Spitting Into the Wind

A few years ago, while touring a Norwegian prison, I witnessed a tragic example of what happens when people ignore the reality of sin. Norwegian officials brag that they employ the most humane and progressive methods of treatment anywhere in the world. The place was full of psychiatrists. So, during my tour, I asked the warden how many of the inmates, all in for severe crimes, were mental cases. "Oh, all of them," she answered. I frowned, puzzled. "What do you mean, ‘all of them’?" I asked. "Well," she answered, "anyone who commits a crime this serious is obviously mentally unbalanced." I realized that I was confronting first-hand a thoroughly Enlightenment mentality: There is no sin; people are basically good. So the only reason someone might do something wrong is that he is mentally ill. The prison officials were determined to "cure" people through behavior modification and all of the other up-to-date psychological techniques. But in the same prison, I met a young woman who proved, with her life, that a worldview that denies the reality of sin is pure folly. The young woman was a corrections officer and a Christian. She thanked me for preaching the Gospel. "Oh, how they need to hear that," she said. She was frustrated because she knew that unless criminals were confronted with their genuine moral culpability, their lives could never be transformed. A few days later, her criticisms were horribly borne out. She escorted a prison inmate out on a short furlough, and on the way home, he overpowered her, raped, and murdered her. To deny the reality of sin is not just unbiblical, but also foolish. In a wonderful booklet called Fashions in Folly, theologian Cornelius Plantinga says biblical wisdom is "the knowledge of God’s world and the knack of fitting oneself into it." To be wise," he says, "is to know reality and then accommodateyourself to it. You go with God’s flow. You tear along the perforated line. You pick no fruit before its time." But folly, he says, "is a stubborn swimming against the stream of the universe" or "spitting into the wind." The foolish person is "out of touch with reality. He misses borders, boundaries, and limits" and "doesn’t notice what happens when people transgress them. Or if he does notice," Plantinga continues, he "foolishly assumes that these consequences will not come to him." For example, despite the fact that thousands of drunk drivers kill and are killed every year, many people persist in drinking and driving, thinking that the accidents will always happen to somebody else. And, Plantinga says, fools miss key elements of reality—like that Norwegian warden, who despite being surrounded by vicious criminals, could still deny the existence of evil. If you want to reacquaint yourself with the concept of sin—especially the link between sin and folly—I urge you to read Plantinga’s booklet, Fashions in Folly: Sin and Character in the 90s. It’s one of the best little booklets I’ve read in years. And the next time you see someone "spitting into the wind," so to speak, help him to understand that denying the reality of sin is the greatest folly of all.


Chuck Colson


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