Sense and Sensuality:
Jesus Talks with Oscar Wilde on the Pursuit of Pleasure

by Ravi Zacharias

The dedication page describes the essence of this story: “To the youth of this world--that sense would prevail over sensuality.”

The reader does not have to have a detailed knowledge of the 19th century author Oscar Wilde, but some background understanding may add more depth to his character in this story. It is a fictional account in a script-like rendition of what Wilde’s last hours of life could have been like. Wilde is tormented with haunting memories of his self-inflicted pursuit of pleasure and lawlessness as he lay on his death bed slipping in and out of consciousness from what the doctors have diagnosed as syphilis. Finally, he fades out and, though not yet deceased, his vision is 20/20. He mistakes Jesus for the gardener in the cemetery, but soon realizes after their conversation begins who this man really is.

The conversations that transpire are just between Jesus, Wilde, and occasionally Blaise Pascal, a great mathematician of the 17th century and father of the modern computer. Sometimes Pascal becomes a distraction and yet it is necessary to include a third character to temper theology with philosophical appeal.

As I read this book I tried to think back to my life before salvation and ask myself, “Would I have listened to what these characters were saying? Or would I discount it all on the basis that Jesus was a main character?”

In this context, Pascal, and for that matter Jesus, seems to be a “devil’s advocate” to Wilde, just another man with another opinion, rather than what Zacharias may have intended to be an authority on the subject of God. Zacharias explained in the introduction, “When I first selected Pascal, I did not know that one of the books Wilde read when he was imprisoned was Pascal’s Pensees. My original reason for bringing Pascal into the conversation was that both Wilde and Pascal are buried in Paris and share a connection with the same church in Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Pres.”

In some of Zacharias’ books, he tends to use scripture to defend Scripture, which gets nowhere when witnessing to a non-believer. But in Sense and Sensuality, he keeps that tendency in check and is able to make a valid argument for the destructiveness of a life lived for the sole purpose of pleasure, especially in aesthetical beauty, art, and anarchy.

This day and age is crying out for these very things of pleasure while at the same time we also cry out for answers to the chaos and spiritual emptiness not realizing the direct connection between the two apparent opposites. In Sense and Sensuality, the author does an excellent job of presenting his explanation of this connection. Jesus explains to Wilde, “But here’s your answer. In seeking pleasure, you  pursued the body and lost the person. You sought the sensation and sacrificed the individual. You see, in pursuing the sacred you exalt the person and sensation follows. Life then makes sense. In pursuing sensuality, you exalt the body and profane the person. It’s like emptying a container and throwing it away. Life, then, becomes just a container. Living becomes senseless.”
Book Review
By Lisa Stough
Title: Sense and Sensuality: Jesus Talks with Oscar Wilde on the Pursuit of Pleasure
Author: Ravi Zacharias
Publisher: Multnomah Publishers, Inc. 2002
ISBN: 1 5905 2014 9