The central figure of Henry IV, parts one and two is actually Henry V. Young Hal, as he is known in these plays, is wasting his time frolicking with Sir John Falstaff and his merry crew, generally disappointing his father. The ultimate source of Hal’s dissolution is not, however, an ignoble character (as is meant to be demonstrated in Henry V). Instead, Henry is merely slumming, pretending to be a wastrel so that his eventual return to glory will be that much greater. As he tells his compatriots in drunken revelry:
I know you all, and will a while uphold the unyoked humor of your idleness: Yet herein will I imitate th sun, who doth permit the base contagious clouds to smother up his beauty from the world, that when he plese again to be himself, being wanted, he may be more wondered at, by breaking through the foul and ugly mists of vapors that did seem to strangle him. (act i, scene ii)
I wonder about Hal. I am moved by his transformation into a king in Henry V, as even he seems somewhat surprised by the sincerity of his convictions. However, I must question it, because of what I have learned in Henry IV. Hal’s origin makes me question his destination because it happens to come out the way he wanted.
Was Hal really unaffected by his time with Falstaff? Can I really admire someone as coolly calculating as the young Hal, especially after his calculations have followed the course he predicted? After all, we ultimately only have his words and actions to judge him by and we have already seen how good he is at deception.
I was moved to ponder Hal yesterday as I read Alma chapter 7. There is a passage there that I reminded me of him. Alma had just recently finished overseeing a major religious reformation in Zarahemla and he was now addressing the people of Gideon. He says:
And I trust, according to the Spirit of God which is in me, that I shall also have joy over you; nevertheless I do not desire that my joy over you should come by the cause of so much afflictions and sorrow which I have had for the brethren at Zarahemla, for behold, my joy cometh over them after wading through much affliction and sorrow.
I am interested in the quality of joy being discussed here. He expects to have joy over the Gideonites. He has had joy over the Zarahemlites. However, he remembers, along with the joy of the return of righteousness to Zarahemla, the pain that was endured in order to receive the joy. In Gideon, he expects the joy without quite so much pain and he feels this is better.
If Hal is right, then Alma’s assertion is counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t Alma desire that the Gideonites also be deep in sin, so that their redemption will provide greater glory to God’s name? As Paul asks, tongue-in-cheek, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (Rom 6:1). “Well, of course not,” we say, but why? If our purpose here is to testify of God, why not let him redeem us from our worst selves and testify of that? It would only be to his glory, right?
That is, it seems, a type of pride, like handling poisonous snakes to show you can do it. God hasn’t traditionally smiled down upon braggards of that ilk. There is no reason to assume that he would treat you or anyone else any differently.
When we sin, we slow our forward progress. Although all may be eventually restored, it is no particularly glory to God that he restore the great sinner. After all, are not we all beggars before God? The out-of-season fruit eater is just as damned as the serial rapist if neither repents and both are wholly reliant on God for redemption if they choose to repent. In either case, God does the heavy lifting, not us. The idea that I can sin now, as it will make repentance later that much more impressive, is silly.
To be honest, I don’t know that there is a lot of this going around in the church today. Back in the day, I used to hear a lot about young men “playing the field” and later having a repentance period just before they left on their mission. Perhaps raising the bar has taken care of that issue. In any case, as people were encouraged to not share past transgressions, I can’t believe that a lot of missionaries got a lot of mileage out of their previous wild days.
However, I wonder about our tendancy to assimilate. Although some assimilation is necessary, I wonder how much of it is slumming like Hal did? How necessary is it to keep up on water cooler talk when the talk is about wardrobe malfunctions, Desparate Housewives, or the latest leaked video of Britney Spears? As a self-confessed pop culture addict, I wonder why it became necessary for me to know who Lorena Bobbitt or Ron Jeremy were? Am I looking to rise like a phoenix from the ashen dirt of the world? If so, how do I keep from getting burned?