Stranger Danger! – thoughts on Camus’ The Stranger

The Stranger     Lately I’ve been watching John Green’s Crash Course on Youtube and listening to his highly condensed and highly entertaining reviews of required high school literature.  I love it! Then last Friday I came across his copy of The Stranger by Camus, which I vaguely remember skimming for AP English in high school, and read it again last night.  I found myself coming back to the following realizations as I read:

a) Human suffering really does exist…we can put on a tweed jacket, smoke a pipe and talk about whether or not the actions that have occurred are a good justification for the human feelings they evoke, but, people do suffer. Thomas Perez weeps at the death of Meursault’s (the main character’s) mother, Salamano laments the loss of his dog, Raymon is hurt by his partner’s alleged infidelity. For Meursault, suffering may not exist in his own psyche, but it definitely exists in the world around him.  Whether he wants to acknowledge the reality that  others do in fact suffer may be another story…

b) Even if Meursault is unwilling or unable to see the value or need to be present during another’s suffering, other characters in the novel are quick to do so for Meursault.  Celeste asks about the loss of Meursault’s mother, the caretaker brings Meursault coffee and smokes a cigarette with him during the wake, the police seem to recognize his isolation at times and offer him a kind word, and Marie is exceedingly kind to Meursault (there’s definitely a whole sermon series about that unhealthy relationship).  Suffering exists (whether we acknowledge it or not).  Others can at least offer us empathy and their presence in the midst of our own suffering.

c) So in the end we are left with the choice of whether or not we want to notice the suffering of others in our lives and let that effect us.  Chaotic and Camus believes or not, Absurd or not,  unjust or not, the world is a place where suffering happens…and the choice is ours whether or not we want to open our eyes and be fully present in the midst of those in pain, or whether we want to disengage and shut off on theoretical/philosophical grounds, and claim that none of it really matters anyway.

Meursault and The Magistrate    

Meursault encounters two Christians in the book.  He encounters the magistrate first while being questioned about the murder.  After failing to comprehend Meursault’s indifference to both the crime and his present situation, the magistrate attacks Meursault for his lack of remorse: shouting, screaming, and even brandishing a silver crucifix to attack Meursault, as if the crucifix is a weapon (which is was most definitely a weapon for Rome, but, that’s another story…).  The contrast of the Christian magistrate’s violent and anxious response with Meursault’s complete detachment from the situation at hand (he comments on how big the flies are in his office) is a moment just waiting to be brought into a dark indie comedy.  Eventually the magistrate is able to articulate the true cause of his aggravation:

“…drawing himself up to his full height and asking me if I believed in God.  I said no.  He sat down indignantly.  He said it was impossible; all men believed in God, even those who turn their backs on him.  That was his belief, and if he were ever to doubt it, his life would become meaningless…As far as I could see, it didn’t have anything to do with me, and I told him so…I was struck by how sincere he seemed.”

And with this Camus gives the reader a striking contradiction: Meursault – the absurdist murderer who does not seem to believe in anything – recognizes more about the magistrate and his emotional state than the magistrate is able to recognize about himself!  The magistrate is a fictional character in a fictional story, but, I found myself wanting to sit down, grab a cup of coffee, and perhaps offer him the following  thoughts:

1) Are you sharing the gospel out of concern for Meursault, or is there another reason?  If you need to convince everyone you’re around that God exists – you should probably do a quick gut check and make sure the person you’re trying to convince isn’t yourself. Hopefully we don’t share the gospel in an ill-conceived attempt to get the psychological/theological monkey off our own back.
2) Love Meursault. Not with an agenda. Not with an end goal.  Not so that one day you can leverage your shared history in some kind of relational bait-and-switch where all the time you spent becomes ‘worth it’.  Just love him, and trust that God is working in the relationship…on both of you…
3) If you are going to share your faith, you should probably share your own story as well.  Adding our own thread of redemption to the fabric of global restoration God weaves in us and through us keeps it grounded in human experience.  It also requires more humility and vulnerability, hopefully making it a little more difficult for us to come across as self-righteous know-it-alls.  Like the famous quote, evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.
4) I thought this was good news…right? Tell the whole story.  Gabe Lyons in The Next Christians encourages us to be a people who live into all four chapters of God’s story: (Good) Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.  Don’t limit the story to just fall and redemption…it’s a beautiful and important part of the story, but it’s not the Whole story. There’s a lot of good, life-changing news about a God on a mission for global restoration…so why not tell that part of the story too?

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