Thursday, December 23, 2004

To the "Old" Scrooge ... and Back

This Christmas Eve I will -- per my custom -- watch "A Christmas Carol", with the fabulous Alistair Sim. This 1951 film is by far the best version of the Charles Dickens' classic, principally due to the brilliant portrayal of Scrooge by Sim. Through Sim's work, we see the various shades of Scrooge ... the shifting emotions, the various twists and sad turns that led Scrooge to his appointment with the spirits on Christmas Eve.

I have always been somewhat of a Scrooge apologist. That is, it perplexes me that Scrooge seems to be remembered almost exclusively for what he was at the beginning of the story -- the "old" Scrooge -- rather than the man he became at the end of the story. To me, particularly since becoming a Christian myself, Scrooge's repentance and redemption define him. Yet, my view of this great tale continues to evolve even now.

In the last several viewings, I have focused my attention more upon the sad story of Scrooge's life before the fateful Christmas Eve. He was indeed a hated man, so much so that no one would even attend his funeral. His servants would ironically "cast lots" for his belongings. Just how did he get to this point of such intense personal pain that he rejected God and, as a result, his fellow man?

The Road to the "Old" Scrooge

Ebeneezer Scrooge had a relatively happy childhood. His favorite person in the world was his beloved sister Fan. You'll recall that young Ebeneezer started a promising career working for ol' Mr. Fezziwig, the plump, laughing boss known for his great Christmas parties and generosity. As his young career and life progressed, however, Scrooge became more and more like his power-driven colleague and future business partner, Jacob Marley. As Scrooge fell more in love with himself and his own ambition, he then began to lose the love of his fiance Alice. Eventually, as both Scrooge and Alice recognized their paths in life were diverging, the couple broke their engagement.

All of the foregoing might have been bearable for Scrooge, though, if not for the death of his beloved Fan. Scrooge's sister died giving birth to his nephew Fred, that same persistent, annoying lad who kept asking his Uncle Ebeneezer to come to Christmas dinner each year, to no avail, of course. To Scrooge, Fred's invitations were merely reminders of his devastating loss and his aloneness. But who besides Scrooge knew this?

The end of the "old" Scrooge really begins when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge back to Fan's death bed to hear words that a young, distraught Ebeneezer never heard: "Take care of my boy." Hearing for the first time Fan's death bed request in light of his long-standing rejection of Fred, Scrooge is heartbroken and sobs ... maybe for the first time ever. Trying to communicate with his long-departed sister, Scrooge cries, "I'm sorry Fan. Please forgive me."

Did Scrooge have even one friend?

Scrooge's life of self-absorption had left him completely alone. His business partner Jacob Marley really was only that -- a business partner. It was only after his death that Marley tells Scrooge the hard truth as a friend would: "Mankind was my business!" And in the Cratchit household, even Mrs. Cratchit openly criticizes Scrooge at Christmas dinner, and Bob Cratchit gives Scrooge dutiful loyalty only. The Cratchit family knew of the ugliness that was Ebeneezer Scrooge firsthand. As Scrooge's dream comes to an end, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come points to the bare headstone of Ebeneezer Scrooge. At this point, the truth is evident: Scrooge is on the road to reaping the emotional desolation and desperation that he has sown.

But what of the spirits? Perhaps these are Scrooge's friends. In one sense they are, but in fact they (like Marley) are really just sent upon an errand to visit Scrooge. It would seem then that Scrooge's only friend was the one who sent the spirits to rescue him on Christmas Eve.

Compassion for Scrooge from the One who sent the spirits

The spirits sent to visit Scrooge represent angels sent from heaven, by the Lord Himself. But how can this be, that God would have compassion on this horrible, greedy man who lived alone in a huge house and treated all around him with contempt and disrespect? How truly unloveable a character. God intervened nonetheless.

To me, the redemption of Scrooge illustrates God's unfathomable, amazing grace and unending love. For when all others saw a greedy old man, God saw a man whose bad choices and broken heart had led to spiritual blindness. And in His compassion, God led the spirits to touch the eyes of Scrooge.

But this still doesn't answer the question: "Why?" Why did God show compassion on the sinner Scrooge? Perhaps it was because Scrooge was some one's little boy once, a young man whose foolish choices had taken their toll, and a young man who had lost the most important person in his life. But most importantly, God saw a child of His ... fallen and far away, but no less a child.

That Scrooge's pain and bitterness were largely the result of his own choices was irrelevant. When all the world had given up on him, God was still looking ... still believing.

Compassion of the Son of Man

We Christians often emphasize the deity of Jesus while ignoring His humanity. Thus, while understanding the significance of the deity of Jesus, we miss the complete picture of the Savior. Indeed, Jesus' favorite title for Himself was the Son of Man, a title that emphasizes His humanity. As the Son of Man, He is able to identify with our weaknesses, to understand what it is like to fail, to have broken dreams ... to be alone and without hope. Every one has a story, and He knows them all. For those alone and hurting at the holidays, He understands and is there.

For some, believing in the God of the Bible is seemingly impossible, for a whole host of reasons. Yet, He understands what it is to be tempted. He understands confronting impossible situations and odds. He sees all, even the ugly that others don't see and that we ourselves don't see, and still He loves us. Indeed, He loves the world. This is mind-boggling yet comforting to me. I think the incomprehensibe love and grace of God had a similar effect on John the Apostle, too, for in his Gospel of John he simply called himself "the one that Jesus loved."

Also comforting is that He sees those things in us ... the light, the potential, the unique bent ... that is each person's fingerprint. He seeks out and redeems those qualities for His glory and our good at the same time. Why? I don't know. People can be a lot of trouble and heartache. But I think God does it just because He is good.

The unanswered question

Recall that when Scrooge's worst fears are realized and he contemplates his tombstone and barren grave, he asks the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, "Are these things that will be?" Scrooge seeks an answer from this last, appropriately silent and ominous spirit. No answer is given. Anxiety builds. Still no answer ... and then he wakes. Scrooge then realizes that he can help provide the answer. What will he do with the information that he has been given? It is Scrooge's choice, and he makes the right one, of course. As a result, not only Scrooge's life is transformed, but Tiny Tim's and countless other lives are changed and touched in a way that unbelief would not have permitted.

Thus, God saw and pursued the "old" Scrooge when all others had given up and no one else cared or believed in Scrooge. God made a way to get to Scrooge via the three spirits who showed Scrooge his need for redemption. The "new" Scrooge was born, however, only when he dared to believe, to finally trust and allow God into his life.

God bless us, every one. Merry Christmas.