-sick’ and someone who ‘loves by numbers,’ as a mathematician might (1.1., 139, 212-225). Romeo experienced the ‘feeling’ of love rather than actually ‘being’ in love.
Nevertheless, when Romeo sets eyes upon Juliet for the first time, that glorious moment causes his love for Rosaline to shrink into the background. He is completely taken away by her and he rejects the earlier feelings he had. It is through the infamous balcony scene that this love for Juliet is witnesses to the full. It is here that the analogy to the love of God is made beautifully clear. Romeo opens his mouth to Juliet by contrasting the brightness of her beauty with his misguided emotions towards Rosaline. It is Juliet, the sun in Romeo’s eyes, who has put an end to the false light from Rosaline, the moon (2. 1. 2-6). It is a heart-wrenching, tear-jerking moment, one I’m sure every young woman dreams of. Romeo is instantly drawn to Juliet in a compulsive love, formed from the heart. It is that love that wills him to consider a lover ‘who would disrupt his life.’
Romeo is of course aware of the feud between the two families, the Montagues and the Capulets, which was, according to the Friar, a long-standing hatred based on thin air. However, he still considers a love that his family would not approve of. It is the language of the heart that unapologetically goes against everything the brain stands for. It is his heart that loves Juliet, as he is now able to freely express himself in meandering rivers of words, ones contrary to the rigid rhymes spoken towards Rosaline. Romeo is captivated.
It is this theme of the ‘disruptive lover’ that truly expounds Shakespeare’s ideas towards Gods approach to mankind. Juliet responds to Romeo with a request, an appeal for him to ‘doff his name’ (2. 1. 33-36). She knows that they can never be together because of the family hatred towards each other, and so she asks him to lose his identity as a Montague. If this is true love, then at least one, if not both, need to change their name and identity if they want to be together and leave behind their family history. True love, in its highest form, must cost the participants everything. Later in the dialogue Juliet provides the climax of her invitation: ‘Romeo, doff thy name, And for that name, which is no part of thee, Take all myself (2. 1. 46-48).’
If Romeo chooses to renounce his name and take up his love for Juliet he would be rewarded with Juliet herself. She does not promise a solution to the family grudge or in fact a way that they can be together, she simply offers herself. This is not a business transaction, but a relationship. Romeo, in acknowledging this fact, agrees to the offer: ‘I take thee at thy word, Call me but love, and I’ll be newly baptiz’d; Henceforth I never will be Romeo (2. 1. 49-51).’
Romeo confesses his trust and loyalty to her and recognises her devotion to him. They give each other their word. No longer will they be characterised by their family traits but by their new identity in each other. They believe wholeheartedly that the other will fulfil their side of the vow, never doubting the integrity of the promise just made. And yet it is not a decision that Romeo can make for himself. He understands that he has no power to change his name; Juliet must do it for him. Only if she calls him love will his name and nature be changed.
Although all seems to be well at this point the play does not end there. The love story between Romeo and Juliet suffers two fatalities; the final act of Shakespeare’s analogy. The unfortunate lovers have tried their whole lives to be united with each other, but this has not been possible. Only in death, by each other, are they truly united. Their love for each other acknowledges that it’s most faithful manifestation must be their death for each other, and it is in this place that they are truly happy. The resolution that Shakespeare offers finalizes his message of salvation.
In order to experience the full beauty of this divine romance we ought to see, as Shakespeare may have done, Juliet as Jesus and Romeo as you and me. At the start of the story Romeo festers a false lust towards Rosaline, and this represents the false love that we feel from this world. It is a mechanical and formulaic love, an impersonation of the sense of being in love. The Bible talks about this as the ‘love of the flesh.’ Shakespeare ingeniously uses the feelings of Romeo towards Juliet to expose the true nature of this worldly love. However, it is only when Romeo experiences true love that the deceitfulness of the first comes to light. The same exists with Jesus. It is only when we experience the ultimate source of love and grace, in Jesus Christ, that the fraudulence of the world becomes clear. Our hearts will flourish in freedom, according to Shakespeare, when they interact with the divine love of God. And only through God.
Juliet’s request of Romeo to ‘doff his name’ expresses the reality that we can only be with Jesus if our nature is changed. In our present state, as sinners living in a fallen world, we are unable to be with the pure nature of God. We must be changed. Jesus’ love is disruptive. It changes our world, if we accept it. In the play, Romeo rejects his feelings towards Rosaline and agrees to change his life forever by loving Juliet. We are called to do the same with God. In order to follow Jesus, to live in his love, everything must be sacrificed; our identity must be surrendered.
Juliet’s response to Romeo shows Christ’s promise to us. She vows ‘all of herself’ to Romeo. Christ does the same to us. God does not force us to accept his gift with the bribery of eternal life, blessings or in heavenly mansions, instead he offers us Himself. His own life. Much like a marriage is a promise of two people to each other, so it is with Christ and us. We shall be one with Him, as he is one with the Father. We are called into a relationship with Jesus. The promise of salvation, according to Shakespeare, is neither a legal binding nor a business transaction; it is the offer of a relationship. If we deny ourselves we shall become one with Christ. Yet, as Romeo demonstrates to us, it is not within our own power to accept.If we are to be made new, if our natures are to be changed, it will not be by our own doing. It is only by the will of God that we are changed.
The final scene from the play demonstrates the shocking reality of the offer of salvation. Both characters must die in order for them to be truly together. It is the genuine love that they feel for each other that causes this. The same is true for the believer and God. Christ has already died for us and we are called to be part of that death, dying to ourselves in order that we may live in Him. The reward of our death is unity with Jesus Himself. ‘Christ’s death, was not a technicality by which we are covered with grace, but rather a passionate and inconceivable act of kindness and altruism and love stemming from God’s desire to be reunited with His creation.’
Shakespeare saw the experience of conversion as a love story between two characters that could not be together. Both parties must give up everything to be with the other. It is almost an exact replica of the Biblical analogy of marriage. Salvation is not a transaction of souls; a reward of heavenly mansions or the fear of eternal death, but a relationship with Jesus. He was the one who gave up His perfection and glory in order to die, so that we would be able to accept his proposal. We owe everything to Jesus, and yet can never repay it. It is only the integrity of Jesus’ love that allows us the freedom to accept it and the freedom to live in it.