On the question of mercy and forgiveness I have trouble. I've brought it up before. My parents, being good at it, taught me that actions speak louder than words. So, I have come to regard my actions as more important than what I say. I see my actions as a true reflection of who I am. Even to myself. In other words, my parents linked my SELF to my ACTIONS, hoping to make sure I became a good person. I think that has created a problem for me as a Christian. It's hard for me to separate people’s actions from their SELVES. If they lie, they are liars. If they steal, they are thieves. If I were to put it into other words still, I cannot hate the sin and love the sinner. I equate people with their actions. If their actions are bad...how are THEY not bad?
Jose, again, thanks for your question, and as usual, it's a good one!
You bring up, at heart, the problem voiced by the adage, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” How does one do that???
It’s a great question, and it’s one many don’t understand, and even consider to be a “cop out”. Seriously, the people who take such a position are anti-intellectual post-modernists looking for comfort, not Truth. Don’t be cowed by such pop-responses, for there is nothing to back them up.
If one is to accept something as a sin, one must also accept that there is a proper authority that defines sin, definitively, objectively, and without a philosophical Locke-like defense attorney looking to redefine it according to any terms that might get the sinner off on a lesser, more comfortable word.
Sin is an offense against God. God is immutable, meaning he doesn’t change. Sin is not a part of God, but a part of us, as human beings. God, being all-Holy and all-Love, created us out of that love in order to love Him eternally, and be loved by Him eternally. When we sin, God does not do anything for sin offends our relationship with God. It’s all on OUR END, as it has been forever – Sacred Scripture documents this. We fall away. He tries to reconcile. We fall away. Etc. God is Faithful: we as humanity are screwed up and choose to be so, at least in part.
You love your mother, right? But maybe your mother asks you to do something like, say, contact your brothers and sisters on her behalf to invite them to a gathering at her home for Mother's Day. You refuse this simple task because you decide that going fishing with your buddies or vegging in front of your TV is a far more interesting event than calling four siblings you spoke with just yesterday. So you simply don’t do it and as a result, your brothers and sisters don’t show up at your mother’s house as she expected and as soon as they don’t arrive, she realizes you didn’t carry out that very simple task, and she is deeply offended. She still loves you, but she is mad as heck and your relationship with her is affected in a big way. In fact, she won’t be asking you to do ANYTHING outside of her direct supervision for a very long time, even if you ARE an adult. That’s how much damage simply ignoring her directive has done.
That’s a sin. It’s a terrible, terrible thing to disregard one’s mother, and as you know, your mother is like you in her emotions and human suffering, but it doesn’t change the fact that she is your mother, and she loves you and will not forsake you even for being an insufferable jerk.
Neither will God. And he puts up with far worse from us.
You, Jose, say that you can’t separate actions from the person, but if you really look at YOUR life, can you say that you have not offended your parents, friends, or other loved ones in some way? In ways that were willful? Have you ALWAYS honored your mother and father as the Commandments say?
Yes, it does, according to YOUR definition. According to your definition, provided in your question, you are the sum of your most horrible sins against man and God.
But, Jose, ARE you REALLY the sum of your Sins?
Here’s the truth: God made us good, but we fell and now we have a propensity for sin. We screw up a lot, and because of that, God sent His Only Son, Jesus, to suffer our penalty for sin, ransom us, and open Heaven so that we might become Saints in eternal adoration, eternally beloved!
On the way to that, though, we all get lost, and because Jesus died for us, we CAN’T be defined by the sum of our offenses, but rather, we are defined by the summation of who we are created to BE!
You can’t, therefore, get caught up in combining the Action with the definition of the Person. In your question, you have defined the person by the action. Do YOU think God defines you only by your actions, or do you trust in His Mercy?
Ask yourself that question, and ask it over and over again when you are tempted by the other way.
So to you, Jose, and anyone else who doesn't understand how the sin is separate from the sinner, I suggest turning your philosophy to the side a bit. Rather than defining the Person as an Action, try looking at actions through God’s definition of a beloved Son or Daughter, and see how that changes, and how the virtue of Mercy enters and transforms your fundamental view of humanity.
As Archbishop Chaput, said, “The blood of the Cross reminds us that - at least on one day in history - love had no limits. And since then everything has been different.”
Indeed. That’s a reminder for us every day.
We COULD define people by their actions ALONE…or we could look upon their actions through the penetrating nails of mercy provided by the blood of the Cross. If we are Christians, we MUST adhere to the latter, for that is how God sees US; through the holes left by the nails in the hands and feet of His Son.
How else would we have any Saints at all? All have sinned. All have failed. St. Paul was a murderer as was Moses. St. Augustine was an immoral hound dog among other moral failings, Peter denied Jesus 3 times, Dismas was an admitted criminal even as he died on the cross with Christ, and Bl. Matthew Talbot was an alcoholic.
Are those people the sum of their actions, or are they the fulfillment, now, of who they were called to BE? Why do we know their names? Why do we honor them if they ARE their worst actions?
That is how we separate the sin from the sinner: we recognize the dignity of the human person, knowing why he was created and the final ends towards which he is drawn, even if he loses his way every now and again...or even every day.
God does not ultimately look at how many times we fall, but how many times we get up and try once again to follow Him.
Were it not for free will, there would be no offense against God (sin), and were it not for Sin, there would be no Redemption. That is why we cry out during the Easter Vigil, the Exultet, "O felix culpa! O happy fault, that has gained for us so great a Redeemer!"
Jose, I hoped this helped you. Please comment or send a note if clarification is needed.
God bless you and may God’s Mercy be yours!
~ A fellow sinner praying never to become the sum of her actions.