In Jane Eyre, the protagonist Jane is constantly struggling with her Christian faith. Although it’s clear that she believes in God, she often finds herself at odds with Christianity as a religion. This struggle is made clear through her interactions with other characters. There are several characters throughout the book that personify Christianity of the Victorian era; one of them is Helen Burns. Helen symbolizes the aspect of Christianity that is all about forgiveness and self-sacrifice. Christians are supposed to eschew worldly pleasures and aspire only to spiritual happiness. The love of God is supposed to be all you need. However, Jane Eyre clearly does not agree with this concept – she is very much concerned with her life on earth and starved for human affection:
“…if others don’t love me, I would rather die than live – I cannot bear to be solitary and hated, Helen. Look here; to gain some real affection from you, or Miss Temple, or any other whom I truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken, or to let a bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking horse, and let it dash its hoof at my chest–“ (82)
Jane is being a bit melodramatic here, but it’s clear that she desperately wants to be loved by her fellow humans, not God. For her, physical pain is more bearable than spiritual pain. She says outright that she’d be willing to experience a broken arm if it meant she could “gain some real affection” from “whom I truly loved.” (This also shows us just how little experience Jane has with true human affection, since sincere affection is given freely, not at the cost of pain on anyone’s part.) Christianity also teaches that physical pain is nothing compared to spiritual pain, but you are supposed to get spiritual comfort from God, not other humans, as Helen points out to Jane:
“Hush, Jane! you think too much of the love of human beings; you are too impulsive, too vehement: the sovereign Hand that created your frame, and put life into it, has provided you with other resources than your feeble self, or than creatures feeble as you. … and if we were dying in pain and shame, if scorn smote us, and hatred crushed us, angels see our tortures, recognize our innocence … and God waits only the separation of spirit from flesh to crown us with a full reward. Why, then, should we ever sink overwhelmed with distress, when life is so soon over, and death is so certain an entrance to happiness – to glory?” (82-3)
Helen admonishes Jane for seeking love from “creatures feeble as you” and tries to comfort her with the idea of guardian angels taking us away from all this earthly pain. Why do you care about earthly things, she says, when life is so short and God can reward us with eternal happiness?
Nevertheless, Jane is not convinced. The idea of a heavenly reward is too remote to be comforting. She can’t even be sure that such a thing actually exists: she thinks to herself “Where is that region? Does it exist?” (97) next to Helen’s deathbed. She doesn’t care about vague, distant promises after death. Jane is very much concerned with earthly life, however short it may be, and earthly love.
Indeed, Jane’s perfect happy ending consists entirely of an earthly sort of happiness that she finds through becoming Rochester’s wife:
I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest – blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine. (519)
There is nothing about God or eternal salvation in Jane’s happy ending. Thus Jane rebels against the Christian idea that the only kind of love you really need to be happy is God’s love. Her love for Rochester does for her what the idea of God and heaven have never been able to do – finally bring her joy in a life that has been otherwise full of difficulty and tragedy.