I love Shakespearean tragedies. There’s something about watching a hero’s tragic flaw lead him into a downward spiral to an eventual reversal of fortune resulting in his ultimate demise that captivates me.
Could it be that these tragic heroes and their stories provide insight into the human condition? Perhaps!
Could it be that the tragic flaws of these Shakespearean heroes provide insight into my own proclivities? Probably closer to the mark.
Othello’s jealousy, Romeo’s impetuosity, and Hamlet’s vacillation all lead to their downfall. More so, their character flaws are the basis for their demise. I consistently perceive every one of these character traits (and more) within my own personality. My fascination with tragedy, I believe, is related to my fascination with God’s love story with his people. Humanity is fallen and with that fall came tragic character traits—sins that lead us into depravity and death. When the first Adam sinned, every human being on earth was cursed to live out his or her own personal tragedy. Without the second Adam (aka Jesus Christ), our sins—our own tragic flaws—will lead to and be the cause of our death. This is tragic…this is the story of our lives without a Savior.
Aristotle was the first to identify this concept of a tragic flaw or hamartia leading to a reversal of fortune or peripeteia. Hamlet’s hamartia was his hesitation—his constant vacillation. This eventually led to Hamlet falling into depression, killing the wrong man, sending his lover into insanity and suicide, and eventually killing everyone he loved including himself. Hamlet’s hamartia leads to his peripeteia. The concept of hamartia and peripeteia, however, existed long before Aristotle.
By the time the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, Moses’ hamartia was obvious: He had a temper and lacked confidence. Moses doubted his ability to perform miracles and had lost his temper in the past—even to the point of murdering the Egyptian slave master. Moses’ temper led to his own exile and his lack of confidence led to self-doubt and leadership problems.
Numbers 20 illustrates Moses’ peripeteia. Moses faced a complete reversal of fortune when he struck the rock two times out of anger and frustration instead of trusting in God and God’s holiness as well as his abilities to carry out God’s commands with efficiency. Moses took focus away from God by striking the rock and deemphasized the magnitude of the miracle. Drawing forth water from a rock through speech is far more impressive than drawing forth water from a rock through impact. Striking a rock could remove that rock from blocking a natural spring—not that impressive. Drawing water from a rock by speaking to it—much more impressive. God does not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land, which was Moses’ entire reason to live—it was his divine calling. Moses’ tragic flaws—his temper and lack of self-confidence—led to devastation.
Moses’ downfall—while drawing water from a rock—illustrates the need we all have (even a powerful man of God like Moses) for the true Rock and Living Water. The Savior of the world is a necessary component in our life in order to prevent the peripeteia that would eventually occur if we continue down our old tragic pathway. Our hamartia is destructive; it leads to death. There’s only one way to stop its inevitability, and that’s faith in our Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus prevents peripeteia and provides us instead with soteria, or in English—salvation.
What is your hamartia? Will it ultimately lead to a reversal of fortune…a tragic turn of events in your life? Without Christ, we are all tragic heroes. We all possess a hamartia. If we continue on a path where we—as Moses did—don’t trust in God’s deliverance, we will meet our peripeteia. As Scripture effectively points out:
“Our hamartia will definitely lead to our demise, but if we trust in Jesus we can avoid our peripeteia and receive our soteria.”
Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he. Zacchaeus wasn’t just small in stature, he was small in character. He stole from his own people to fill his pockets. He was a thief, a villain, and a traitor. Greed was Zacchaeus’s hamartia and he was on a path to darkness. When Zaachaeus encountered Jesus of Nazareth, he recognized in Jesus a solution to his problem—an escape from the downward spiral through which his tragic flaw was dragging him. Repenting, putting his faith in Jesus, paying everyone back, and giving half of his possessions to the poor provided Zacchaeus with an out—Zacchaeus would not meet his peripeteia. Jesus assured Zacchaeus of this fact saying, “Today soteria has come to this house” (Luke 19:1-9).
We know where our hamartia leads if we leave it unchecked. We need to let it go and call forth the true Living Water into our lives. If we do this, then today, soteria will come to our house as well.