You’re a Hopeless Case, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts

This is the first in what I hope to be a series on Charles Schulz’s […]

Matt Schneider / 1.18.12

This is the first in what I hope to be a series on Charles Schulz’s legendary comic strip (and TV specials), Peanuts. In part, my contribution picks up from DZ’s recent review of Robert Short’s popular work of apologetics, The Gospel According to Peanuts (1965). In many ways, I owe my conversion to Schulz, Short, and Snoopy; in fact, seven years of exploration culminated when I read Short’s book. Some might have thought it ridiculous for him to compare Snoopy to the “Hound of Heaven”—the one who humbles the exalted yet exalts the humiliated–but at least for me, it wasn’t much of a stretch.

I can clearly remember the day I devoured Short’s book while sitting in a café for several hours. I got up after finishing it and went outside, and felt something like scales drop from my eyes (Acts 9:18)—I was now a Christian, but I felt like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole. It made sense why much in life seems to fail despite our best efforts—why he is depressed, why she is so unsatisfied, why they are angrily honking car horns, and I realized that I was just as bad an offender as anyone. I had been reading the Bible and apologetic works and debating with Christians for years, but it took Charlie Brown and company to speak to my heart and ultimately bring me to my knees.

Since then, Peanuts has become an abiding interest, and with Short’s help, the themes of Law and Gospel in Charles Schulz’s work and life emerged, which this series will attempt to highlight. Of course, I do not mean to imply that Schulz had Law and Gospel in mind when crafting Peanuts, but even Schulz appreciated (and was flattered by) Short’s creative use of his strips to illustrate the Good News (see, for example, Schulz’s 1987 interview with Gary Groth and Rick Marschall in volume 1 of The Complete Peanuts).

Our series begins with an unexpected discovery: An unpublished Peanuts strip from 1958 was recently uncovered and will be up for auction next week (I wish I had enough money!). In this strip, Schulz’s poignantly touches on themes of soul-crushing legalism in just about every frame:

Everywhere Charlie Brown turns, he hears contradictory messages about why he is not good enough to be somebody’s idea of something, yet when he tries to live up to these standards, he is demolished by someone else’s moralistic advice—Charlie Brown is everyone’s project. I can relate: I remember being an adolescent and deeply resenting when people told me to smile—still do. You might think of your own life: what the commercials and billboards tell you or what people in your life (perhaps a spouse, or parent, or son or daughter, or boss) would like you to do and become. You’re a hopeless case, Charlie Brown!

Photo by Ed Yourdon

What then can we say of Linus’ ever-present security blanket? The world and all its judgment have trampled Linus in the same ways it has Charlie Brown. “Linus, you’ve got to get rid of that stupid blanket!” his sister Lucy exclaims in A Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Perhaps the blanket is a false idol like Linus’ other favorite: the Great Pumpkin. But we can instead see the blanket as an oasis, a safe haven, a mighty fortress. Before we know it, Charlie Brown has joined Linus under the blanket. Like the plaque at the Statue of Liberty, it seems to say, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Or it might say, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). The blanket is a judgment-free zone—all are welcome, yet it is a stumbling block; those like Lucy reject it as pure folly (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Similar to Linus with his blanket, we too are cloaked by what Christ has done on our behalf—the Cross covers our sins before God (Psalm 32:1-2/Romans 4:6-7). This is how it is with imputed righteousness: Still remaining sinful and downtrodden, we are nevertheless covered by the tattered Security Blanket. And we do well to carry the Blanket around, offering it up, letting others lose their pride like Charlie Brown so that they too may safely huddle underneath.