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Friday, May 13, 2011

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin - It's Not a Cop-out!

Reader Jose asks:

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 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.

In order to understand this, one must know what "Sin" is and something about the nature of God. 

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

Compare it to this common type of scenario:
(The following is not necessarily reflective of Jose's life or experience. "You" should be read creatively.)

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?

So, if you have failed in that way, or others found in a basic Examination of Conscience…does that make you a bad person?

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?

Maybe it’s more important to ask: How does GOD define you, us?

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.


owenswain said...

"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."

That's the core of it. Reminds me of reading "Love & Responsibility" where the nature of person-hood was so well defined.

Adoro said...

Owen ~ You gotta love Bl. John Paul II, who wrote so much about this!

BTW, because of your comment I realized I had the title backwards! I had written: Love the sin, hate the sinner.'s love the sinner, hate the sin! Now corrected!

*blush* That's kind of a big error. lol

owenswain said...

An error I didn't notice - double blush.

Anonymous said...

The whole concept of love the sinner, hate the sin comes directly from Augustine, and he wrote about it pretty frequently, even including it in his Rule. In his chapter on fraternal correction he writes: "And let everything I have said about not fixing one's gaze be also observed carefully and faithfully with regard to other offenses: to find them out, to ward them off, to make them known, to prove and punish them - all out of love for man and a hatred of sin." It's an essential aspect of speaking the truth in love.

Faith said...

I know what would help Jose--volunteering in a prison. Getting to know some prisoners is life changing. Jose will get to know some good people. Yes, good people are in prison because good people can do bad things.

Jose said...

"What are we, Oh Lord, that you are so mindful of us?" This is my favorite line of the Bible. I share the author's confusion. And I fear I still do. Until I get this, I fear I shall remain spiritually stunted. Like Job I continue to question God sincerely. Unlike Job, I question God's Mercy. Perhaps I am even more like Jonah. Wondering why God keeps sending peace treaties to those who who have caused and continue to cause enormous suffering. It makes no difference that I recognize that I am one of those perpetrators. Pardon my French but...What the HELL are we, oh Lord, that you give a crap?! We currently live in the Century of Genocide. The Holocaust, Rwanda, the Sudan...It goes on. When it comes to the green garden we were given, we are homicidaly negligent and incapable of sharing it properly with those creatures God created before us. God's goodness confuses me. I understand the need to forgive only in light of the need to be forgiven. I give forgiveness to others only because I want to recieve forgiveness from God. Selfish to the core. What I do I do for the sake of my personal relationship with God, never out of a care from my siblings. Unfortunately, the New Testament won't let me lie to myself. It tells me, to my horror, that I cannot love God if I cannot love my neighbor. I don't see much of Jesus in my neighbor so I run the serious risk of not recognizing Jesus when He comes to me. A truly horrifying thought. See? Spiritually Stunted. God Bless you, Adoro! I fear my soul sickness won't be so easily helped. I pray for you. Keep praying for me!

Jose C.

Adoro said...

Jose ~ You cite Jonah, but have you actually READ Jonah?You cite Job, but have you actually READ Job?

You cite that we live in a century of genocide, of Holocaust...but what makes NOW any different than other times in history in that regard?


Genocide and Holocaust is not new, it is just more publicized now, and advocated from pulpits that reach the world as opposed to only a small group.

You say, Jose, "I understand the need to forgive only in light of need to be forgiven".

Turn that on it's ear: in God's eyes, it's the other way around. You need to forgive because Jesus, through His suffering and death, HAS ALREADY FORGIVEN YOU!

What YOU need to do, my friend, is ACCEPT that sacrifice and MAKE IT YOUR OWN!

You already recognize your are embracing the Pelagian heresy (look it up: is a good resource)

You say you can't see Jesus in your neighbor: that is because you aren't looking for Jesus. It is because you are looking at a reflection of yourself.

I do not say this to condemn you, but to say I do the same is what we ALL do and why we ALL SIN.

Jesus comes to you in many ways: through your neighbor, through your employees, through your superiors. He comes to you through random emails, blogs, bloggers, and, dare I say it as much as it hurts...Tweets!

You are not "spiritually stunted". You are spiritually refusing to see the Grace of God in your life, and you're right: no one can help you with that. You have to be willing to open your eyes, open your soul, open your heart and accept God's grace into it.

Words can't help you: even Grace alone can't help you for God has given you Free Will, and by your particular response here, you have closed yourself off. You are rejecting God outright.

Won't you reconsider the love God has for you, and open yourself to Him?


Adoro said...

Jose ~ I offered my rosary for you this morning. And thank you for your prayers for me...I need them desperately!

Jose said...

Thank you so much, Adoro. That means a lot a lot a lot to me. :) And you are very astute in pointing to Pelagius. As I went to newadvent and read over Pelagius' heresy the article mentioned the Stoics quite a few times. I DO have an affinity for the Stoic philosophers!

Adoro said...

Jose ~ Great resource, isn't it? If you have an affinity for the Stoics, you may want to read "Witness to Hope" by George Weigel. I have the book and recall reading the section on JP2's philosophy, which includes the Stoics.

Sorry I can't recall more but I do know that THAT particular section of the book was helpful to me, and it took place within the first 100 pages (or so).

I don't know much about philosophy. Began in High School with a wonderful Humanities class (public school, great teacher), the stuff I had in college was useless, but in grad school helped me know where to look.

Um..that doesn't tell me enough. So..Jose, how have the Stoics formed you? Can you explain?

Jose said...

Well, I have certainly have always had an interest in the Stoics due to the strong effect Stoicism had on the Book of John. The author is clearly aware of Stoic philosophy and incorporates much of it into the literature. But it is only relatively recently that I have formally began to look into and study it. I can't say I was "formed" by it. Still, I find that many of it's ideals are typical of Hispanic societies. I understand that Stoicism denies the need for Grace. Stoics believe that the Will alone, strengthened by sacrifice and ascetism, is enough to be virtous. I think this is something that is unconsciously and inadvertently taught to hispanic men. Evenly strongly Catholic ones. That whole idea of the "Self-Made Man", the "man who handles his business alone". The whole Self-Empowerment thing. I think you observed this in me when you pointed out Pelagius?

Jose C.

Adoro said...

Jose ~ Yes, that sounds like the heresy of pelagianism all right, but I think the Stoics also influenced other heresies, although they escape me now. I'm betting we had a little of that in our fundamental theology course or in Theological Tradition when we spoke of the heretics and how their heresies developed/took hold.

It's important in the study of philosophy that it is placed at the service of theology, the higher science. And one of the reasons heresies happen is because they place theology at the service of philosophy.

Of course, then there were others who decided that since some philosophy is bad, then all philosophy is bad. (Tertullian).

So to you, I say be careful with the Stoics because their understanding of the nature of Man is very flawed. However, like John Paul II, with knowledge of that philosophy you can glean out the gems to be placed in God's service. :-)

Jose said...

Well, I can imagine the Stoics did have a wide influence. It was the Philosophy of all five of the "Good Emperors" of Rome. Marcus Aurelius especially. I understand that Aurelius' Meditations was popular reading amongst the early Christians.

Adoro said...

Jose~ It wasn't all bad...especially as it disappeared as a school.

Are you trying to justify it?

The idea that it might have been "popular reading amongst early Christians" really doesn't say much. Dan Brown is popular among modern-day Christians and we KNOW he's so full of crap his eyes much match his name.

About them having wide influence, I don't know; as I said, I did not study Philosophy so look to those more intelligent and knowledgeable than myself (most people, in other words) and find that in the Catholic view, the Stoics were lacking. Therefore: we as the Faithful must be cautious and be certain we use that knowledge in the service of God, and not place God at the service of thoughts that are lacking, as the Stoics.

When it comes to philosophy, who wins? Aquinas, Augustine, Bonaventure, etc.,...or the Stoics? Who has a DIRECT part in the advancement of Catholic theology?

Hint: NOT the Stoics.

(BTW...the pagans Plato and Aristotle remain popular reading among Christians...the readings of Marcul Aurelius do not).

Adoro said...

Correction: *Marcus Aurelius*

Jose said...

I wouldn't use the phrase "justify it", big sister. One shouldn't have to justify learning about philosophies competed with early Christianity and lost. I fully recognize that the Stoic ideas on man's Will and it's ability to reach virtue without Grace are wrong. Still, it's one thing to KNOW it's wrong and another to really accept it deep in your core. That's gonna take me time, I must admit. Asking God for help still sounds like whining to me. I have no problem praying for others, just praying for myself. A large part of me still says, "Leave God alone, he has Africa and Japan and other tragedies to handle. Handle your own business."

Jose C.

Adoro said...

Jose ~ Maybe "justify" isn't really the right word, but after what you've just written, it does sound like you're trying to justify something - not to me, but to yourself.

The study of philosophy is definitely a good thing, and I won't slam it, but one DOES need to be careful about the type of philosophy one studies and what one takes from it. It sounds like stoicism has affected you negatively in the spiritual sense, and yes, it does take a long time to undo that.

The sad thing is that we've all been badly affected by philosophy taken away from the Christian context or usage of it, and we all are struggling to come to terms with what is true about God and the nature of Man, versus trash that has been taught through those who don't know God.

Jose, do you have an Adoration chapel near you? Because of course this will take you time to understand how God loves you. Relationships always take time, and the best way to understand God is to spend time with Him. If you don't have an adoration chapel, then just go into a parish and pray near the tabernacle - He is present there, just waiting for you!

Remember: God is so big that He wants to respond to you in the little things, the little needs and show Himself to you in that way.

Here's the thing: the spiritual greats point out that it's just as prideful to refuse to ask God for small things as it is to ask for things far to great for us.

For example, it would take a lot of chutzpah for me to demand of God that I be recognized by others for how supremely awesome I am, and then made famous because of my greatness. Gosh, talk about arrogant! and not true! So that would be a very very prideful prayer. But also, by saying "God is too busy with other things", that is also prideful for it denigrates God's omnipotence and elevates our ability to cast judgment upon HIM.

Now, you're not intending to do that, of course, but that's the core of what is going on with that kind of thought process - also a fault of the pelagians as well as other heretics. (NOT calling you a heretic! lol)

So, as far as me being "big sister", how do you know I'm not "little sister" or "grandma"? :-D

Jose said...

Well, "Little Sister" seems odd considering your so much more knowledgeable and wise than myself, and "Grandma", well....That just seems mean! ;)

I am curious. What do you mean when you say Stoics understand the Nature of Man in a flawed manner? And how does Christianity see the Nature of Man?

Jose C.

Adoro said...

Jose ~ We're in between thunderstorms here and I finally got a moment to check email - so I don't have time for a detailed answer.

In short, Stoicism misunderstands who God is, and the nature of Man as created by God, for God to live with Him and in Him through eternity. It is in God that we "live and move and have our being". Stoicism makes "virtue" the end and goal, and sees passions as bad. In Catholic moral theology, with a proper understanding of man, the passions are recognized as a gift from God and necessary to our nature. In learning to control our passions, which had become disordered in the Fall from Grace, we have a cycle of knowledge of ourselves and God, and our relationship with Him. We grow in holiness. Virtues are a means to this, for we work on the virtues in order to become holy. (I'm stating this very badly in my hurry!)

Here is a good discussion on it that may help the distinction, and these people know more about stoicism than I do, so can be more specific.