Oscar Wilde’s humor and insight are as amusing and often as astute as his life was a warning – warnings that reverberate in my heart:
No man is rich enough to buy back his past
Experience - the name men give to their mistakes.
A poet, novelist and playwright, Oscar Wilde, in The Portrait of Dorian Gray, portrayed a man whose outward appearance of unchanging youth and beauty shrouded a soul, caught on canvas, so marred by his debauchery it was grotesque and musts need be destroyed when his sins had found him out. I can read neither Oscar Wilde’s life story nor this novel without sorrow. Oscar Wilde’s life cautions me about the pursuit of passion and pleasure in an age that was as complicated as the 21st century, and often winked at decadence while extolling virtue. His legacy shows me a better choice for where to place my hope, for his end was as dreadful as his writing had been successful.
What hope and help were the church – is the church, today? And how helpful am I?
Wilde rightly described how and why we misplace hope. (Jeremiah 17:9; 1 Samuel 16:7) And how and why the church and its flock seem hopeless; he nailed the religionists of his day and ours as well with a description that is apt and biblical.
People fashion their God after their own understanding. They make their God first and worship him afterwards.
Yet, Oscar Wilde sought the blessing of religion and the church when he was dying from cerebral meningitis, disgraced, exiled and impoverished. Wilde was baptized and accepted into the Roman Catholic Church; it was not a deathbed conversion – but one grown from uncommon seed.
The seed was nourished and sustained by a faithful friend. We need such faithful friends. And I need to be such a friend. Yet we mess up – and our message, though muffled sometimes by our own noisy sins, should speak clearly of an unfailing Friend.
And this Oscar Wilde did in a short story, “The Selfish Giant.” Meant to be read aloud to children, the story formed a portrait of what a changed life can look like. And why.
The church today may seem as sore oppressed and oppressive as the late 19th century English one was. And my Christian witness may be as fair a target for satirizing as Gwendolyn or Cecily’s were in “The Importance of Being Ernest.” But Christ, my hope, is as kind, easy to talk to and resolute as Wilde portrayed Him, so even a child might desire a friend like the Lord. And that’s what I want my friends to know.
My life is no longer than my hand! My whole lifetime is but a moment to you. Proud man! Frail as breath! A shadow! And all his busy rushing ends in nothing. He heaps up riches for someone else to spend. And so, Lord, my only hope is in you.
(Ps 39:4-7 TLB)