Wanton is a word you don't hear every day unless you can't spell and you think this is a Chinese soup. With all the horrible things going on in our time, terrorism, wars, abuse, cruelty, immorality, and the extremism of false religions, it gets you wondering where all this wantonness (def. deliberate and unprovoked evil or immorality) comes from.
Someone who attempted to answer or at least describe human wantonness was Daniel Defoe who was born in 1660 and wrote over 500 books and pamphlets. You might remember him writing such books as Robinson Crusoe and Molly Flanders. I can remember reading the first as a child and never liking it. I couldn't understand why Robinson couldn't be happy living alone; I didn't like his superior attitude with his "friend" Friday and didn't understand why he wanted to go back to wanton England. Molly Flanders is a much more repulsive book and deeply disturbing description of the life of a girl born in prison, and using people who tried to use her for selfish benefit. Molly’s greatest pride and achievement in life was stealing and immorality. She birthed many children and threw them away like trash. She had lust but not love except the love of money and a desire never to be a servant but to be of the upper classes. She played into that whole Restoration lie about classism and the superiority of the upper classes and the dirtiness and inferiority of the lower classes. What bothers me about both Robinson and Molly was Daniel Defoe picking their brains and finding dirt. But then again Daniel even studied to be a Puritan Presbyterian minister and we believe in total depravity. What is so scary is how a holy, perfect God can find anything to love in us. Robinson Crusoe was very proud and superior. Molly was her worst enemy making horrible decisions on purpose. Even when Molly turned to God it seems she wanted to use God like she used people, for her own selfish benefit. How could God return this dirt with the gold of His love?
Daniel Defoe was the ancient equivalent of a psychologist who strives to understand how the human brain and spirit work. Oftentimes this is because the psychologist is trying to work out his or her own troubled spirit and is on a quest to see if human sin is universal, understandable, and unchangeable.
Daniel lived through amazingly troubled times. He was born in London the same year the Puritan Commonwealth of England was dissolved (it fell apart after Oliver Cromwell died) and the Restoration of the Stuart Kings came about. England went from Puritan so-called sterility to Restoration bawdiness as the pendulum swung the other way. The powerful one day became the refugees the next. What was in was now out. Daniel’s father was a candle maker and a butcher (wonder what he made his candles out of ??) When he was 5 years old he witnessed the great plague which killed 70,000 people and the next year the fire of London which destroyed every house on his street except his and a neighbors. When Daniel was 7 he witnessed the Dutch fleet coming up the Themes in an attack. When he was 10 his mother died.
Daniel was sent away to Rev. James Fisher’s Boarding School in Surrey which was a Presbyterian dissenter school. He joined the failed Monmouth Rebellion which tried to bring down Catholic King James and became a spy for William of Orange. Daniel married a woman with a very big dowry and distained the ministry to become a merchant. He had troubles with debtors and was a part of some very dubious enterprises which exposed him to many bad characters. He fled across Europe and Scotland. He was put in the Pillory (you know that public shaming thing where you put your head and hands through wooden yokes and people would taunt you). He was also in Newgate Prison where he met not only unsavory criminals but also unsavory upper class people who paid to go in and see prisoners like you would pay to go to the zoo. Daniel took his mind filled with the most amazing debaucheries of nature and man and started writing against injustice. He wrote about most everything political and psychological and made everyone angry at some point. He only survived on the help of important friends. Being a Presbyterian he became an advisor to the Church of Scotland but wrote his English friends that he was “privy to all their folly”. In Scotland he lived in Glasgow and witnessed many treacheries as sinful man tried to get the upper hand on sinful man. He moved back to England and his last work was a political treatise in 1726 on “The British Tradesman” which attempted to convince people that tradesmen are just as good as gentry.
As I look at it Daniel’s books describe the bawdiness and wantonness of human sin of which we are all infected. I find his works depressive and his happy endings contrived. Unlike Charles Dickens who saw gold at the bottom of the dirty soul, Daniel just found more dirt.
What does this have to do with Easter? If you know your Bible you can see from creation on there is a deficit in human character. What made Eve want that fruit when she could have every other fruit in the garden? What makes me want to eat English muffins and French bread with lots of butter when I never hankered for it when I could eat it without getting sick? What made Robinson Crusoe treat Friday as his civilizing creation and Molly Flanders treat people who could have loved her so badly? It’s sin. And through 4000 years of human existence it has not changed. The only thing that is changed is God’s offer of salvation through His crucified and risen Son. Jesus became the perfect man we cannot be to pay the price of our sin. Jesus had all our temptations yet without sin. Jesus knew the very people who needed Him most were those who sinned the greatest and died for them while those who reveled in their pride and self-righteousness were left to perish in their blindness.
Daniel Defoe had more incredible experiences in his life and met more interesting people than we will ever meet. He lived through many human tragedies and saw the worst in people. In Robinson Crusoe he rejoiced when the pagan Friday became a Christian and a brother and saw Friday’s life change with power. He knew that Jesus Christ died for all people and each was as wanton as the next in need of salvation. He saw that Jesus Christ made us brothers and sisters in faith by rising from the grave and sent His Holy Spirit to lead us out of the bondage to sin and into holiness.
As we remember why Jesus had to suffer on the cross and rise from the grave put on Defoe’s brain and see the depressive wantonness of humanity and remember that our only hope is for Jesus to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And let us rejoice because of Easter.