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philosophy, theology

winter light

Let me share a scene from another Ingmar Bergman film, Nattvardsgästerna [Winter Light]. As any great existentialist piece, this is a meditation on suffering/death and the fact that we’re all f-ed up. Pastor Ericcson has lost his wife several years ago, and at the same time lost himself. He struggles with his faith, feeling that all the Christian symbols around him are meaningless. That this world full of suffering may actually make more sense if God did not exist. He is now currently with a women that is an atheist, but as this clip shows, she is given in love to the pastor.

An inevitable conclusion to the evil and suffering of this world is that God is silent. When one experiences the silence of God, we are left with the choice of hope or despair. Bergman shows us these choices in his film. The fisherman, Jonas Persson, is given to despair and commits suicide after Pastor Ericcson reveals to him that he doubts the existence of God. The other path of hope which leads to faith is shown in a much more complex manner. The first is a pseudo-humanist faith in love. This is Pastor Ericcson’s mistress, Märta Lundberg, response as is shown in the letter that she writes him in the scene below:

The second path is shown in the hunchbacked sexton, Algot Frövik. Here follows a conversation he has with Pastor Ericcson in the final minutes of the film:

Algot Frövik, Sexton: The passion of Christ, his suffering… Wouldn’t you say the focus on his suffering is all wrong?
Tomas Ericsson, Pastor: What do you mean?
Algot Frövik, Sexton: This emphasis on physical pain. It couldn’t have been all that bad. It may sound presumptuous of me – but in my humble way, I’ve suffered as much physical pain as Jesus. And his torments were rather brief. Lasting some four hours, I gather? I feel that he was tormented far worse on an other level. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. But just think of Gethsemane, Vicar. Christ’s disciples fell asleep. They hadn’t understood the meaning of the last supper, or anything. And when the servants of the law appeared, they ran away. And Peter denied him. Christ had known his disciples for three years. They’d lived together day in and day out – but they never grasped what he meant. They abandoned him, to the last man. And he was left alone. That must have been painful. Realizing that no one understands. To be abandoned when you need someone to rely on – that must be excruciatingly painful. But the worse was yet to come. When Jesus was nailed to the cross – and hung there in torment – he cried out – “God, my God!” “Why hast thou forsaken me?” He cried out as loud as he could. He thought that his heavenly father had abandoned him. He believed everything he’d ever preached was a lie. The moments before he died, Christ was seized by doubt. Surely that must have been his greatest hardship? God’s silence.
Tomas Ericsson, Pastor: Yes..

Bergman may be asking the question, what is the difference between faith in love and faith in God? Pastor Ericcson struggles between despair, atheism [but without the ability to love like Märta], and faith in Christ. Bergman ends the film hopeful, not that the struggle will end, but with the possibility that the silent God is still there. Pastor Ericcson stands before an empty church to begin the liturgy: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory.”


About david b. clark

a husband and father || a student of philosophy, theology, history, literature, music, art, computer science


3 thoughts on “winter light

  1. Are you sure that she is an atheist?

    Also: Thank you for this post. It is hauntingly familiar and powerful.

    Posted by Kris Anne | 23 May, 2008, 10:22 pm
  2. In an earlier dialogue, Märta asks Ericcson what is troubling him. He says, “God’s silence.” She replies, “Poor Tomas. . . God has never spoken and never will speak because he does not exist. It’s as simple as that.”

    Posted by david clark | 23 May, 2008, 10:49 pm
  3. You don’t think she meant, “exist” as the troubling word? …I’m just teasing. I do vaguely recall trying to unpack the word “exist” in my Christian Beliefs class.

    It just seemed from this clip that she clearly prayed and clearly had heard answers to that prayer. But, perhaps I was not paying close enough attention.

    Posted by Kris Anne | 24 May, 2008, 5:37 pm

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