For Ash Wednesday and Lent I have been reading a book by the president of Calvin Theological Seminary, Cornelius Plantinga. It is entitled, Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. It is a tour de force on the nature of sin in biblical, and contemporary terms. His preface states his purpose:
“My goal, …is to renew the knowledge of a persistent reality that used to evoke in us fear, hatred, and grief. Many of us have lost this knowledge, and we ought to regret the loss. For slippage in our consciousness of sin, like most fashionable follies, may be pleasant, but it is also devastating. Self-deception about our sin is a narcotic, a tranquilizing and disorienting suppression of our spiritual central nervous system.” (p.xiii)
These words jump out at me: “Self-deception about our sin is a narcotic, a tranquilizing and disorienting suppression of our spiritual central nervous system.” Because of our self-deception, our lack of consciousness of our sins, we become tone deaf to God and his grace.
Scott Peck in The People of the Lie, wrote that the heart of sin is the persistent refusal to tolerate a sense of sin, to take responsibility for one’s sin, to live with the sorrowful knowledge of it and to pursue the painful way of repentance. That is why most people, when asked about themselves, will protest they are good people, deserving of God’s grace, and therefore, if they were honest, not really in need of a Savior.
Plantinga maintains that “…each of us possesses one last defense against the knowledge of sin – a defense so strong, supple, mysterious, and private that even veteran sinners cannot track its ways.
Self-deception is a shadowy phenomenon by which we pull the wool over some part of our own psyche. We put a move on ourselves. We deny, suppress, or minimize what we know to be true. …
A moment’s reflection reminds us that self-deception has long been a growth industry. Why do alcoholics and other drug users typically go through years of self-denial? Why is the revelation of incest an astonishment to people who are living right in the middle of it?…Why do battering husbands offer minimizing and euphemistic accounts of the beatings they administer, and why do battered wives sometimes accept and repeat those accounts?” ( pp.105,107)
This is why we have Lent. It is a time of self-examination and repentance, when we take responsibility for our sins. Kierkegaard wrote that “The consciousness of sin is the essential condition for understanding Christianity. This is the very proof of Christianity’s being the highest religion. No other religion has given such a profound and lofty expression of our significance – that we are sinners.”
There is a temptation to run too quickly to the promise of forgiveness through Jesus’ purification for our sins on the Cross, and to avoid consciousness of sin and our need for self-examination and repentance. The season of Lent gives us that time, so that we can see ourselves for what we truly are, and not be deceived. Only then can the redeeming work of the Savior have merit and meaning.