Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, and our Longing for Wholeness

The classic book The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde does something to me. It scares me. It is a chilling, vivid picture of what happens when we allow our base appetites to overtake our rational and spirited faculties (as Plato would say). The story also awakens something: it awakens within me a desire for wholeness, a wholeness where all of my thinkings, willings, and emotions are fully integrated.

First the story: Dr. Jekyll was a respected and wealthy physician and scientist living in 19th century London. By his own admission, his worst fault as a young man was “a certain impatient gaiety of disposition” that was hard to reconcile with his “imperious desire to carry my head high, and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public.”[ref]Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Aerie Books), 60.[/ref] Such an innocent fault eventually resulted in a duplicitous life. Before he knew it, he was a profound “double dealer.”[ref]Ibid., 61.[/ref] Yet, both sides of his nature were in dead earnest; he was himself when he laid aside restraint and plunged into shame as the evil Mr. Hyde; he was himself when he advanced knowledge and provided relief from sorrow and suffering as a doctor. But two selves—one guided by knowledge, virtue, chivalry, and concern for others, the other guided by desire, greed, and lust—cannot coexist for long. As Stevenson illustrates powerfully in his story, the base nature, once unmoored (read the story for how these two selves where “pulled apart”), will rise up and overtake our better selves.

The story is chilling, because we can relate to it so well. We are fragmented people living fragmented lives. Without a secure identity, we fill our lives with things or activities, hoping to find significance and satisfaction. Often one dimension of our lives runs in one direction, another in a radically different direction. Many dimensions are inconsistent with each other. As a result, our strengths and flexibilities, our disciplines and freedoms are at cross-purposes, and we are left yearning for more. We long for unity, and wholeness of life, yet it remains elusive. Lest you doubt, consider:

Since ancient times, man has tried to makes sense of the fact that we live in a uni-verse. Philosophers seek to provide a metaphysical account of why there is unity among so much diversity—the age-old problem of the one and the many. Scientists have long been searching for a unification theory—hoping to find one fundamental law of physics that can unify and explain all the diverse phenomenon of this world. Artists seek aesthetic unity when painting or sculpting. In relationships humanity seeks a kind of unity or harmony with each other. In our own lives, we hope to unite our various thinkings, feelings, and willings under some over-arching purpose. In short, we long for unity. And this is as it should be given the reality of God. I suggest that we long for unity because we’ve been created for such wholeness by the perfectly united tri-une God. And it is this divine unity that is the pattern for all lesser unities:

The Christian doctrine of God thus contains an assertion about the nature of unity. It asserts that all the actual unities of our earthly experience, from the unity of the hydrogen atom to the unity of a work of art, of the human self, or of a human society, are imperfect instances of what unity truly is. We may find in them analogies to that true unity, and learn from them something of what perfect unity must be. But perfect unity itself is to be found only in God, and it is through the revelation of God in Christ that we find the unity of God to be of such a kind as to cast light upon all lesser unities. [ref]Leonard Hodgson, The Doctrine of the Trinity (London: Nisbet and Co, 1955), 96.[/ref]

We long for a kind of wholeness—a flourishing in light of our natures—yet our longings reveal that we haven’t attained it. But as C.S. Lewis reminds us, “God gives what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness [read: human flourishing according to our nature] that there is, not the happiness that is not.”[ref]C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1996), 47.[/ref] Thus, wholeness of spirit, hermetically sealed compartmentalization, or disintegration—becoming more human or less human—are man’s only options. A life directed toward wholeness is a life of flourishing, delight, and integrity. A life bent toward compartmentalization or disintegration is one of misery, emptiness, and the loss of self. Let the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde awaken within you the desire for wholeness. Let it convince you that there is a high cost to a compartmentalized or disintegrated life. Where can such wholeness be found? As it turns out, we become whole “by the way”—not by mapping out a strategy for wholeness but by looking to Jesus as our greatest joy, hope, love, and happiness.

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This article first appeared on the blog of Paul Gould, assistant professor of philosophy and Christian apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Follow him on Twitter at @paulmgould.