Nobel Prize Winners
The central crisis of the Modern Age is the crisis of faith, the failure of our belief in God. Our disbelief is an inevitable outgrowth of increased scientific understanding of the world around us, particularly in the realms of Physics and Evolutionary theory. It is a predictable corollary of the individualistic political and economic doctrines we have adopted with such success. And to a little appreciated degree, it is a function of the material comfort that we enjoy. Taken together, all of these factors have removed ignorance, superstition, subservience and desperation as reasons to believe in religion. Since Reason would require proof of God's existence, which it is probably impossible to provide, all that's really left is simple faith and, from what we've seen this past century, faith is not enough. There is much that is good about this liberation, the freeing of man from God, but there are also some terrible consequences. The most important consequence is the removal of metaphysical standards of Right and Wrong, of Truth and Beauty, and the resulting disastrous slide into moral relativity. The other main consequence is the sort of inchoate longing that, even if you haven't experienced it personally, is so readily apparent in things like the Psychiatric, Environmental, New Age and Wicca movements. Absent God and his laws, what is there to give our lives meaning and direction? What are we doing here? Do we have a purpose or are we, individually and as a species, as insignificant as science has made us seem? The difficulty of answering those questions lies at the heart of the soul sickness that human society suffers. This inability to attach meaning or value to ourselves and our actions has left an enormous void at the core of our beings and, thus far, science has offered us nothing to fill the vacuum.
Given the tremendous difficulty that even we have reconciling our skepticism with our desire for certitude, separated as we are by two thousand years from the Biblical age, imagine how much more difficult it would have been to struggle against belief if you were a contemporary who witnessed the living Christ and encountered evidence of his miracles. Imagine further that you are not just any man, but are actually the criminal who was spared from the cross when the mob was offered the choice of setting Jesus or one of his fellow prisoners free, that the innocent Christ quite literally died for your sins. This is what Par Lagerqvist has done in this beautiful and moving novel. Barabbas is set free but not before seeing the luminescent figure of Christ and hearing him plead that Barabbas be spared and not himself. Barabbas then feels compelled to follow Christ to Golgotha, where he witnesses the Crucifixion and sees the darkness fall as Christ dies. Through the rest of his life, Barabbas's path intersects with the disciples and followers of Christ. Always he resists their belief--how after all can one believe in a Savior who allows himself to be crucified--but looks for some irrefutable proof from them that Jesus was the Messiah. His ambivalence comes to represented on a medallion that he wears. On the front it says that he is property of the Roman State--it is placed on him while he is enslaved in the mines--but he has a Christian acolyte scratch the symbols on the back that show him to be a follower of Christ. Still later he scratches this out. Ultimately, while living in Rome, he hears rumors that the Christians have set the city aflame and, taking up a burning brand, he proceeds to start the fires that he hopes will signal the return of the Messiah. In the final scene, he is crucified along with Peter and the other Christians accused of arson:
When he felt death approaching, that which he had
always been so afraid of, he said out loud into
--To thee I deliver up my soul.
And then he gave up the ghost.
These lines concisely capture the human dilemma. The darkness reappears, recall it descended as Christ died, and Barabbas calls out "as if" he were speaking to it. Does his addressing the darkness mean that in the end he believes it is God? Or does the "as if" imply that he dies doubting? And though he delivers his soul, he gives up the ghost--is he in fact imbued with a divine spark which he can surrender to God?
I found the following story in one of the sermon's below :
Par Lagerkvist, in his short story, My Father
and I, tells of an experience he had as a small boy
"'No, my boy, it's not horrible,' he said, taking me by the hand.
'Yes, father, it is.'
'No, my child, you mustn't think that. Not when we know there is a God.'
I felt so lonely, forsaken. It was so strange that
only I was afraid, not father, that we didn't think
Then, as we were rounding a bend, we suddenly heard
a mighty roar behind us! We were
.... I stood there panting, gazing after the furious
vision. It was swallowed up by the night. Father
My whole body was shaking. It was for me, for my
sake. I sensed what it meant: it was the
This story relates to Barabbas in a couple of illuminating ways. First, there is the use of darkness as a metaphor for the unknown, the abyss. Second, the name "Barabbas" itself means "son of the father"--Christ, of course, referred to himself as the "Son of Man." Though this is a historical novel, Barabbas is the quintessential modern man. Where our fathers (fathers broadly, not yours or mine) were blessed (cursed?) with an unquestioning faith which made sense of their world, we must wrestle with doubt and accompanying confusion. No book better captures this internal struggle than Par Lagerkvist's haunting novel Barabbas.
See also:Historical Fiction
Brothers Judd Top 100 of the 20th Century: Novels
Nobel Prize Winners
-Pär Lagerkvist (1891-1974)(kirjasto)
-ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: Your search: "par lagerkvist"
-The Nobel Prize in Literature 1951 (Nobel site)
-PÄR FABIAN LAGERKVIST: 1951 Nobel Laureate in Literature (Nobel Prize Internet Archive)
-Pär Lagerkvist Page (Bill Winters)
-SWEDISH CULTURE: Swedish Literature in the 20th Century (Swedish Institute)
-POEM: Let My Shadow Disappear Into Yours (Par Lagerkvist)
-ANNOTATED REVIEW: The Dwarf (Felice Aull, PhD, Medical Humanities, NYU)
Copyright 1998-2015 Orrin Judd