The late scholar and apologist, C.S. Lewis, had been asked about reaching “modern unbelievers” with the Gospel. Lewis stated:
· I have met…the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin. (God in the Dock, 243)
Lewis thought that this lack of awareness had worsened over the ages:
· The ancient man had approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the [defendant’s] dock. (244)
This role reversal has had a profound effect on evangelism. Lewis lamented that instead of preaching the Good News, we now had to start with the bad news that our hearers are sinners who need a Savior:
· We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy. (244)
Who wants to submit to surgery if he is not convinced that he needs such a radical form of intervention! Lewis was therefore convinced that the awareness of sin and guilt must be quickened, but how:
· If we can awake the conscience of our hearers at all, we must do so in quite different directions [than by pointing to their acknowledged sins]. We must talk of conceit, spite, jealousy, cowardice, meanness, etc. But I am very far from believing that I have found the solution of this problem. (244)
Along with strong preaching to awaken our awareness of sin, we also need a culture that highlights sins. Instead, we have one that mitigates sin and encourages us to suppress thoughts of unworthiness and objective guilt in favor of a positive self-esteem and self-forgiveness. We live in a feel-good culture.
To combat this, we need art forms that bring back the awareness that we are sinners. Actually, we already have this awareness buried within, and it often comes out in unsuspected ways, even in the form of masochism.
We punish or deprive ourselves because we know that we deserve it. We use masochism as a form of relief or atonement. It might even take very ordinary forms, like denying ourselves pleasure to atone for the vague sense that we are not entitled to pleasure.
Benedict XVI wrote about another form of masochism. He noted how Western culture, en masse, has turned against its own Christian heritage:
· This case illustrates a peculiar western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological. It is commendable that the West is trying to be more open, to be more understanding of the values of outsiders, but it has lost all capacity for self-love. All that it sees in its own history is the despicable and the destructive; it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure…Multiculturalism, which is so constantly and passionately promoted, can sometimes amount to an abandonment and denial, a flight from one’s own heritage.
Hence, the Western intellectual establishes his virtue or “manhood” by self-denial, by rejecting his own culture. Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali Muslim turned atheist, shares this insight:
· In certain countries, "left-wing," secular liberals have stimulated my critical thinking and that of other Muslims. But these same liberals in Western politics have the strange habit of blaming themselves for the ills of the world, while seeing the rest of the world as victims. To them, victims are to be pitied, and they lump together all pitiable and suppressed people, such as Muslims, and consider them good people who should be cherished and supported so that they can overcome their disadvantages. The adherents to the gospel of multiculturalism refuse to criticize people whom they see as victims. Some Western critics disapprove of United States policies and attitudes but do not criticize the Islamic world, just as, in the first part of the twentieth century, Western socialist apologists did not dare criticize the Soviet labor camps. Along the same lines, some Western intellectuals criticize Israel, but they will not criticize Palestine because Israel belongs to the West, which they consider fair game, but they feel sorry for the Palestinians, and for the Islamic world in general, which is not as powerful as the West. They are critical of the native white majority in Western countries but not of Islamic minorities. Criticism of the Islamic world, of Palestinians, and of Islamic minorities is regarded as Islamophobia and xenophobia.
Self-castigation is subtly and subconsciously understood as a reasonable payment for self-validation, a necessary defense against shame. It works something like this: “I am a good and worthy person if I champion the interests of others and am willing to criticize my own traditions.”
We seem to have an internal and inescapable script defining what it means to be deserving and worthy. This script demands that we pay for these necessary commodities through various forms of self-sacrifice.
Instead of seeking the forgiveness and reconciliation that can only come from the One who has died for our sins, we seek to establish our righteousness through our own suffering.
This was also Paul’s understanding of Israel:
· Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith [in Christ], but as if it were based on [their own] works. (Romans 9:31-32; ESV)
This is also what Adam and Eve did. Instead of confessing their sin to God, they were determined to cover it themselves. However, fig leaves cannot adequately cover sin and guilt. Why not? Essentially, we were designed for a healing relationship with the Divine. However, we feverishly attempt to neutralize our pain, our awareness that something is not right within, with a variety of substitutes. Although masochism, self-denial, and even good deeds might provide temporary relief, they will never provide the freedom that only our Lord can provide.
Although modern man has suppressed the awareness of their guilt and ultimate punishment, this awareness is always threatening to appear on the stage of our consciousness. Perhaps evangelism can help them see this big picture and awaken an interest in our Savior.