The universe of Oedipus is a riddle, a blind old prophet taunting him with his empty eyes. He cannot escape the fates; destiny pulls him under like a tsunami undertow, all his struggles are in vain. Is Oedipus’s fate the result of a conspiracy? Hardly. Chance consults with no advisors. Destiny keeps no council.
According to the utterance of the faceless oracle, Oedipus is promised a future of pain and suffering: after murdering his own father, he will marry his mother and bring disaster to his entire house. But of course, the very attempts to avoid destiny are the steps leading directly into it. Oedipus flees with his eyes open into the darkness that Tereisias sees with the light of no day. And thus as Oedipus comes to ‘see’ the truth that he has already fulfilled the prophecy, his body fills with darkness, and in anger and remorse he blinds himself, joining Tereisias in the ‘light’ of hopeless knowledge, calloused and hardened.
The answer to the riddle of the Sphinx was both the salvation and the destruction of Thebes. While freeing the city from the tyranny of the Sphinx, it simultaneously delivered Oedipus up to his fate. As a result of the acclaim he receives through delivering the city, Oedipus is offered the kingdom and the hand of Queen Jocasta (his mother) in marriage. The riddle is famous: What crawls on four legs in the morning, two at midday, and three in the evening? The answer in general is man, but in the story of Oedipus, it is Oedipus himself. Oedipus is the child flung to a mountainside by his parents seeking to brace themselves against the words of the oracle. Oedipus is the king who stands on two legs at midday ruling the people of Thebes, and it is Oedipus who struggles, leaning on a staff, blind and weary through deserted places waiting for death in the twilight of his life. Oedipus’s life is the riddle of the sphinx. Life is a riddle, a blind riddle, one damn thing after another pulling him under.
To this the Christian gospel proclaims salvation. And in particular we proclaim the gospel of answers. This is not to say that the Christian faith claims to have all the answers: Far from it. Nevertheless we do claim that we serve the One who does. And we serve a God that listens to His people, a God that answers the prayers of His people. We do not serve faceless chance or blind fate; we serve the Triune God who is a community of persons. He, in a mystery far beyond our reckoning, has decreed the end from the beginning, every last detail through the spinning galaxies of time and space, and if that were not enough, He has invited us into the story and invited us to take part in the telling of the story. The Christian faith declares that in Jesus Christ, men, women and children are invited into the presence of the God who created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. We are not only invited into that presence, we are invited into that presence in order to speak. Our words, our hopes, dreams, and goals, our thoughts and opinions are asked of us. Wonder of all wonders, the Triune God cares what we might think or want.
Oedipus struggles against a blind force, but the Christian gospel tells the story of an exhaustively sovereign God who invites His people into His councils. He delights to hear us, and He listens to us. God declares the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham speaks and God amends His intentions. God declares the destruction of Israel, and Moses intercedes for them and God relents from the woe He had promised. God promises the destruction of Ninevah, and when the city repents in sackcloth and ashes, God relents, even in the face of Jonah’s protestations. And at the climax of all human history God poured out his eternal wrath against sin, the horrible justice due to our filthy deeds. But Jesus the Messiah stood in our place, and God relented.
God may say no; He may say yes, but the point is that we serve a personal God, a God we can actually appeal to, a God who answers. Fate speaks, destiny beckons and all of the scrapings of Oedipus are like sand in the wind. But YHVH speaks, YHVH beckons and the prayer of the righteous man avails much.