BreakPoint: The Enduring Power of “A Christmas Carol”

Hope, Redemption, Story

“Ebeneeeeezer!” Today on BreakPoint, I’m going to talk about Charles Dickens’ great classic work, “A Christmas Carol.”

One hundred and seventy-four years ago, a British writer was horrified at the conditions under which children were made to labor in tin mines. He decided to write a pamphlet exposing these conditions. His intended title: “An Appeal to the People of England on Behalf of the Poor Man’s Child.”

Thank heavens the writer changed his mind. Instead of a pamphlet, he decided to write a novel making the same points. It’s filled with colorful characters—including an old man who goes about snarling “Bah, Humbug!”

Those two little words instantly reveal what book I’m talking about: “A Christmas Carol,” by the immortal Charles Dickens. The book has never been out of print—and it illustrates why telling a good story is often the best way to communicate our beliefs.

Why does “A Christmas Carol” still resonate today? For the answer, I went to my friend Gina Dalfonzo, editor of Dickensblog. She told me “A Christmas Carol “is a book that “has everything: great sorrow and great joy, corruption and redemption, poverty and pain, hope and love.” And “it expresses the deep belief that even the worst person can change for the better.”

“A Christmas Carol” is not merely a magnificent story, and its message is not confined to a “social gospel” teaching: Dickens points directly to Christ throughout. For example, Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, suggests that perhaps nothing about Christmas can be “apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin.”

And Tiny Tim expresses the hope that when people saw his lameness, “It might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.” This is, Gina points out, “a wonderful example of the biblical idea of God’s strength being made perfect in our weakness.”

Dickens’ classic shoots down the idea—prevalent in some Christian circles—that reading novels is a waste of time. They seem to forget that Jesus Himself was a master storyteller. For instance, He didn’t just say, “Come to the aid of those who need help.” Instead, He told a vivid story about a Samaritan who rescues a wounded man.

Chuck Colson once said that when it came to learning moral lessons, he was “much more impressed by profound works of fiction than by abstract theological discourses.” Scenes from some of the greatest stories ever told, he said, “have etched moral truths deeply into my soul. Their characters and lessons are so vivid I can’t forget them.”

And that is likely why so many of us will never forget the moral truths told through Ebenezer Scrooge, Fezziwig, Tiny Tim, and all the other memorable characters that populate Dickens’ great Victorian tale. It’s why we reject pamphlets that say, “Be nice to the needy” in favor of a good strong character bellowing, “Are there no prisons? [Are there no] workhouses?” Or the ghost of Scrooge’s partner, Jacob Marley, howling, “Mankind was my business!”

Dickens’ Christmas classic is more popular than ever. There’s a new film about how he came to write “A Christmas Carol,” called “The Man Who Invented Christmas.” And a writer named Samantha Silva has just published a novel titled “Mr. Dickens and His Carol.”

I do hope you’ll take time out to read, or re-read, the original, or read it aloud to your family. Who knows what great good may come of it?

And so I end this piece by saying—and you probably knew it was coming—“God bless us, everyone.”

 

The Enduring Power of “A Christmas Carol”: Hope, Redemption, Story

As Eric mentions, a good story has the power to bring moral truths alive for daily life, and Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a great example of that. Get the book for yourself or for a friend–it’s available at the online bookstore. And check out Gina Dalfonzo’s Dickensblog for more on the timeless works of this famous British author.

 


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  • gladys1071

    I love the Christmas Carol, it reminds us how ungrateful we can be for the things we have. Tiny Tim was very grateful despite his situation. Living in these modern times when we have our needs met everyday it is easy to take for granted what we have, i know i am guilty of such myself.

    • Just One Voice

      Reminded me of these two passages.

      Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you
      have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

      But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But
      those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into
      many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and
      destruction. For
      the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this
      craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced
      themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 1 Timothy 6:6-11

  • bawlmoron

    I think Dickens chose the name Ebenezer for a good reason. In the OT, the ebenezer was the pile of rocks put up by the Samuel after defeating the Philistines (1Sam 7:2-14).
    When we were semi-unexpectedly approved for a mortgage for a stone house a number of years ago, we named it Ebenezer House.

    • jason taylor

      It was likely an old and dated prejudice dating from the 1600s. Puritans had a habit of giving awkwardly pious names, and some of them sound quite ill aesthetically. Ebenezzer is hardly the worst of them from that point of view. Puritans were also likely to be merchants rather then nobles and merchants invest in money while nobles invest in prestige which is why nobles run out first and then complain about merchants being greedy because their greed is differently applied then that of nobles. Scrooge is in many ways a stereotype of the successful burgher, and a hypocritical one as landowners were just as usurious toward their tenants.

  • pastorglenn

    I too have always loved A Christmas Carol. We’ve read it together as a family, and listened to the Focus on the Family broadcast of it. But shouldn’t we be careful to point out that the story is actually, in some ways, opposed to the Christian worldview?
    As Eric Metaxas points out, quoting Gina Dalfonzo, “it expresses the deep belief that even the worst person can change for the better.” But that is exactly what the Christian worldview is NOT. The Christian belief is that we cannot change ourselves apart from the grace of God and the work of Jesus. The worst person “can be changed for the better,” but can never “change for the better.”
    I agree with everything else said here, and appreciate Metaxas’ and BreakPoint’s great articles. Stories are powerful tools, and A Christmas Carol is no exception. But when an organization is always so careful to point out where things miss the Christian Worldview, maybe a disclaimer on this point would be appropriate.

    • Joel Stucki

      But Scrooge does not change himself. He is changed through the “ministry,” if you will, of the three Spirits. Granted, they aren’t The Holy Spirit as described in Scripture, but it is a novel, after all, and not the Bible. Point being, Scrooge’s change of heart is not possible without outside help.

  • jason taylor

    If I recall, Dickens had a fancy of being a gentleman and to some degree that included the vices as well as the virtues of such(looking down on people in trade). To say that we cannot learn from his description of Scrooge however would be Bulverism. There were without doubt many Scrooges walking around.

  • Scott

    I love it when Eric Metaxas writes these kind of articles. He does a wonderful job of pointing us to God’s beauty revealed through art. Whether it be in Rembrandt’s painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” Charles Dickens’ story “A Christmas Carol,” or Handel’s “Messiah,” we are inspired by beauty. It is no accident that we aspire to create art and through it catch a glimpse of His glory.

  • CJH

    Dickens classic. Wonderful story.

  • eganstew3

    I have seen “Christmas Carol” in several different versions, and what I come away with is the fact we do not change ourselves by ourselves. The change comes because someone takes the time to see the good in a person. The same goes for Dick Bundy, Son of Sam, Karla Frey, and even in our President, Trump. At the beginning of the story I am so angry with Scrooge, but because of his nephew and the little boy he comes around to being a sweet kind man. That is redemption that is given to all of us if we are willing to be servants to the Lord and not us.