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In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge says Christmas is a humbug, he is really saying God is a humbug. He doesn’t believe in love (note how he mocks his nephew’s marriage), and Love is shorthand for God, as is Christmas.
When the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 asks God to send Lazarus to warn his family of the truth, God answers that “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” In A Christmas Carol, Dickens sends Marley back from the dead to warn Scrooge, but he is not convinced. Like most atheists, Scrooge trusts only what he can see, and he has a practical explanation for why he is seeing Marley—indigestion.
Scrooge is awake physically when Marley appears, and he is able to dismiss the apparition as humbug. God, though, tends to reach out to us when our rational, conscious minds are turned down by some mechanism: near-death, meditation, natural or artistic reverie, or sleep.
When Scrooge is asleep, then, God makes three more attempts to soften Scrooge’s heart by sending three “ghosts” to visit him. Now, these spirits resemble angels more than ghosts. Whereas Marley was definitely a ghost—Scrooge could see through him to the buttons on the back of his coat—these spirits form a trinity of past, present, and future portrayed in light and dark imagery.
Christmas Past has a flame burning on its head, reminiscent of Pentecostal tongues or a Christmas candle. We can “see” our pasts with some clarity, and when Scrooge looks back, he sees that God was there, incarnate in his sister Fan, Mr. Fezziwig, and his fiancee Belle. He also sees that he snuffed out love when he sold his soul to the devil in the form of gold/wealth/greed.
Christmas Present is so bright that it pains Scrooge to look at him, enthroned on a mountain of festive foods and greenery, and bearing a torch shaped like a horn of plenty. Such a display must have cost a fortune, but Christmas Present is bounteous and giving, full of joy and cheer. Like God, his generosity overflows.
In the musical Scrooge, he even offers a cup to Scrooge which he names “the milk of human kindness,” and it goes straight to Scrooge’s abstemious head. Scrooge’s defenses are breaking down under the unconditional love and acceptance shown by Christmas Present. Partaking of the communion cup seals the deal: Scrooge is no longer saying “humbug.” He starts to live more abundantly, hand in hand with God.
Christmas Yet to Come is dark. None of us can see the future clearly, but we know, like Scrooge, that it brings death. Finally, Love’s message sinks into Scrooge’s heart when he sees his own headstone.
The spirits did God’s work while Scrooge slept, and he awakens transformed. The first thing he wants to do is give away the money that has poisoned him in the past. Money is only evil when hoarded. If it is allowed to flow in the present moment, it blesses both the giver and the recipient. Scrooge showers the boy in the street below and the poor Cratchit family with money and kindness. He is grateful to Marley’s ghost and all the spirits (God), and he spends a joyful Christmas day with his nephew and his wife. Love is transcendent in Scrooge.
I see Scrooge as not only a reformed miser but a saved atheist. At the end, instead of “humbug” he says, “A merry Christmas, Bob,” a phrase he would not say at the beginning of the tale.
God pursues every heart until he redeems it. It may take a lifetime or just one night. Either way, Love wins. Thank God!

2 thoughts on “A Former Atheist Looks at Scrooge

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