Daily Lent Devotions from Church Street UMC
Thursday, February 25
By Dr. Allison R. Ensor, April 7, 1977
Young Goodman Brown
Read: Romans 12:21
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
One of my favorite nineteenth-century short stories is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown.” Set in or near Salem, Massachusetts about 1692, it is a story of a naïve young man who journeys into the forest for what he believes will be a one-time-only encounter with evil, after which he intends to cling to the skirts of his wife (“aptly named” Faith) and follow her to heaven. Things do not, however, work out as planned: Brown meets a Satanic figure in the forest who guides him to a “wild witch meeting” attended – or so Brown believes – by all the good people of the community, even the minister and his own wife. As a result, Brown’s faith in mankind is lost; he comes to look upon everyone in his village as a hypocrite in league with the devil, and he is never happy again.
I believe that it was Brown’s own involvement in evil which led him to think that everyone else was as guilty as he, and that as Hawthorne says elsewhere, “Such loss of faith is ever one of the saddest results of sin.” Brown was mistaken to have believed that he was the first of his family ever to do anything evil, but he was equally mistaken to think that, as Satan tells his assembled worshippers, “Evil is the nature of mankind.” I take it that Hawthorne’s point is that we should recognize the evil that exists around us but having recognized it we should not become obsessed with it or overcome by it. It is an inevitable part of an imperfect world, but it need not ruin our lives or make us unduly pessimistic about our fellow mortals.
Father, help us to resist the temptation to give way to despair when we encounter evil or when we find ourselves and others failing to measure up to the best that we might be. Help us to know that the world has not really been given to the devil but that it is still under your control and that there is much good left in it. Amen.