Marley was dead, to begin with” starts out Charles Dickens in his Christmas masterpiece A Christmas Carol. “There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” Dickens intended to give Marley a position of authenticity and place him in a position where no one could argue with his established wisdom. He was already dead, but now he had access to knowledge as to where he was and why he was where he was. Somehow, Marley had bargained for the chance to revisit his old, selfish business partner, Scrooge, and give him one more thin chance to mend his greedy ways.
After Marley made his scary entrance through Scrooge’s double-locked doors, dragging the chains he had forged in life link by link, he got down to giving Scrooge his otherworldly advice.
“It is required of every man . . . that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth and turned to happiness!”
Scrooge stabbed at a chance to turn down the heat of Marley’s message: “Speak comfort to me, Jacob!”
“I have none to give. . . . No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunities misused! Yet such was I! Oh, such was I!”
Scrooge couldn’t deflect the message, so he tried a little flattery: “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.”
“Business!” the ghost cried, wringing his hands. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” Then Jacob Marley’s ghost went on: “I am here tonight to warn you: that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate.”
I have personally tried to discipline my behavior over the years to revisit the words and spirit of Charles Dickens’s Jacob Marley, not only at Christmastime, but throughout the year. His powerful advice, however correct or incorrect his theology, is as necessary as oxygen. Humankind truly is my business; that’s the “why” behind the past years of Project C.U.R.E.! “No space of regret can make amends for a lifetime of misused opportunities.” The common welfare is my business. “Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence” must be the mainspring and clockwork of my life every day.
The message of Marley should remind us that the chains of life that we forge link by link, day by day, should not be chains that shackle us to the greedy accumulation of possessions in this world; rather, the crafted links should become chains that bind our hearts together with kindness, justice, and righteousness on this earth.
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (Wheaton, IL.Tyndale, 1997), 3,4,16,18,19.