At the end of Camus’ The Stranger Meursault finds himself sentenced to death after an almost comically painful trial (when sat down in the room and saw how everyone had their place, he has “the strange impression … of being odd man out, a kind of intruder”. A reporter cheerfully explains to the defendant, “You know, we’ve blown up your case a little. Summer is the slow season for news. And your story and the parricide were the only ones worth bothering about” (84)).
He sits in his cell, awaiting his execution, thinking, “All I care about now is escaping the machinery of justice, seeing if there’s any way out of the inevitable.” (108).
In the midst of his life was the verdict. Before it were the seeming unconnected, certainly unplanned events — as Celeste explains it, “The way I see it, it’s bad luck. Everybody knows what bad luck is. It leaves you defenseless. And there it is!” (92). Afterwards the absurdity of waiting to die.
[Note on the version. I used Matthew Ward’s translation which is excellent throughout. It reads as if were written originally in a laconic and quite distinctive English. It is quite a feat to write a translation which reads effortlessly. He has without question succeeded.]
What hope is there in such a circumstance? He learned to kill time in prison — in less pleasant way than he did before prison, but it was all just doing this and then that. “What really counted was the possibility of escape, a leap to freedom, out of the implacable ritual, a wild run for it that would whatever chance for hope there was. Of course, hope, meant being cut down on some street corner, as you ran like mad, by a random bullet.” (109).
I read this as a Christian, and all I can do is agree with Camus: What matters is escape. We are bore into a world in which the sentence has been cast, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). It is the litany of “and he died” in Genesis 5. It is absurdity of human suffering, and the pain we seem unable to not heap upon one-another.
We oddly also know, that another judgment is coming, “It is appointed for a man once to die, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). We all know this. Why would the threat of judgment, calling a thing “sin” drive people mad. I suffer through all sorts of propositions (often imposed upon me by those with more power) which don’t raise my anger.
Isn’t it odd that we can easily believe the threat of judgment; it bothers us. As a friend once said to when I asked, “You don’t believe any of this, do you?” “No,” he said, “but maybe you’re right.”
We feel the weight of the need to escape; the desire for escape. We desire to escape time and place — and sometimes even our own skin. But we know it can’t really work.
The world is far too rigged to ever escape. That is why the world needs to be undone, redone. The horror of life must be turned to joy; the sorrow of this world must be transferred to glory for any escape to ever really work”
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13.
I read Camus and wanted to tell him, there is an escape. Not the insane magistrate who waved a crucifix about and blubbered at Meusault — he had no escape to offer. Not the chaplain, whom Meursault refused to meet. Meursault wanted an escape, but the chaplain was apparently not in the rescue business.
The great offer of Christ is that escape, “I am the way, the truth, the life” (John 14:6).
Camus is utterly correct, with the one caveat of Jesus: there is no escape; our judgment is ineluctable; the waiting is interminable:
20 But the eyes of the wicked will fail;
all way of escape will be lost to them,
and their hope is to breathe their last. Job 11:20 (ESV)
Yet, Jesus made a way of escape. He went through the grave, defeated death and came out the other side:
Psalm 124:7 (ESV)
7 We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!