A close friend took me to see Dallas Theater Company’s rendition of A Christmas Carol last night. This adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic had me in tears more than once. I am always deeply moved by stories of hope and transformation.
If you remember, the Christmas-hating Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by his deceased business partner, Marley, who bears him a warning. “I wear the chain I forged in life….I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it,” he says, informing Scrooge that his punishment will be even worse. Scrooge was then visited by three spirits who show him his past, the present state of his own world, and his future death if he continues his selfish and cantankerous ways.
Remember Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man? An indulgent rich man ignored the plight of his fellow man, Lazarus. When they both died, the rich man went to be tormented in hell, and Lazarus was in heaven with Abraham. The rich man “called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”
In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge gets the opportunity of a lifetime, unlike the rich man’s brothers. It’s as if Dickens read Jesus’ parable and decided he wanted to see that story further played out. But in Dickens’ parable, the subject of the beyond the grave visitation repents. During the climax of the play, as Scrooge has a vision of his deathbed, he cries out, “Spirit, is this a vision what will come to pass or what may come to pass?”
In seeing Marley’s eternal punishment and a vision of his own death, Scrooge vividly sees the picture of the reality of sin and death in light of eternity. We each must see this reality before we can accept the grace Christ won for us on the cross. We sinned, we are sinners and we deserve not just death, but eternal torment for our rebellion. With this knowledge we can know how much we need Jesus.
C. S. Lewis explains that “Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever.”
There are eternal consequences to each of our choices, even after our salvation is decided. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 3 that “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” 2 John 1: 8 warns: “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.”