42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. [KJV – 44 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.] 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. [KJV – 46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.] 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Albert Camus’ The Plague is rightly considered a classic. It is the story of a plague that swept through the city of Oran and the various ways that different people responded to, interpreted, and/or sought to combat it. The plague itself is clearly metaphorical and has been interpreted in various ways. As the book appeared in French in 1947 then in English in 1948, it is widely held that the plague was intended, at least to some extent, to represent the Nazism and totalitarianism that had only recently thrown the entire world into such chaos. Even so, it is also believed that the plague represents the human condition itself or perhaps even the absurdity of life as so many see it.
I do not feel that it is at all inappropriate to suggest that the plague might also have been seen as the corruption of human nature, as sin, as that which is wrong and skewed within us. The book can certainly be read in this way. Consider, for instance, these words, spoken by the character Tarrou to Rieux in The Plague:
I know positively – yes, Rieux, I can say I know the world inside out, as you may see – that each of us has the plague within him; no one, no one on earth is free from it. And I know, too, that we must keep endless watch on ourselves lest in a careless moment we breathe in somebody’s face and fasten the infection on him. What’s natural is the microbe. All the rest – health, integrity, purity (if you like) – is a product of the human will, of a vigilance that must never falter. The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses of attention. And it needs tremendous will-power, a never ending tension of the mind, to avoid such lapses. Yes, Rieux, it’s a wearying business, being plague-stricken. But it’s still more wearying to refuse to be it. That’s why everybody in the world today looks so tired; everyone is more or less sick of plague. But that is also why some of us, those who want to get the plague out of their systems, feel such desperate weariness, a weariness from which nothing remains to set us free except death.
At the end of the book, a character says, “But what does it mean, the plague? It’s life, that’s all.”
We might be tempted to discard such as so much pessimism and despair. For Camus, there is not a wholly unjust projection, for Camus saw life as absurd, as having perhaps no ultimate meaning, but as the arena in which we must fight against the plague nonetheless. Christianity disagrees with Camus’ conclusion, but not with Camus’ notion of the plague. Christianity does not deny that something is deeply wrong with the world, that something is deeply wrong with us. Christianity looks that difficult truth square in the eye and calls it what it is: sin and the fall of man. But Christianity says something more. Christianity says that there is a cure for the plague, that there is meaning in life, that the absurd was given meaning by God Himself entering this dark and fallen world in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, and by His self-sacrifice on the cross. Christianity says that the plague was cured by the only uninfected one taking the plague willingly into Himself so as to set free all who will come and accept the new life that He offers us.
This is the gospel. We must see Christ as the cure…but we must also see the plague from which He came to save us.