The unraveling of Shylock's life in The Merchant of Venice is as painful a story denouement as has ever been depicted. It is the account of the removal, one at a time, in rapid succession, of everything Shylock held fast to for life.
He leaves home one evening with his daughter, his ducats, and his dignity intact. He returns to find his daughter has eloped-to the enemy's side. More, she has absconded with his ducats as a dowry. Reeling and staggering, he cannot take in the enormity of his misfortune: from wealth to woe in 24 hours. "Oh my ducats, my daughter. My ducats, my daughter," he moans like a man concussed.
What he has left in the world is his vengeance, which he nurses and cherishes like a beloved pet lizard. But lo, another striptease of soul awaits him before the Duke of Venice. The hellish pleasure that remains to vindictive Shylock is extracting his pound of flesh, yet he loses his legal case and in final ignominy has the tables turned so that he himself becomes the groveling debtor to his nemesis.
Shakespeare does not explicitly say so at this point-it is not necessary-but Shylock will die shortly hereafter, either by his own hand or by the simple inability of his heart to beat.
Call me Shylock. I write as one freshly dismantled. Again. Thought I had my house set on the Rock this time 100 percent. Maybe it was only 50 or 60. Was cruising, gaining altitude, some self-styled Amelia Earhart in a Lockheed Vega, not noticing that the coordinates had drifted. God is in the business of bringing one's trusts to light, of pulling rugs of our own making from under our feet.
It's all good. The alternative is the houses C.S. Lewis described in The Great Divorce, which our protagonist finds himself discussing on a rainy evening that never advances to night. He meets the Intelligent Man, who says: "The trouble is they have no Needs. You get everything you want (not very good quality, of course) by just imagining it." (The Intelligent Man is a capitalist and sees a chance to introduce some real commodities and cash in.)
"But look here," asks the bewildered newcomer, "if they can get everything just by imagining it, why would they want any real things, as you call them?" "Eh? Oh well, they'd like houses that really kept out the rain." "Their present houses don't?" "Well of course not. How could they?" "What the devil is the use of building them, then?" "Safety again," the I.M. mutters. "At least the feeling of safety. It's all right now; but later on . . . you understand." "What?" asks the protagonist. The I.M. leans and whispers: "It will be dark presently."
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, said, "People won't come to Christ unless they have nothing-and most people don't have that." Amen. I myself have never come to Christ when I had something-never mind that the somethings have been imaginary houses and imaginary assets. As C.S. Lewis says, "There is always something they prefer to joy-that is, to reality."
Given half a chance, would I not, even now, revert like Faust to every life prop but Jesus, though I knew it to be choosing unreality? The question is moot. He does not allow. He sends the storm and exposes-yea, demolishes-my building materials. Nothing now remains but Christ, no good but Him, no possession but Him, no confidence but Him. I choose Him by default-and incredibly He accepts that. Thou meekest divine suitor of my soul, You take me back again.
I am not Shylock after all. I am a daughter of the King and He has set His love on me. You will catch me in Your everlasting arms as I embrace the freefall of a perfect trust in You. When will I learn to trust You more? The night comes on, when those who build on emptiness will groan. C.S. Lewis: "Overcome us that, so overcome, we may be ourselves: We desire the beginning of Your reign as we desire dawn and dew, wetness at the birth of light."