Saturday, February 4, 2012

Oscar Wilde, Dorian Gray, and John Owen on Sin

From Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray we read,

Basil would have helped him resist Lord Henry's influence, and the still more poisonous influences that came from his own temperament.
For those of you unfamiliar with this story, here is a quick summary:
The novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian's beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil's, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry's world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfillment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian (whimsically) expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than he. Dorian's wish is fulfilled, plunging him into debauched acts. The portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging.

The quote above is an indication of Dorian's recognition that his friend and artist Basil was certainly a better influence than was the despicable Lord Henry. However, this line intrigued me for a different reason. I was interested in the fact that Wilde, through his character Dorian, realized that the "more poisonous influences" do not come from outside of us but instead are generated within us.

I think this is exactly right. We often want to blame external things for our sins: "This person's actions caused me to sin"; "I wouldn't have acted in such an inappropriate manner if this didn't happen to me first"; or "I'm the way I am because of my parents".

When it comes to sin, we so often want to play the victim.

However, the Bible directs our hypocritical gaze in another direction. James 1:14-15 is as follows, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."(James 1:14-15 ESV)

The Bible says the desire, or in Wilde's words the "evil influence", to sin is our own. It does not come from without but from within. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick".

The remedy for sin is not a finger-pointing, blame-directing attributing of culpability to something outside of ourselves. This will never free us. We need to realize that sin dwells within us. But the remedy cannot be found with this recognition alone.

John Owen, in his classic The Mortification of Sin in Believers, directs us well:
Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and thou wilt die a conqueror; yea, thou wilt, through the good providence of God, live to see thy lust dead at thy feet.

No comments:

Post a Comment