Dorothy L. Sayers (1893 – 1957)
Background and Context
Dorothy Leigh Sayers was born in Oxford in 1893. She was the only child of her parents. Her father Rev. Henry was an Anglican clergyman and headmaster of Christ Church cathedral school. He taught Sayers Latin at the age of six in her house before she went to school. She was a precocious child, so she got scholarship to study in Somerville College in Oxford where she finished her B.A. and M.A. in Medieval French.
In 1926, she got married with O.A. Fleming, a journalist and former military man who served during World War I. She was very imaginative and intellectual writer and scholar. She had written several novels, dramas, fictions, literary criticism, and theological books and essays. She started her career as an advertising copywriter in London and became a successful advertiser, after she collaborated with another artist for the advertisement of Colman’s mustard “The Mustard Club”.
Sayers gave birth to a fictional character Lord Peter Wimsey, who solves murder mysteries, through her detective fiction novel series. Later, Sayers helped G.K. Chesterton to found the Detection Club, and she became the first president of the club. She also wrote a piece of writing “The Mind of the Maker” on the nature of God. That work was based on her own observation about the way of other writers’ perception toward the character of God and how they fabricated the character and story. She also wrote radio plays about Jesus, called “The Man Born to Be King” and festival play, called “The Emperor Constantine”. Afterward, she read Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” and showed her extraordinary capacity of understanding the work; however, she had no prior instruction in Italian language, she began translation work of the poem in terza rima into English verse. But it remained unfinished due to her death by heart stroke.
The main theme of the selection of Sayers in “Creed or Chaos?” is that the society is sinful and no common supposition of idealistic social reform can make us righteous. In this selection, she has written her own experiences and her wrestling with her own sinfulness. She states, because of social order, many individual sinfulness is multiplied over and over, but she is also aware of the grace from God. Richard Foster also demonstrates three intentions Sayers wants to show us from her selection: the reality of sin, the limitation of moral law, and the potential of grace.
Sayers argues that moral law is imperfect. At the same time, she adds that the law is necessary in order to make it as a protective fence against the forces of evil to defend ourselves from his deception so that we may allow God’s grace to do the redeeming work in our lives. Foster also stresses that civilization simply cannot exist without moral law, but these both writers also remind us of the natural limitations of moral law. It cannot make a man righteous or transform society.
Sayers again reasons that we can never have eternal peace or be righteous by enacting and keeping law. “Law is always prohibitory, negative, and corrupted by the interior contradictions of man’s divided nature” and “It belongs to the category of judgment,” Sayers says. That is why she advocates that our efficaciousness of the moral law can no longer save us from sin but need divine power from God to drive away sin from our life.
Furthermore, Sayers maintains her arguments by presenting the only real law – the law of the universe. In other words, there is no other way to avoid this law. It must be fulfilled either by the way of judgment or the way of grace. To understand the meaning of judgment, a man should understand the meaning of grace and vice versa. Therefore, people should understand the law properly; otherwise, it seems impossible to understand the grace of God. Unless we understand the grace of God, we cannot go beyond the demands of moral law. Eventually, we fail to embrace the grace of God against which has no law.
The spiritual discipline of confession helps a believer to confess his or her sins sincerely before God and his people. The law does not release people from pride, but confession becomes possible only when we break our ego or pride. So, pride and confession are opposite each other. I believe every Christian has a lifetime experience of confession before or after conversion. When I was sticking in the moral law and the standards of society, I never realized or knew the reality and root of sin. I followed certain moral laws and thought that I was good enough among other people. And after knowing the reality, the cause, and effect of sin, I could not stand on the moral law which is not perfect. I confessed that I am a grave sinner, and it was not easy to condemn myself. Finally, I gave my life to Jesus. Next, I found another truth that I should have limited moral law to defend myself from the forces of evil so that I might not fall into temptations. Being in flesh, I commit sins unintentionally. I also experienced that confessing my sins led me to abundant grace of God but the reality is it is very hard to go before God and confess my sins. There was God’s grace waiting for me to forgive my sins and release me from the bondage of moral law.
The present churches should preach boldly about the moral laws and the reality of sins. The shepherds should not refrain from showing sin of their sheep in the pen. Meanwhile, they also should have better understanding of the limitation of moral laws. Every sermon should invite sinners to give their life to Jesus, and all the believers should be treated on the basis of grace of God. If church fails to communicate the reality of sin, the truth of the crucifixion will be veiled. Then, believers will hardly confess their sins and live abundant life from God. There is risk of misinterpretation of the moral law and misuse of grace as well. Hence, church should warn the believers from the word of God that a man who abides in the spiritual law of God does not continue sinning. Paul writes in his epistle to Romans, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (6:1-2). In fact, every believer should be encouraged to confess his or her sins before God and his people as our Lord is just and faithful to forgive our sins.