The Death of a Salesman and the Joy of Repentance

I recently taught Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, a modern American tragedy about the ways we lie to ourselves, rationalize our moral failures, and substitute popularity for actual character. Time and consequences eventually catch up to the Loman family and scrape their hearts clean of all their self-deceptions. Willy Loman, unable to bear the truth, commits suicide. The power and emotion of this play always stuns me and leaves me raw. And this time I was startled to find myself thankful.

I was thankful for one of the hard things about my faith in Christ: repentance. Both John the Baptist and Christ announced the kingdom of God with a call to repentance. We may be tempted to think of repentance simply as a call to stop sinning. It is that, but on a deeper level it is a call to be honest about ourselves. It is an invitation to escape the delusions that ensnare our lives and leave us barren. I like that in my evangelical tradition we sang “Just as I Am” when inviting people to follow Jesus.

The sharp knife of truth slices away all our lies, all our rationalizations, and evil fantasies. With “blessed are the meek”, Christ slices away all our delusions about personal ambition being the key to happiness. All our combative, vengeful, and aggressive instincts that masquerade as self-assertion are shattered by “blessed are the peacemakers.”

Of course even the hearts of believers wander, especially into the cultural distortions of Scripture. Willy Loman distorted the American dream into a faith in “being well-liked” and “who you know.” In a similar way, many American Christians transform their faith into positive-thinking that paves the way to personal success.

But in fellowship with one another, in submission to God’s Word, and in openness to the voice of the Holy Spirit, our self-deception is continually challenged. It is no accident that so much of the teaching of Christ exposed religious hypocrisy. Jesus is always calling us to get real and follow him.

Unlike Willy Loman, we have a safe place to shed our lies. We can give up our faith in being well-liked and rest in the truth that, just as we are, we are deeply loved. Even more wonderful is that out of our honesty—our brokenness and repentance—God resurrects hope. When we confess what we are—God insists that is only what we were. This truth sets us free

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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