We have all gotten away with something. We have all known the nerve wracking cycle of getting away with something. First, the scheming. Then the doing. Then the waiting. The waiting is the hardest part. It is hard to say when the waiting is over. If no one has found out after two days, is that sufficient? Three days? Three weeks? We have all thought we got away with something and been surprised later to find out we had not. Worst yet, we have sinned and waited to get caught, then kept waiting, wondering if someone had found us out and was simply not doing anything about it.
High school students think deeply about getting away with it. They have all lately begun getting away with it, or realized that they could get away with it. They have cars. They can drive, leave the house for hours. When you are young, a lie will get you very little. Perhaps an extra slice of cake. When you can drive, a small lie will get you quite a lot. I was at the library. A small lie could get you three or four hours to yourself to do whatever you like. The older you get, the more a lie will get you.
High schoolers become adept at getting away with quite a lot, and most of the things they get away with is inconsequential. They get away with breaking the dress code, or texting in the men’s room, or smoking cigarettes behind the dumpster at the mall, or cheating on an algebra test, or not doing the reading, or kissing their boyfriend in that one hall way where no one ever checks. None of these things matters very much. But they get good at breaking the dress code and think they’re clever to carry Altoids and Febreze when they smoke. They realize the best strategy for getting away with stealing is convincing yourself you’re not stealing anything.
Do none of these things really matter? They do not. Neither smoking nor kissing nor cheating will damn your soul. These are the sins of youth. Even good adults have done them. If you have committed these sins, you will recover.
The problem comes in getting away with these sins, and the even more grave problem is getting good at getting away with these sins.
Frankenstein is the story of a man who gets very good at getting away with sins. Victor Frankenstein becomes adept, from a very young age, at getting away with his sins. And how? Victor has a very finely manicured private life.
The Frankensteins live in Belrive, around three miles from Geneva. Victor comments that his mother and father live a life of solitude, and once Victor goes away to college, he takes up just such a life. His days are spent in charnel houses and morgues studying and collecting cadavers. He has such a fear of others that he even fathers a child entirely on his own. However, while he enjoys making the child, once the child gains its autonomy, Victor abandons it and resumes his sequestered, lonely life. As anyone who has read Mary Shelley’s novel knows, the monster kills one after another of Victor’s friends, and, time and time again, Victor figures out ways of excusing himself from confessing to anyone what he has done. Victor gains lots of practice at getting away with it while young, and when he is old, he does not depart from it. And there’s the rub.
American Christian teenagers are generally in the habit of telling themselves, “When I get older, I will read my Bible. When I move out of my parent’s house, I will pray.” But this is not true. If you practice getting away with not reading your Bible while younger, you’ll be a pro at it by the time you go to college. It is very difficult to give up doing something you are good at. I often tell my students, “If you get good at getting away with something from your mother, eventually you’ll get away with things from your wife. If you get good at getting away with something from your father, you’ll be a pro at getting away with things from your husband.” There is obviously something of a thrill in getting away with smoking or cheating or kissing while in high school. However, I hope to God every Christian finds it stomach turning to think of getting away with something from your husband or wife— especially if you are not even married.
By the time Victor tires of getting away with it and confesses to a judge, nothing remains to be done about Victor’s crimes. The judge is half credulous of Victor’s confessions, but says, in essence, “The murderer you describe cannot be caught by men’s hands.” The crime has been drunken down so deeply, it is beyond the reach of habit or reason. Victor’s crimes are inescapably married to the deepest part of his being, where no hotline or twelve step program or simple confession can easily wrench them free.