In The Sickness unto Death, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard describes the way sin blinds our self-awareness with a parable about a peasant who once received enough money to buy shoes and stockings and had enough left over to get drunk. On his way home, he passed out in the road. A carriage came along, and the driver told him to move or he would drive over his legs. The peasant woke, looked down at his legs, and did not recognize them because of the shoes and stockings. “Go ahead,” he said. “They aren’t my legs.”
Kierkegaard writes, “In the life of the spirit there is no standing still; if a person does not do what is right the very second he knows it is the right thing to do . . . the ‘knowing’ becomes more and more obscured.” I rationalize my behavior. I deny my intention. I “forget” the wrongs I’ve committed but memorize the wrongs I’ve received. How often in the news when people are caught in deceit or violence do they say, “That’s not who I am”? But it is who I am. I have just convinced myself otherwise.
We do not recognize our own character. We do not see our own faults. We do not know our own souls.
“Go ahead. They aren’t my legs.”
As we have seen, our greatest need is not to be saved from what might happen to us but to be saved from what might happen in us; not from where we might end up but from who we might become.
Kierkegaard writes that sin is not simply breaking religious rules that we’d be better off without. It is not just doing wrong things but becoming the wrong person. Sin is “in despair not wanting to be oneself before God.” That’s why he says the opposite of sin is not virtue. I may try to cultivate virtue on my own and still be in charge of my own life. The opposite of sin is faith: to be grounded transparently in God.
God, in turn, doesn’t hate sin because he’s anti-pleasure. He invented pleasure. He hates sin because it promises so much and offers so little. Dr. Vincent Felitti wrote a remarkably profound explanation for the power of addiction: “It is hard to get enough of something that almost works.”
What we call addiction the Bible calls an idol. Alcohol almost works—until it doesn’t. The same for success. Or money. Or comfort. Or any of the other glittering things we want to put on our bucket lists that still go by the old name of idols.
And so the journey to God leads through a process called purgation.
Ortberg, John. 2018. Eternity Is Now in Session: A Radical Rediscovery of What Jesus Really Taught about Salvation, Eternity, and Getting to the Good Place. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum.