December 14, 2008

A Calvinist Christmas Carol??

An Excerpt from "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens

The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the Ward would have been justified in indicting it for a nuisance.

"Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed," cried the phantom, "not to know, that ages of incessant labour, by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!"

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

It held up its chain at arm's length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

"At this time of the rolling year," the spectre said "I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!"

Scrooge was very much dismayed to hear the spectre going on at this rate, and began to quake exceedingly.


As I read this I can't help but wonder how the words of Dickens resonate through all of us. This is what makes the tale of Scrooge so compelling and heartfelt is the truth that all men are expected, as Marley puts forth is "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business". Is this not the very expectation God has and expects from all of mankind? Is not benevolence, charity and mercy the moral expectation and responsibility of every person? Furthermore, if man is expected to love and care for his fellow man, is he then not expected to love and submit to that which is not the very definition of love and that is God himself? When we read this story of Scrooge, do we not see how the past moral choices of a man has led to his demise?

Or should we interpret this story as the Calvinist see it, a man whose choices were not of his own freewill, but predetermined and foreordained by God? That mankind by his very nature is unable to choose "Mercy, charity and Benevolence", due to that pesky and constant lurking of "Original Sin" or "Total Depravity"? That by our very constitution we are unable to do "any good"? If this is so, then why is it we don't pity poor Scrooge rather feel as if he should not be the way he is? Why is it we don't sympathize with him as a result of his foreordained plight or his unalterable constitution of depravity?? As his story unfolds, should we not pity poor Scrooge, for surely he could not change his moral condition and choose to do right at any moment, any more than a "leopard should change its spots"?

For me the beauty of this moral tale is that it is a reflection of repentance. Is this story not one of a man reflecting upon his past and present moral actions and coming to grips that he is indeed a vile sinner? That Scrooge comes to the realization that he made selfish (if not sinful?) choices and as a result his heart had become hardened and darkened as a result of his own doing? That it was not until he was shown what his future holds, that death was inevitable

"Spirit!" he cried, tight clutching at its robe, "hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?"

For the first time the hand appeared to shake.

"Good Spirit," he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: "Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life."

The kind hand trembled.

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"

In his agony, he caught the spectral hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit, stronger yet, repulsed him...........

Yes! and the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!

"I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!" Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. "The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this. I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!"

He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call. He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears."

Is this not what happens when we come into direct contact with our Lord and Savior? That as he brings forth before our minds our own past and present sinfulness, and seeing the overwhelming flood of love and mercy our Lord and Savior has shown us brings us to the same condition as Scrooge? That we are brought to such a point of conviction over our sins that repentance is not only expected, but is the right and good choice for us to make? Instead, we see the Calvinist that says "Repentance is a work" and that our turning of sin is not a synergistic effort, but one that is all of God and nothing of man. But yet is this the very picture presented to us in the Bible? Of course not! Instead we see God and his Holy Spirit working jointly with man bringing him knowledge and revelation before his mind, just as the Spirits of Christmas did with Scrooge. Repentance is not only what man ought to do, but it is well within his ability and responsibility - as a result of his own conscience and God's calling of his heart! Just as Jacob Marley stated: ".....common welfare of mankind is my business", and I would add that not only mankind, but better yet it is God's benevolence that also should be of our business. Let us not give excuse to sinners that it is not within their ability to do that which is right (ie. Original Sin), but show them that they are most capable of doing what is morally expected and able. Scrooge did not say he was unable to change his cold and callous heart, nor did we as the observers of this tale expect anything different from him, but yet many would deny this in their own theology - a strange contradiction between "true to life" experiences and yet one's own theology?

2 comments:

Chris said...

Preston,

Just stopped by to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas.

Chris

Preston N said...

Hey Chris! Merry Christmas to you and your family. May God Bless you in 2009.