No Exit

As a tenth grader I had to participate in a dramatic reading of the play “No Exit” by Jean Paul Sartre [1].  The play is somewhat short and consists of three main characters (along with the porter who shows the damned souls to their room) who are trapped for all time in a love triangle where the man loves a lesbian who loves a superficial and flirtatious girl who loves the man.  It’s not a virtuous play by any means, but from time to time I ponder on its implications of what it means to be trapped in situations, and what it would take to become disentangled from them.  The play, of course, views the change of character as being impossible, and so people are trapped because they cannot grow and change.  Their character is fixed, and therefore their destiny is assured, whether it is a good destiny or, much more enjoyable for Sartre to write about, a bad destiny as is the case in all of the plays of his that I have read.

In one way, leaving is easy and straightforward.  Our contemporary society gives little heed to leaving, doing it for good reasons, bad reasons, and sometimes seemingly for no reason at all.  This is true whether we leave jobs, leave friendships or other relationships, or leave areas.  We find it intolerable to be trapped with people and situations that we cannot escape and that are noxious or unpleasant to us.  Yet we typically find that we remain embedded in problems even when we leave them behind.  If a husband and wife divorce, even if they have no children and no property to divide, and even if there is no alimony payment that forces a continued financial tie between them, and even if there is no communication between them, a change of names so that no one who meets the partners afterward need know that there had ever been a previous marriage at all, there are still ties that bind.  There will be memories as well as lasting damage to the ability to form close ties because leaving will always be an option, and once it becomes an option, it does not cease to be an option for trivial as well as great reasons.

In the letter recorded by the Apostle John to the church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3:12, the following message is given:  “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.  I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God.  And I will write on Him my new name.”  A pillar is a structural element that allows for buildings to be built, by taking the weight of the roof loads or upper stories and transferring them down to the foundation, so that the building can securely stand.  To be unmoved and to be a pillar is a great honor, but it requires that one be stable and that one be secure in one’s position.  This is exceedingly difficult in our world, where we are greatly dissatisfied and where our dissatisfaction does not lead us to self-examination or soul searching or repentance, but often to a desire to change the exterior circumstances in the hope that this will be sufficient to lead to the changes that we are looking for.  To be sure, there are times where external circumstances must change, but that which is most essential in our lives are matters of internal character, the wisdom that we have in entering into relationships and commitments and the tenacity we have in behaving above board in our behavior despite the provocations we face from others.  This is not an easy task, but it is the task which we are given to accomplish, in whatever ways God finds appropriate.

It should go without saying that there is no possible exit from these tasks.  If we leave or abandon that which we have been called to tend and care for, if we heap burdens on others and lay stumbling blocks before them by our own conduct, we cannot escape judgment for these matters.  Where we are given a clean slate, there is a price involved.  In ancient Israel, land, with very rare exceptions, was not to be permanently alienated from a family, but as a result the money that was received for this land was not a full purchase price but rather a long-term lease extending no longer than forty-nine years.  The wiping clean of our slate from our sins and faults requires both the dark night of the soul of repentance and contrition as well as the sacrifice of the sinless Lamb of God, Jesus Christ [2].  There is no exit from the ties that we have with God and with other people as a result of our commitments.  As it is written in Psalm 139:7-12:  “Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence?  If I ascend into heaven, You are there.  If I make my bed in the grave, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.  If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.”

What then are we to do?  How are we to conduct ourselves in this life in the knowledge that we may have to deal with those whom we find awkward and uncomfortable for eternity, besides being called to treat them with love and respect here and now?  How are we to act in such a way that we neither abuse nor oppress others nor do we seek to use the behavior of other people to justify our lack of obedience to God in how we treat them?  These are not easy matters, nor are they academic concerns.  I do not write this as an ivory tower intellectual seeking consistency for the sake of philosophical ideals, pleasing as that would be.  Instead I write as someone faced daily with the problems of theodicy in my own life and in the lives of those whom God has put in my way, and in whose way God has placed me, for the mutual growth and edification of all of us.  There is truly no exit from the difficulties we face in life, no matter how much we may seek for one.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, History, Love & Marriage, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to No Exit

  1. Pingback: Book Review: No Exit & The Flies | Edge Induced Cohesion

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