June 13, 2021

A Lesson on Radical Transparency from The Fall by Albert Camus

I’m just re-reading The Fall, by Albert Camus, the early 20th C. French Existentialist.  Since High School it has been on my shelf of “great books.”  A recent church leadership team discussion had us grappling with how we share our faith with someone who’s content, successful and seemingly doing fine “without God.”  The story of The Fall is about just such a person. Jean-Baptist Clamence is a model human being, a lawyer given to serving the poor without pay, a man who never misses an opportunity to help someone in need.  He is well liked, attractive, winsome and successful in every area of life.

But a momentary failure causes him to look a little deeper into his own soul and he discovers that under the veneer of contentedness lies a deep-seated selfishness.  This realistic self-evaluation leads to the unraveling of his confidence.  Lacking any hope of resolution, he winds up spending his life in the local dive telling the story of his “fall” to unsuspecting tourists.  Inevitably, and this is his intent, as these victims ponder the fall of one so obviously well put together, they begin to consider their own circumstance.  The self portrait he holds out “becomes a mirror” revealing the secret motives and imperfections of his listener.  The knife cuts deep.  By the time it is over, the bar floor is littered with the tattered shreds of the tourist’s smugness and pride.  Then Clamence departs leaving his victim destroyed and without hope but feeling himself personally triumphant.

The Fall gets it partly right.  Realistic self-evaluation is painful and few embrace it because it leads to a scary precipice of self-destruction.  Camus portrays this dynamic masterfully.  And he shows us how one person’s uncompromising transparency can expose another person to a more exacting version of God’s law.  This is a technique we might do well to employ with those  who seem “to have it all put together.”  Of course our aim is to bring about repentance and redemption through Christ rather than Clamence’s personal destruction.

All this will require us to expose aspects of our character that we might prefer not to expose.  Then again, Christ didn’t enjoy hanging on the cross for hanging’s sake.  There was a greater purpose and being transparent about our failures is part of how we fill up the sufferings of Christ.  Our transparency will help those around us recognize their need.  In the words of Clamence, we might say to the “perfect” people around us, “Search your memory and perhaps you will find some similar story that you’ll tell me later on.”

Rumors are that Camus himself found forgiveness in Christ while on his death bed.  It is impossible to know for sure.  But it is certainly clear that he understood the first part of the journey.

2 thoughts on “A Lesson on Radical Transparency from The Fall by Albert Camus

  1. i love this line: “our transparency will help those around us recognize their need.” i so agree. even with those who seem to have it all together — there’s something unique, refreshing and disarming in this world full of pretense — with authenticity….

    no hidden agendas, no ulterior motives…. listening, loving, caring and giving — those Jesus-like characteristics can reach into the hearts of even those who seem entirely content. oddly enough, it’s because of this that i have a little trouble with this line: “Of course our aim is to bring about repentance and redemption through Christ rather than Clamence’s personal destruction.” this will probably open a healthy discussion, but…isn’t our aim to love and give…relentlessly, anonymously, without reserve? and isn’t it the Spirit’s job to convict drawing people into repentance and redemption?

    i’m not suggesting that God can’t use us to draw people to Himself by recognizing their need for His love and grace (and repentance and redemption), but, almost anytime i resort to any agenda other than following Jesus’ lead in listening to hearts and showing compassion, i end up tripping over myself. i’m thinking my aim should be to be real, non-judgmental, sensitive and open about the Love of My Life. He’s the best at softening and revealing truth.

    all this is to say thanks for opening this great dialogue…it’s so on the money and important to nudge us in the direction of losing our fear about sharing about this amazing relationship we have with Jesus that is changing all of our lives.

    ~steveT

  2. Having just read the book for the first time, and finding it a devastating indictment of my character, I appreciate that you’re covering it here. I think more Christians would do well to read it, because it sheds light on motive. We all need that.

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