I’m still reeling from Gil Kracke’s excellent breakout session at the recent Pensacola Mini-Conference, “Like A Rolling Stone: The Law of Inertia and Human Psychology.” If you haven’t listened to it, do yourself a favor. I can assure you that it will not disappoint!
One of Gil’s primary illustrations of incurvatus in se – St. Augustine’s conception of “man curved in on himself” – had to do with the Kanye West incident at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, in which Kanye showed himself to be the very height of self absorption, a kind of incurvatus in se run amok. In case you missed it, here’s the clip:
But what’s more telling, in terms of what we at Mockingbird tend to gravitate towards, is Kanye’s interview the very next night on Jay Leno’s show. Watch the video to see what happens:
At the start of the interview, Kanye is clearly going through a series of talking points that are simply an attempt to shore up what was becoming a public relations nightmare for him. But then Leno asks Kanye the question about his recently deceased mother, and did you notice that everything changed in that moment?
Kanye is rendered speechless in that moment. You can see the tears starting to well up in his eyes. This is what true contrition looks like. Whether Leno realized it or not, he was doing the work of God in that moment, by reminding Kanye of someone in his life who had shown him unconditional love, the kind of love that is a reflection of what the Father’s love for us truly looks like, and the very thought of which in that moment went straight to the heart of the matter for Kanye West.
“What would your mother think?” Leno asks. This woman who had shown you unconditional love, and who taught you how you should behave, what would she think of what you did? Would she feel betrayed, as though all that she did for you and taught you didn’t mean anything to you?
At the 2009 Mockingbird Conference, Dr. Steven Paulson spoke at length about something called the office of the keys. The source of this theological concept comes from several points in the Gospel, but most notably from Mathew 16, when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus tells him in verse 19, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
So these are the two keys: the one that binds is called the Law, and the one that frees is called the Gospel. At its core, the Gospel is the forgiveness of sins through the atoning work of Christ, and as people who have been forgiven, we have been freed by the key of the Gospel and thereby been given the authority to use both of these keys in Christ’s name.
One of the things that we have to become familiar with in administering the office of the keys is when to use each key, because the two actually work together. Of course, we don’t often have to use the key of the Law, because of humanity’s bound wills and troubled consciences, which naturally lead people to bind themselves up with the Law all on their own. Usually that’s the condition in which we find people: locked in their prison cells, needing to be set free by the key that is the forgiveness of sins. But occasionally it’s necessary to use the key of the Law to bind up a person who is truly condemned by the Law but totally unaware, because of a conscience that is not at all troubled. Without such a use of the key of the Law that individual will never feel real contrition, and without such contrition none of us ever sees the need to be forgiven and by such forgiveness to be set free with the key of the Gospel.
That’s exactly what happened when Leno brought up Kanye’s mom. Here is this man, Kanye West, who is the pinnacle of self-absorption, a veritable poster boy for incurvatus in se, being brought low by the key that binds, the key of the Law. “What do you think your mother would think?” He’s absolutely stunned…a man who has probably had great difficulty ever keeping his mouth shut for any length of time in his whole life is in this moment rendered utterly speechless.
And you can see the true contrition start to well up in him at that moment. In the wonderful essay “Miserable Offenders”, C.S. Lewis makes reference to the fact that the Latin root for the word “contrition” means “to pulverize”. And that’s what happened to Kanye in that moment, and that’s exactly what is necessary before the Gospel, the love of God shown in his Christ, can do it’s work of forgiving us, and thereby truly set us free.
And so, as Gil put it, the “left hand of God” revealed itself in Leno’s words that night, and the key of the Law locked Kanye up so that he could experience true contrition, a pulverization of his heart, and can thereby be absolutely forgiven and completely set free.