In Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, a man has his portrait painted. When it is finished, the vain Dorian Gray laments: “How sad! I shall grow old and horrible, but this picture never will be older. If only it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! I would give my soul for that!”
Dorian Gray got his wish. The portrait became a mirror of his soul, which showed every sign of evil and aging. He locked it away to prevent the world from seeing the truth about him and deceived others with an outward appearance of a man who was young, upright, and handsome. The contrast between the loathsome, evil, and wrinkled visage on the canvas and his exquisite outward appearance grew more and more stark every day. Gray becomes haunted by the painting as he realizes it reflects the reality of his corrupt soul and the wicked deeds he has done. At the end of the story, he takes the knife with which he killed a former friend and repeatedly stabs the portrait. Yet rather than erase evidence and reminders of his guilt, this act destroys Dorian Gray’s soul and he falls dead.
Oscar Wilde’s fascinating story provides an interesting contrast to what the Bible teaches. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).” In other words, Paul says, unlike Dorian Gray, our bodies are growing older, becoming weaker, and deteriorating. This is true for all of us over thirty years old, since we are now past our biological prime. As Christians, however, “our inner person,” our soul, is being renewed and remains healthy and fresh. In fact, as we grow closer to the Lord, our soul actually grows stronger as our character becomes more like that of Jesus. Through eyes of faith, we can see our portrait in heaven which is slowly but surely being transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
Friends, as I approach my 60th birthday, I find myself more and more thankful for the truth the Bible teaches. My body is aging. A healthy diet, adequate rest, and consistent exercise may marginally slow that process down, but they cannot prevent the inevitable. Within a few decades, my body will almost certainly have deteriorated to the point that it cannot remain alive. Yet by God’s grace, at that point my soul will be stronger than ever. Knowing this doesn’t mean I will always enjoy growing older, but it does mean every day can be faced with courage and hope, knowing that for my “inner person,” the part of me which matters the most, the best is yet to come.
Rev. Dan Erickson
Senior Pastor, Chisholm Baptist Church