Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Man in the Iron Cage

Recently, I re-read a portion of The Pilgrim's Progress, my favorite book of all time.  Particularly, where the Christian is in the house of the Interpreter, and happens upon the famous man in the iron cage.

I also read some of the Internet banter about this man, and the conclusions we may draw from his despondent condition.  Some say he represents Bunyan himself, others say he represents an apostate who started out "fair and flourishing," but had gotten entangled in the world, and fell foul of it, likely committing heinous sins against the Spirit of grace.  Now he rightly deems himself unforgivable, and can even tell you the verses that prove it.

Now while I believe Bunyan makes more sense than most people in the church today put together, I think we need to stay on the Bible, and with an honest method of interpretation.

Was Judas forgivable?  Yes and no.  Some of those who nailed Christ to the cross were, some of those who handed down the sentence were, and some of those who even pushed for his crucifixion certainly were.  Peter told the crown in his sermon in Acts 2 "You have taken [him] and by wicked hands have crucified and slain [him]."   And yet they received the One they pierced, and this was demonstrated by the power of the Spirit in the founding of the early church. 

But what made Judas different?  He hung around Christ and the disciples for a while, but his heart remained hard.  He apparently never took to heart a word of Christ, and he followed his evil heart of unbelief, and sold the Lord out for thirty pieces of silver. 

Regarding the forlorn man in the cage, Bunyan's question and Interpreter's answer were key.  "Is there no hope for such a man as this," queried Christian.  Interpreter's weighty remark was "Ask him."

What I can infer from this is borne out by what follows.  As Christian dialogs with the man, this cage-dweller persistently focuses on himself.  When Christian tells him of the merciful Christ, he wails in despair and only focuses on the scriptures that condemn him.  There was no room in his heart for a merciful Christ, as his sin was center stage. 

And so, the man fell victim to the flip side of pride--deeming himself too bad to be forgiven.  Some fail to receive forgiveness because they believe they have not sinned, and others fail to be forgiven because of a more subtle, yet equally dangerous kind of pride--unbelief in the goodness of God in the face of one's own sin and stupidity. 

You see, Bunyan's "asking the man" brought out the repeated confession of his despair of God, which was consistent with his other unbelief, that led to his soul-killing sins.  Once in his descent he reached the inexorable reality of God, he fled like the wind.

At the end of this dialog, we are not indulged with a verdict on the man, but he only serves as an example to Bunyan's protagonist, eliciting a healthy fear of similar falling.

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