In the book The General in His Labyrinth, Gabriel Garcia Marquez states that the last words of Latin American revolutionary Simon Bolivar were “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?” Poignant words indeed. The world can often seem like a maze turning inward on itself with its endless paths and options never seeming like they lead anywhere important. Sometimes it seems like there is not a solution to life.
But in his (wonderful) book Looking for Alaska, John Green poses an alternate definition to the labyrinth through his character Alaska Young. The labyrinth is not life, nor is it the afterlife as others have conjectured. Rather, the labyrinth represents suffering, the pain caused by and given to others. Life itself may be the time we spend in the labyrinth, seeking the way out. So Bolivar’s words, “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?” become even more meaningful when you consider that context. The struggle then is not living life in a straight line, but to rid ourselves of the complications of suffering in order to live up to the potential of our beings.
Green’s character Pudge attempts to solve this problem in a gut-wrenchingly honest essay.His answer comes down to forgiveness being the way out of the labyrinth, and I think he’s right. The labyrinth walls begin to feel higher, the turns more twisted, the way out even more unclear, the more weight we carry with us in the maze. There are the grudges we hold without any desire to redeem a broken relationship. There are the wounds that we leave on others, the remorse of which adds to the load. Most tellingly, there are the things we’ve done that nobody has noticed but us. Those unconfessed deeds that haunt and define our existence. All of these things are the suffering that leads us into the labyrinth.
The way out, obviously is to seek to reconcile with one another. At camp last week we spoke much of grace, an important topic to be sure. The grace offered to us by God is freeing! It overcomes our presumed inadequacies to give us self worth and the ability to know that we are not held back by what we’ve done. But as my friend Gerard once told me, “How can we truly say we love God when we cannot forgive our brother?” So many Christians, and I know that I’ve been guilty of this, claim the grace of God for themselves and embrace that love but fail to show mercy to others. One of my favorite passages from Scripture is 1 John 4:19: “We love because He first loved us.” Part of what I believe with all my heart is that Christ represents the fullness of love and redemption. Because of that, I share what I have found with others. Christ forgave, so I see my failure to do so as a hindrance.
The only way to find our way out of the labyrinth is to forgive and to seek forgiveness. It becomes easy to see the exit when we can cast off the burdens that we’ve brought in. Freed from that weight, we can stand up and finally see over the walls.