Playing at Lent


I have always thought that Lent is a dangerous time for Christians. This time in the church year I fear tempts us to play at being a Christian. We are to discipline our lives during Lent in order to discover and repent of those sins that prevent us from the wholehearted worship of God. That is a perfectly appropriate ambition, but we are not very good at it. We are not very good at it because in general we are not very impressive sinners.  Just as most of us are mediocre Christians, so we are mediocre sinners. As a result, Lent becomes a time we get to play at being a sinner while continuing to entertain the presumption that we are not all that bad. 

Lent becomes a time where we get to play at being something we are not sure we are.  Part of the difficulty is we are not sure we know what we are confessing when we confess we are sinners. Barth quite rightly argues that the first sin is the presumption we know what we are saying when we say we have sinned.[1] Thus his further claim that we only know our sins on our way out of sin. Grace makes the knowledge and confession of sin possible. For as it turns out, sin is not simply being bad but failing to love God.     

I am not suggesting that Lenten disciplines do not have a place. Giving up something we will miss may help us discover forms of self-centeredness that make us less than Christ has made possible. But hopefully we will find ways to avoid playing at being sinful. Lent is not a time to play at anything but rather a time to confess that we would have shouted “Crucify him.”

[1] Karl Barth was a prominent 20th century Swiss Reformed theologian.

Stanley Hauerwas is Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law.

This piece is a part of a syndicated series in collaboration with Yale Logos for Lent 2021. Read more at:

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