PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Dorian Gray: Portrait of A New Creation?”. By: Ron Woodrum
In his book, Death In The City, Francis Schaeffer, in 1969, saw with an accurate prophetic eye, what we are living out today. He begins his book with these words-“We live in a post-Christian world!” He details the enormity of what this means, and then says, “Do not take this lightly! It is a horrible thing for a man like myself to look back and see my country and my culture go down the drain in my own lifetime”. He declared the West was in the process of abandoning its spiritual heritage and is now wallowing in sin, immorality, and apostasy. (I would love to hear his opinion of where we are today). He continued, “The only perspective we can have of the post-Christian world or our generation: an understanding that our culture and our country is under the wrath of God. This is serious business. Do you think a country can throw away its Christian base and remain as it has been? Jeremiah would say, ‘you should be crying!’ “ Ravi Zacharias has picked up the mantle of Schaeffer, and in his book Deliver Us From Evil, warns of the same calamity, and tries to show us how to recover from this Evangelical disaster, though he is not optimistic that it will happen. In that book Ravi names one of the popular influences that contributed to the collapse of the Christian moral point of view. It is the book by Oscar Wilde titled The Picture of Dorian Gray. The book was written in 1890, but it still having a detrimental effect upon our culture. Zacharias says, “If there is an image that mirrors the mind of the West today, it is strikingly reflected in… The Picture Of Dorian Gray“. This familiar story describes an exceptionally handsome young man so physically captivating that he drew persistent and awe-stricken adulation of a great artist. The artist talks him into being the subject of a portrait, saying he had never seen a face more attractive and pure. When the picture is done and presented to young Dorian, he is so fixated and enraptured with his own looks that he expresses the longing to live any way he pleases, utterly abandoned to any passions and desires, without restraint, and without consequences! Any disfigurement from such a dissolute life, he wished would mar only the picture, leaving his pristine face unblemished! Like Faust of old, Dorian gets his wish granted. He launches off into a life of uncontrolled wickedness. The details of the novel shocked the Victorian culture of the 1890s both in England and France! He plumbed the depths of sin and wickedness, sensuality and even murder! All his vices left his physical appearance completely untainted. One day, he encounters that portrait he had hidden away, only to discover it bore the horror and scars of a life scandalously lived! Being afraid that someone else might see the portrait, and discover his hidden life, he buried it among goods he kept in the attic. But one day, his artist friend discovers it. Overcome with grief the artist confronts Dorian and implores him to turn from his wasteful life and seek God’s forgiveness! The artist tells him, somewhere it says, “Come let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Though they be red like crimson, they shall be white like wool.” In a fit of rage Dorian grabs a knife and kills the artist, silencing his convicting voice! The story reaches an emotional climax when, Dorian, no longer able to stand the indictment of the picture, reaches for the knife once more to destroy the portrait and remove the only visible reminder of his wicked life! The moment he thrust the knife blade into the canvas the portrait returns, miraculously, to its pristine beauty, and Dorian Gray himself lay stabbed to death on the floor. The ravages that marred the picture now disfigured his own countenance that he was unrecognizable to the servants who heard the scream of death and came rushing in to help!
The power of this book lies in the question: Can an individual or society live with complete disregard for the moral and spiritual laws that God has placed within His creation without paying the ultimate price? Can the soul of a people abandon God’s laws without paying a high price? As much as we may wish we can abandon all restraints, and go our own willful and sinful ways, calling black white and white black, there is still a high price to pay. There is a high cost to low living, our generation has even rejected the message of Oscar Wilde in this book, and lived more according to the life Wilde lived early on. Wilde is famous for advocating living however one wants to live. He said, “nothing succeeds like excess”, and “nothing is good or bad, only charming or dull”. He said, “I can resist anything…but temptation!” That kind of life left him dead at the age of 46, dying ten years after his masterpiece! What most people do not know is that Oscar Wilde, before he died, is said to have repented of his wicked ways, sought to join the Church, and was refused because of his famous wicked past! He is quoted as saying, “Ah! Happy day they whose hearts can break, and peace of pardon win! How else may man make straight his plan, and cleanse his soul from Sin? How else but through a broken heart may the Lord Christ enter in?” His prayer? “Come down, O Christ, and save me, reach thy hand down for I am drowning in a stormier sea than Simon on thy lake of Galilee”. He had made several trips to the Holy Land and was amazed at the accuracy of the Gospel stories and their accuracy concerning Christ. In one of his children’s books he tells the story of a giant whose life becomes only winter. One day a child comes and invites him to come to a garden of paradise that is Spring returned. When the giant questions who this child is, he discovers this is a child who has nail scars in his hands…and those scars are the price paid to enable the return of Spring and Paradise. Oscar Wilde wanted to write a fifth Gospel story to elaborate on the truth of that message. He never lived long enough to write that book. Maybe the miraculous restoration of the picture of Dorian Gray was parable of the picture of one Oscar Wilde finding restoration in becoming renewed in Christ? God only knows. Ephesians 2:8-9 says “We are saved by grace, through faith, it is the gift of God, not of ourselves lest any man should boast.” We seldom read Ephesians 2:10. It says, “for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. The word “workmanship” is the word “poema”. It means “masterpiece”. Our saved, redeemed, restored souls and lives are God’s eternal artwork and masterpiece. When we see our own portrait, and that of our society marred by unbridled sin and wickedness, bearing the high price of low living…the only hope for our generation is a new portrait, one bearing the marks of our Savior’s transforming touch. The Portrait of a New Creation! Let the new painting begin! Our world desperately needs His artistic touch! We all need to be transformed by the Love of God, from the God of Love. What a Loving Portrait He makes of us!