“That we may have the haunting thought we are only playing at being a sinner, I suspect, involves the more general worry that, in the world in which we now find ourselves, we are not at all sure if we know what it means to be a Christian. I suspect we are not even sure we know what being a Christian looks like. Surely, to be a Christian means more than being a nice person that believes stuff about God. There is, after all, the Sermon on the Mount. But then that is one of the problems: we cannot imagine living out the demands of the Sermon. But because we cannot imagine living the type of lives the Sermon seems to envisage, we cannot help but fear that we are only playing at being Christian.
Something seems to have gone decisively wrong with our attempt to be a repentant people. I think the problem is quite simple. The reason we find it hard to avoid a sense that we are playing at being sinful during Lent is itself a manifestation of our sinfulness. No sin is more basic than the presumption, a presumption schooled by our pride, that we can know on our own what it means to say that we are sinners. Too often, I fear, our attempt to examine ourselves to discover our sins turns out to be an invitation to narcissism.
We do not come to Jesus because our sins need to be forgiven. Rather, we know we need to be forgiven, because Jesus has come to us as the one alone capable of revealing who we are without that knowledge destroying us. Never forget that every Palm Sunday we shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!””1
This is the sixteenth in a series of posts highlighting captivating, provocative, or simply entertaining quotes from the forthcoming book Minding the Web: Making Theological Connections by Stanley Hauerwas edited by Robert J. Dean (Cascade).
- Stanley Hauerwas, “Repentance: A Lenten Meditation,” in Minding the Web: Making Theological Connections, edited by Robert J. Dean (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2018), 212. ↩