Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Barabbas establishes the secularism and the limitations of two key passages from the New Testament: Luke 17:21, . . . [T]he kingdom of God is within you; and John 13:34, . . . [L]ove one another.

Lagerkvist posits the need for God as an untenable one that, in its sustained intensity, is its own satisfaction (wanting something so much that one can taste it). The satisfaction must be within the self, not in another world; it is not a satisfaction that nullifies the self. The harelip girl and Sahak die secure within a religious faith that entails abandonment of the self. Barabbas cannot elude his abhorrence of an abandonment of his self. In this he is right, but he is wrong to reject the doctrine of love. The holiness of mutual love is the love of humans for each other. The harelip girl and Sahak err in extending this love to God.

Barabbas and the pentalogy it initiates illustrate a position stated by Lagerkvist in Den knutna näven (1934; The Clenched Fist, 1982). In an apostrophe to Jesus, Lagerkvist says:Your lesson of love is not your own, it is in the human heart. . . . My inner being has never exalted you to some mystical position, and it will never do so. But the love of man for which you became the voice I feel to be the foundation of my being.

In his next four novels, Sibyllan (1956; The Sibyl, 1958), Ahasverus död (1960; The Death of Ahasuerus, 1962), Pilgrim på havet (1962; Pilgrim at Sea, 1964), and Det heliga landet (1964; The Holy Land, 1966), Lagerkvist develops the theme of the existence and untenability of true love and the Holy Land, which are ultimately one and the same, and the unrelenting striving that constitutes the divinity within the human heart and the fulfillment of the human self.