By Shewanda Riley
A number of years ago, I watched the 1945 version of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and it reminded me of the struggle with covering up sin that I and other Christians have. Set in Victorian England in the late 1880’s, the film begins with a handsome, well-to-do Londoner Dorian Gray having his picture painted. As was the custom at the time, the picture was a life-size memorial designed to show Dorian at his best. After seeing his picture, Dorian innocently comments, “If only it was the picture who was to grow old, and I remain young. There’s nothing in the world I wouldn’t give for that. Yes, I would give even my soul for it.” These words come back to haunt him later.
Not long after making this statement, Dorian meets and falls in love with Sibyl Vane, a singer played by the late Angela Lansbury. They soon become engaged. Taking the bad advice of an older male friend, Dorian tests Sibyl’s integrity. When she fails his test, he cruelly calls off the engagement. Heartbroken, she commits suicide. Guilt-ridden about the part he played in her death, Dorian adopts an outward appearance of indifference. This one incident begins a downward spiral into a life of immorality for Dorian.
As he continues in his increasingly self-centered lifestyle over the next 20 years, Dorian’s wish to remain youthful looking appears to have been granted, noticed suspiciously by others. However, the picture that he once treasured and proudly displayed in his living area now is hidden in an abandoned upstairs bedroom. For every act of wrongdoing, the portrait is supernaturally changed. By the end of the film, the handsome young man in the portrait has been transformed into a hideous old man with cold, unfeeling eyes and blood stained hands.
As I watched the movie, I thought about how the story, though not originally written for a specific Christian audience, accurately shows the negative effects of sin. Dorian’s picture was an eerie mirror of the inner turmoil that he felt for his wrong actions. It’s not until he confesses his guilt that his conscience is cleansed, and the portrait is transformed back to its original state. I Samuel 16:7 reminds us of the importance of having a pure heart, “…The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
Without realizing it, we may also try to hide our guilt for previous wrongdoing under layers of makeup, new clothes and material things. Some of us even try to cover our guilt with layers of overzealous, empty religiosity without ever truly submitting to God and openly confessing our sins. This movie showed very powerfully the great effect that sin has on the heart of a man. And that’s a portrait that only God’s grace and forgiveness can change.
Shewanda Riley (Aunt Wanda), PhD, is a Fort Worth-based author of “Love Hangover: Moving from Pain to Purpose After a Relationship Ends” and “Writing to the Beat of God’s Heart: A Book of Prayers for Writers.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @shewanda. You can also listen to her podcast at www.chocolateauntiepodcast.com.