If that were all there was to the story, it would have been forgotten long ago. But Dickens created a story of far greater substance. He showed us how Ebenezer Scrooge went from having a dominant Olympian personality to having a dominant Christian one. How that happened might be instructive.
Our Olympian personalities seek, above all, to be in control and to control others. Ebenezer’s Olympian personality was no exception. Even when visited by the ghost of his dead partner, Olympian Ebenezer assumed that he could dominate Jacob’s ghost just as he controlled other subordinates in his life.
Olympian Ebenezer lost a bit of his certainty and strength when Jacob’s ghost passed, without permission, through his double-locked door. At that moment, a bit of color drained from Ebenezer’s face.
Even then, however, Ebenezer refused to give up his feeling of being in control. He did this by subjectively refusing to affirm the objective reality of the ghost. Our Olympian personalities do this too. When confronted by disagreeable facts, we simply ignore or deny them. So much for our vaunted exaltation of objectivity, reason, and the scientific method.
The ghost of Jacob suspected Ebenezer’s skepticism and asked him why he doubted his senses. Ebenezer replied that they were easily affected and consequently deceptive. He noted that even a little bad food can cause hallucinations and then ridiculed the ghost by saying, There’s more of gravy than grave about you, whatever you are!” Here Olympian Ebenezer relied on the destructive humor of ridicule to strengthen his own self-confidence.
Ebenezer noted, in passing, that Jacob’s ghost came with an infernal [hellish] atmosphere of its own…for though the Ghost sat perfectly motionless, its hair, and skirts, and tassels, were still agitated as by the hot vapour from an oven.” Here Dickens suggests that the ghost of Jacob Marley came from Hell and was still influenced by it.
Jacob, however, found a way to shake the misplaced self-confidence of Olympian Ebenezer and to seize control from him. He did this simply by scaring him. [T]he spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Scrooge held tight to his chair, to save himself from falling in a swoon [faint].
That’ll do it! “Mercy!” [Scrooge] said. “Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?”
“Man of worldly [Olympian] mind!” replied the Ghost, “do you believe in me or not?”
“I do,” said Scrooge. “I must.” Through fear, then, Jacob managed to take control, in this case the ability to define the meaning of a situation, away from Ebenezer.
Even so, Olympian Ebenezer tried to maintain some control by understanding the meaning of this unprecedented event more clearly. Knowledge is power. So Ebenezer asked, “But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?”
“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, 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!”
Olympian Ebenezer wasn’t going to regain any lost Olympian control with this explanation. Jacob explains that, in this life, our Christian personality—or spirit, as he put it—is intended to share with others Christ’s light, love, and life. Sadly, our more dominant Olympian personality might keep it from doing so. That Olympian personality, however, is destroyed at the moment of death as it passes through the judgment of Christ’s fiery love. That passage leaves only our Christian personality intact. If our Christian personality didn’t get out and love others in this life then, according to Jacob, it is doomed to do so in the next when that love can no longer have its intended effects. That’s the Hell of it.
Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain, and wrung its shadowy hands.
Ebenezer doesn’t understand the meaning of the chain and asks about it.
I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?”
Scrooge trembled more and more.
“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!”
Olympian Ebenezer now recognizes that the ghost of Jacob is his powerful superior. He must have Jacob’s help to escape a similarly unpleasant future. He asks for it: “Jacob,” he said, imploringly. “Old Jacob Marley, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob.”
But comfort, even if intended, is not so easily given to our Olympian personalities by true friends. That’s because our Olympian personality is what we must be rescued from. Jacob tells him so. “I have none to give,” the Ghost replied. “It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men.” It comes from Heaven not Hell. It is brought by angels not ghosts.
It’s given to persons whose Christian witness is stronger than their Olympian parasitism. “Oh, captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know…that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can made amends for one life’s opportunities misused. Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!” Jacob knew that giving full control to one’s parasitic personality meant misusing opportunities for loving others.
Olympian Ebenezer, though weakened, still remains dominant and contrasts his understanding of life with Jacob’s. “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faultered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.”
Jacob sharply clarifies the Christian meaning of business. “Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing his hands again. “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!”
“At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said, “I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?”
“Scrooge was very much dismayed to hear the spectre going on at this rate, and began to quake exceedingly.” Christian Jacob weakened Olympian Ebenezer. The latter had its self-evident understanding of life, and Olympian confidence, shaken. Still, when Jacob tells Ebenezer that hope still exists for him, if he is further haunted by three spirits, Olympian Ebenezer remained sufficiently plucky to want to decline the offer.
It was too late, however, for Olympian Ebenezer to avoid them. The ghost of Jacob Marley had been sent, as would the three spirits after him, to do the bidding of the greater Spirit behind them all. That greater Spirit loved Christian Ebenezer and was committed to rescuing him.
In leaving, Christian Jacob warned, “Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!” May we do the same.