We have met the enemy, and he is us

26 08 2010

I recently came across the following quote from actor Lee Marvin, about a moment of realisation he experienced, as he rewatched one of his films:

‘I found it very unpleasant recently when I saw a film of mine called Point Blank, which was a violent film. I remember; we made it for the violence. I was shocked at how violent it was. Of course, that was ten, fifteen, eighteen years ago. When i saw the film I literally almost could not stand up, I was so weak. I did that? I am capable of that kind of violence? See, there is the fright; and this is why I think guys back off eventually. They say, “No, I’m not going to put myself to those demons again.” The demon being the self.’ (Lee Marvin, quoted in Carson, How Long, O Lord?, p41)

It is a powerful statement of that moment of stomach wrenching revelation, when one realises, perhaps for the first time, the depth of their depravity. I am worse than I ever imagined. Or as the oft-quoted aphorism puts it: ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us.

In Acts 2, Peter explains to the crowds how their actions led to the rejection and execution of Jesus (v22-23). There is suddenly a moment of revelation in the listeners – ‘I did that?’ You can well imagine them, like Marvin, weak and barely able to stand as the truth of their wickedness hit home.

The language Peter uses is strong. They were ‘cut to the heart’ (v37). Witherington notes that the verb κατενυγησαν appears only here in the NT, though in the LXX its meaning ranges from ‘remorseful’ (Gen 27:38) to ‘anger’ (Gen 34:7) to ‘stung’ (Sir 12:12) to ‘humbled’ (Ps 108:16) to ‘struck silent’ (Lev 10:3). (Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles, p153)

I wonder how many of us became acutely aware of the depth of our depravity in such close proximity to our conversion? I’m not sure I would use many of those terms to describe the moment I responded to the Gospel: humbled, angry, remorseful, stung and struck silent. Cut to the heart. To be honest, I think I would have used far more pedestrian, sanitised, cuddly terminology – I felt curious, up for trying something new, like my life could be marginally improved. I genuinely believed, but only in time did I come to realise the true nature of what I had been rescued from and to.

I do long to see more people have Acts 2, Lee Marvin experiences at the outset of their Christian life. But I’m also comfortable that many will come to Jesus initially not with fear and trembling, but because they are weary, heavy laden and want to swap their heavy yoke for a lighter model (Matthew 11:28-30). All are valid ‘entry points’ to the gospel. But note, even the weary and heavy laden need to have an accurate understanding of their frailty before they can come to Jesus to redeem their impoverished state.

Michael Green comments:

Not everybody comes to Christ through a bad conscience. There are many gateways into Christ. But I do mean that whenever anyone comes face to face with Jesus, he is driven to the conviction that he is unworthy, and that Jesus is supremely worthy. One of the surest signs of an authentic conversion is a conscience that has become sensitised.’ (Michael Green, Thirty Years that Changed the World, p76)

Unless at some point in our early Christian life, preferably sooner rather than later, we come to a stark realisation of our depravity outside of Christ, we will lack both an impetus to pursue holiness and a genuine foundation for a life of constant gratitude. It is only when you realise your complicity in the death of Jesus, on account of your sin that you will truly be able to appreciate that ‘you are weaker and more sinful than you ever before believed, but, through Jesus, you am more loved and accepted than you ever dared hope.’ (Tim Keller)

In his talk at Mobilise last year, Andrew Wilson spoke of this brilliant moment in a sketch by Mitchell and Webb (Particularly up to 00:52). Watch it, chuckle, reflect, and allow yourself to be ‘cut to the heart’…

Related Post: D.A. Carson – Pastoral Pensées




One response

27 08 2010
Anna Seabrook

This is so interesting Liam, thanks for sharing it. I remember at uni a friend coming with me to a Christian event cos I needed the support at the time and he was blown away by the Holy Spirit present – in his interpretation it was ‘the atmosphere’ but the Spirit was so tangible in that room. He’s still a close friend we were talking about it the other day and he said “It’s like politics, you assume Christians want you to join because you want everyone to agree with you and say you’re right but actually there are some instances where you can’t see anything but people who just want more out of life than what we’re told we will have and have found something real. It was such an unbelieveable, safe atmosphere and I didn’t understand what was going on but no-one forced me or told me to do anything but I got to see why you believe this despite it not being easy.”

As Christians we bandy about the phrase ‘alternative choice’ as a way of saying “being in the world but not of it” but actually looking at Jesus’ teachings we should be saying “THE choice” and unafraid to acknowledge that, to use a computer term, we were programmed to have a relationship with God and some of us need to return to our original settings! (I’m on a computer course at the moment, apologies for the poor analogy). That realisation of our past sins and what the world passes for ‘getting the most out of life” being sometimes horrific is gut wrenching as you describe and I only pray that more people have the humility and self awareness like Lee Marvin to acknowledge in themselves a capacity for sin and a desire to change, even if we can’t change the past. I also think you should watch ‘Paint Your Wagon’ to hear him singing the lowest note ever commited to celluloid!

Anna 🙂

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