Pastor Robin’s sermon last Sunday briefly touched on a quote about guilt from a book written by Andrew Delbanco, a professor at Cambridge University, called The Real American Dream. The book is sort of a spiritual history on the national consciousness of Americans in their search for meaning beyond their physical human experience and is divided into three parts of God, Nation, and Self. He tells of how from the founding of our country to the 19th century, God was the central theme who influenced our language and culture and it was our hope in God that sustained us “from the melancholy that threatens all reflective beings.”
According to him, somewhere around the Civil War the role of God was replaced by the Nation-State, but now both those ideals have become weak and impoverished, leaving us nothing but Self with which to satisfy our longing for transcendence. He tells of the loss of guilt, and quotes an excerpt from Walker Percy’s novel, Love in the Ruins, wherein a man named Tom tells his psychoanalyst about his concern, or guilt, about NOT feeling guilty over a sexual peccadillo he had engaged in. Delbanco says that Tom: “Fears… that he is lost to God. The guilt he no longer feels had been his last reassurance that there exists something in the world that transcends himself.”
On Sunday Pastor noted that :” Delbanco says that people are pessimistic and hopeless because they live in a life where guilt is non existent. When you have no reason for guilt, you are saying that there is nothing further than you. Nothing transcends you. You are the ultimate authority. You are God.” It is interesting that a secular guy like Delbanco would arrive at this conclusion when that is exactly what Satan promised Eve if she would partake of the fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that she would become like God. It seems to me then that America has become a nation of little gods, going about our physical lives guilt free because we have determined that good and evil is relative to whether something causes pleasure or pain to self– the center of our universe.
What Mr. Delbanco does not understand is that self is not a relatively new basis for us as individuals, or our national consciousness, instead it has been around for a long time, ever since Adam and Eve undertook the responsibility to determine what is good and evil, or right and wrong. Jesus Christ came along preaching a simple message of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and said that if we wanted to follow Him, we had to deny our self and take up our cross. Instead of following those instructions, people set up religious systems that tell us the do’s and don’ts, the what and how, but very little emphasis is put on denial of self.
In my last post about the fake artist, I castigated the Christian church leaders for selling cheap imitations of the gospel of the Kingdom because they base Biblical truths on human reasoning. The leaders themselves are carnal minded, have not died to self, and want to have all the promises and rewards of living in the Kingdom, without ever going through the straight gate and narrow path that leads to life everlasting. They are just like the lawyers that Jesus told in Luke 11:52 “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.” Small wonder then that American congregations are dwindling and our national search for transcendence has abandoned God as relevant. They are tired of buying fake spiritual paintings that have a form of godliness but no power.
For something to be a fake, somewhere there has to be the genuine article, and it is no different with the Gospel. There really is the key to knowledge that opens up scripture to become a reality. The Apostle Paul explains the concept in Rom. 6-8, where he talks about being dead to sin, but alive to God through Christ Jesus. He talks of being Spiritually minded and living according to the Holy Spirit, instead of allowing the old fallen human nature we were born with to be in control. That is easy to say, but I have discovered it is not an easy thing to do.
In fact, it cannot be done without a complete and total surrender to God and His Kingdom. Just like Jesus said, we have to deny our self, not once, but as often as the old nature tries to take back control, which is why we carry our cross with us. The missing key is dying to self and walking down that path so narrow that self cannot make the trip. Unless Mr. Delbanco becomes Spiritually minded, he will never understand that transcendence is only possible when self is absent.