The Scarlet Letter: How Would We Treat Hester?

Reading the first two chapters of The Scarlet Letter made me cringe. That Hester committed adultery was not the problem for me (adultery is sin and that should be quite obvious!). What irked me was the treatment Hester received from the Puritan community. The first two chapters were aptly and prophetically titled “The Prison-Door” and “The Marketplace” respectively. You can see the progression of Hester emerging from the jail and all her sin being put on full blast as the doily scarlet letter “A” was stamped on her breast. To make matters worse, Hester has company in the prison: her baby daughter, the result of the adulterous relationship.

Isn’t it just like good church folks to imprison the innocent who are caught up in the crossfire of other people’s bad choices? Punishing the offender was not enough: the daughter was smeared too. I can’t tell you the number of stories I’ve heard from PK’s (preacher’s kids) whose parents may have endured scandal or some sin that compromised their ministry. Not only did the parents pay but also the children! No grace was shown them. Of course there are plenty of godly people out there who walk with some seasoned grace.

The people in the book do not.

They define Hester and her daughter by a sin—a forgivable.

But thank God for the rosebush. Who would expect something so beautiful, so full of promise, to be right outside the door of a prison?

Yet there is the rosebush.

Before this ugly edifice, and between it and the wheel-track of the street, was a grass-plot, much overgrown with burdock, pig-wee, apple-peru, and such unsightly vegetation, which evidently found something congenial in the soil that had so early borne the black flower of civilized society, a prison. But, on on side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him (p. 43).

All of us are sinners and when we writhe in the pit of our own sinfulness and failure, we need reminders from God that there is hope for renewal, transformation, and beauty. Hester had the rosebush but so far, none of the good folks in town have words that match the pure symbolism of the rosebush. In their righteousness, they forgot the words of the Apostle Paul: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).

There are plenty of Hester Prynnes in our culture and frankly, in our churches. How do we minister to them? Do we gossip about their sin and brokeness or do we offer them a message of forgiveness, redemption, and wholeness in Christ? Are we content to watch them writhe in the pit of their own sinfulness and failure while we pretend that we have no such hole in our own proverbial backyards?

God forbid.

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One thought on “The Scarlet Letter: How Would We Treat Hester?

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