Dracula and the Joy of Obedience

Hello friends! It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a blog, but Gabe will forgive me, mostly because the disruption to my writing schedule was my move to Wales! If you’ve read my previous posts, you might be aware that this process of me getting to Wales has been a long one, so it is a joy to get to now write from my new home!

In the months preparing for my move, I began reading A Chance to Die, Elisabeth Elliot’s biography of Amy Carmichael. This felt like a special time to connect with another woman who moved across the world in order to serve in ministry and learn from her experiences. I was surprised, though, that as I was reading this missionary biography, another book had been popping up in my mind – Dracula

Despite my love of all things spooky (not creepy, not scary, spooky), I had never had any interest in reading Stoker’s gothic novel. And yet, here it was, suddenly at the forefront of my mind. I acquired it a few days later and have been reading it concurrently with A Chance to Die, probably to the strong disapprobation of Ms. Carmichael, who hated fiction of any kind, probably much more the horror genre. Even some of my friends were confused by the pairing and wondered if the season of heightened spiritual warfare I was going through while preparing to go to Wales was the best time for reading something so dark. 

And yet, I was quite sure that God had put this novel on my mind. So I proceeded with caution, taking a slow pace and making sure nothing was inspiring intrusive or scary thoughts.

What I found instead was one of my favorite things about literature (or media of any kind, or philosophy, or just listening to people talk): the surprise of when someone who is clearly not a Christian delivers some profoundly correct theology. It can be the full arc of the plot, the portrayal of a certain character, or even just a throwaway line of dialogue. If there is any truth to be found in something, it is God’s truth. There is no other source of truth. The truth can be muddled by errant ideas or bitter ignorance, but humans cannot help but tell of the God who made them. The Book of Acts alludes to those who don’t believe in God groping around in the dark, and God willing that in their searching they might stumble across him and lay hold of him. And I’ve seen it time and time again – some people who would gladly reject God to his face have no idea how much they love his ways. 

Bram Stoker was raised Protestant, and as far as I can tell from my brief research into his life, he seemed to be the average Victorian nominal Christian. You know the type – someone who would say they believe in God and perhaps show some reverence for Christ as a religious figure but not believe the gospel in any way that affects their essential being. The protagonists of Dracula are much the same – they are very moral people, they have a vague superstitious belief in the potency of Catholic paraphernalia, and they believe that souls will either go to heaven or to hell, but none of them appear to love Jesus, nor enjoy the freedom and security of a relationship with him. So when I say I was surprised by Stoker’s good theology, I am not referring to the religious themes he intentionally wove into this narrative. Granted, I haven’t actually finished reading Dracula yet, so he could still surprise me.

No, I am referring to one simple sentence uttered by Dr. Van Helsing nearly halfway into the novel. When Van Helsing begins to suspect that the young and innocent Lucy is being preyed upon by a vampire, he orders a delivery of garlic flowers and instructs her to sleep with a wreath of them around her neck. Lucy scoffs at this, thinking it a very silly instruction, but Van Helsing is deadly serious. He explains to her the importance of her following his instructions: Lucy has been getting sicker and sicker from having her blood drained over and over again, and if she ever wants to get well enough again to be able to marry her loving fiancé, Arthur, she needs to obey the doctor’s orders.

Now, that’s the explanation behind what Van Helsing says. What he actually says is this:

“Obedience is to bring you strong and well into loving arms that wait for you.”

And that is some profoundly correct theology. That sentence didn’t leave my head for the next two hours. I was just walking around town, repeating it to myself, enjoying the gorgeous weather as a gift from God. It just sank further and further into me.

It’s easy to dislike the idea of obedience. As a child, obedience feels like the obligation to fall in line with the arbitrary demands of your parents. Some of us were just too young to understand the wisdom in which our parents were teaching us to walk. Others of us had parents who abused their authority and were issuing arbitrary and capricious demands. But for all of us, when we were by nature, as Ephesians says, “children of wrath,” it would have been difficult to believe that obedience was really an expression of trust and delight. 

But that is not God’s truth, and therefore, it is not really true. God’s truth is this: to move further away from God, to resist him and try to be our own source of truth and life, is to move further into sickness, further into the unraveling of our souls. But to move toward God, to believe he is who he says he is, to refrain from scoffing when his instructions don’t make sense, to obey him because we trust him, is to move closer to life, closer to well-being, closer to being whole.

The point of obedience is not to flatter God’s ego. He is perfectly self-secure. The point of obedience is not to earn or maintain our salvation; Christ has accomplished these things in comprehensive perfection. The point of obedience is not even to show submission and respect God’s authority (though we definitely should do that, because God definitely does deserve that). The point of obedience is to help us grow in health so that we can receive more and more of the love that God is eagerly waiting to give us.

Disobedience breeds sickness and mistrust and anxiety; it is a slow, painful way in which we choose to destroy ourselves. Obedience may look hard on the front end, but humbling ourselves, believing that God is who he says he is, believing that he loves us and delights in us for exactly who we are, and then doing what God has instructed us – that makes us stronger, it makes us healthier, and it gives us more joy. God is just waiting for you to take a step toward him. He desperately wants to wrap you in his arms, hold you tight, and tell you how much he loves you and likes who you are. Obedience is how we continually choose to re-enter that embrace.

I invite you to say it on repeat with me. Stitch it on a pillow, tattoo it on your forehead, paint it over your “Live. Laugh. Love.” sign:

“Obedience is to bring you strong and well into loving arms that wait for you.”

“Obedience is to bring you strong and well into loving arms that wait for you.”

One more time?

“Obedience is to bring you strong and well into loving arms that wait for you.”

Believe God, and walk straight into his waiting, loving arms.

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