Recently I’ve been reading The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins, which is an excellent book and one of the first detective stories ever. Much could be written on it, but my attention was drawn to one Miss Clack, a minor character who provides a bit of necessary comic relief through her ludicrous actions and her blatant self-deception. She meddles where she doesn’t belong, she listens to private conversations behind curtains, she goes starry-eyed over one of the least likeable characters in the book—altogether, she is a delight to laugh at. There is one other thing that is notable about Miss Clack: she is the only Christian in the book.

Miss Clack hid religious pamphlets like this one all over her relatives’ houses, to surprise them into virtue

Miss Clack is not, of course, a very good Christian, although she professes that she is; her hypocrisy is half of the entertainment of reading about her. Her humility is a mock-humility, and she constantly tells people that they have not offended her in the least, but that she will pray for their souls. Passive-aggression is clearly not part of the Gospel. However, Miss Clack is also very zealous; she will stop at nothing to wake her relatives to the necessity of considering religion more important than frivolous activities like shopping and amusement, and spends all her time working with charities that, while very misguided in aim, at least try to improve the world. She is a narrow-minded, completely ineffective person; but for all that, she is recognizably trying to live the Christian life.

As Christians, we need to look seriously at Miss Clack, because all too often we are very like her. I’m not just talking about how we seem in the eyes of the world. There is the peril that non-Christians will see our evangelism as meddling, and our enthusiasm as absurdity; we should try to act in a way that does not invite such censure, but we should also recognize that even Paul declared that we will become fools for Christ. The greater danger is that we actually become in ourselves what Miss Clack is—that we fall into hypocrisy, bad motives, and trite, clichéd ways of living the Christian life.

I worry sometimes that I will fall away from the faith, simply drift away from Christianity until I forget God altogether. However, there is a possibility that I rarely think about: that I will fall away from faith the other way, and become so wrapped up in my own emotional zeal for Christianity and my pleasure at how good a Christian I am that I miss the point entirely. This is such a great danger because it feels, from the inside, so much like good faith. It is only from the outside that we can tell how worn-out our stock of easy religious answers have become, how empty our actions.

So what is the solution to this problem? It is what it always has been: Christ. Our satisfaction at the state of our own souls, our eagerness to show what good things we have done, our purely superficial enjoyment of being a spiritual person will all burn away when we see the concreteness of our Risen Lord. If we look at him, we will see how illusory is all our hypocrisy and complacency. If we allow God to slip into the background, and instead think about ourselves and how Christian we are, we will very quickly go wrong; but if we fix our attention on him, his vibrant life will shake us from our deadness.