What is The Reader about, really? I have seen the film twice now and am still pondering that. Is it about illiteracy? Is it about the Holocaust? Is it about exploring a woman’s past, or is it about a young man whose life was forever shaped by a youthful love affair? I tend to think all of the above, but interestingly enough, the poignant fact that most stands out to me is one that is normally contradicted by Hollywood, who is a huge fan of “no censorship, if it feels good do it, true love isn’t based on age of consent” values (or lack thereof). Basically, to me the movie seems to be an illustration about how casual intimacy, particularly at a young age, has the potential to ruin your life — forever.
Michael, at age 15, discovers sexual awakening in the arms of the 35-year-old Hanna. It was a purely physical relationship and one that I think meant more to him than it did her, since they never really exchanged names until long after their “relationship” was established. This affair lasts a summer but sets a bad trend for the rest of Michael’s life — in which we see him incapable of conducting healthy romantic relationships. His marriage has gone sour, he has the occasional one-night-stand female in the house, and is even incapable of relating to his daughter — all because of that summer of bliss in the arms of an older woman. And not just any older woman — a woman he eventually discovers is not what she seems.
Hollywood loves telling us that love is love, no matter your gender, age, or whatever other impediments might stand in your way — morals, marriage, social class, or station in life. It enjoys pairing up older men with younger women, older women with younger men, adulterous couples, and teenagers experimenting with their new found sexuality… in short, it’s what the Pope recently called a world “adrift in sin.” Scripture tells us very different things about love and sex. Like, the latter is only to be used within marriage, and should remain between two people. Not four people. Not six people. Not three people. Two people. Forever, or until “death do we part.”
It is easy to write off that particular passage as being overly moral or old fashioned, but if there is one thing I have learned about God, the guidelines He establishes for us to follow are never without multiple reasons as to why we should keep that particular suggestion. Sex. It’s all around us, and the world tells us that it’s a sublime experience meant to be shared with whoever catches your eye. So why is it that God tells us, in such a dramatic, final manner that we shouldn’t be having it outside marriage? Well, there are many reasons, ranging from potential pregnancy to the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, but those are merely physical. What about the emotional consequences of sharing your body, and your most intimate trust, with more than one person?
Any girl who has lost her virginity and then been dumped by her boyfriend will tell you — it’s bad. Really, really bad. Why? Because she gave a portion of herself to someone who was unworthy. Someone she believed would never leave her, but did just that. The secular world likes to pretend it doesn’t hurt, that you move on, find a new bed partner, and are “okay,” but it’s not true. Especially for Christians. There is always that sense of failure, of shame, of nagging guilt that yes, can be completely taken away by the Savior, but that haunts us in the meantime. Anyone who says your decisions in the bedroom does not impact every aspect of your life is a fool, because it often dictates the way you respond to others, your opinion of yourself, and how you allow others to see and treat you.
One older, very godly married couple that I know and respect started off on the wrong foot. They hopped into bed. They got pregnant. They got married. The first ten years of their married life was “hell,” since they had done things in the wrong order. It wasn’t that God was punishing them for their mistake, but that they were reaping the consequences of their actions. You can argue all you want about the order of things, but it’s true that abstinence provides a much stronger foundation going into a marital relationship. Married couples who abstained before the wedding night also have healthier and better sex lives — without guilt, shame, or wondering if they are being compared to their lover’s former partners.
The Reader is a highly controversial film, with good reason, but it is interesting to me that it makes a case against pedophilia and casual sex without that being its deliberate intention. But one look at the older, emotionally-stinted, sexually-misguided Michael and the audience knows that if he had never spent that summer with Hanna, he would have been a much better, stronger, and ultimately less emotionally-devastated man. Why? Because he was not emotionally prepared for sex — and it was with the wrong person. It was outside what was best for his life, and both of them (he in all his problems, Hanna in abandonment and loneliness) were forced to live with the devastating aftermath.
God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but He does want to minimize the damage. All of us WILL be hurt by life and those we love, but we don’t have to choose to hurt ourselves. Our Father has the answers. They may sound old-fashioned and go against everything our culture is trying to teach us, but in the end, it’s better to assume He’s right than learn painful lessons the hard way. Sexual purity is not something to be ashamed of. It’s something to be PROUD of, because it means we are in control of our bodies, and trusting that ours will be a future worth waiting for.