Thursday, August 28, 2008

Love Is from God

From The Paradise of the Desert Fathers:


The old men used to say, "there is nothing worse than passing judgment."

They said of abba Macarius that he became, as it is written, a god upon earth, because just as God protects the world, so abba Macarius would cover the faults that he saw as though he did not see them, and those which he heard as though he did not hear them.

Abba Pastor said, "Judge not him who is guilty of fornication, if you are chaste, or you will break the law like him. For He who said 'Do not commit fornication' said also 'Do not judge.' "

A brother asked abba Poemen, "If I see my brother sin, is it right to say nothing about it?" The old man replied, "Whenever we cover our brother's sin, God will cover ours; whenever we tell people about our brother's guilt, God will do the same about ours."


A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, "Come, for everyone is waiting for you." So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said, "What is this, father?" The old man said to them, "My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another." When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

A brother sinned and the priest ordered him to go out of the church; abba Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, "I, too, am a sinner."

When I first read the Desert Fathers, I kept running up against this teaching. At first, I kept my reservations about it. Milquetoast, I thought. A spade ought to be called a spade. In the course of time, I have begun - and only just begun - to realize that this teaching is, perhaps, central to what it means to me to be Christian. Because a refusal to judge springs out of a heart of love. And a refusal to judge springs out of the recognition of one's own sinfulness before God, one's recognition of one's own forgiveness. And my sin is great. My need for God leaves me breathless before Him, without legs, casts me upon his greater grace and love.

I know less each passing day. I have learned that I don't love well. I would grind my teeth in darkness and utter solitude - that is what is in my heart, and it draws at me constantly. And that is hell. When I first heard the Fatima prayer within the Rosary, I was unsettled by its talk of hell: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, bring all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy." I'm not big on hellfire or, for that matter, brimstone. But as I submitted myself to the practice of the Church, I began to realize something about me and about this prayer. When I pray O My Jesus, I am asking Jesus to rescue me not from some eternal damnation that will come one day if I embrace death rather than life, but I am asking him to rescue me from the hell within my heart, that is there each moment of every day, that threatens to engulf me. That is the recognition that I'm coming to understand: Heaven and hell are within my heart.

Neither science nor bad theology makes me doubt God. The thing that makes me doubt God, when I doubt Him, is those who claim Him. Those who would tear down everything and everyone that they might be taller. I read, I listen. I hear such terrible judgments pronounced. I see personhood overrun by ideology and pride. Where is love? There is God. So I must slap my hand over my mouth - because I am that man, that woman, who curses God in my neighbor and who engenders doubt within my own heart and countless others.

People are people. More than that, we are persons. We have such hidden hurts that are run over roughshod by those who ought to, should, must, need to know and behave better. But then, they have their own hurts, their own pain. Love is a better balm than judgment. "Beloved," says the Evangelist, "let us love one another."


kelseyad said...

I have much commentary to add to your blog, Scott, as this issue has been central to my life this past year. I think there is great clarity in the Bible on how God asks us to behave when our brother is in open, unashamed sin. We are all sinners, but the issue here is our heart's attitude toward it. If we are not repentant, there is clear instruction in 1 Corinthians 5 on how we are to be treated. Maybe I am missing something in your blog?

Fred said...

I agree that A spade ought to be called a spade, which is why I also agree with your main point. To call a spade a spade I must confess that I too am a sinner. And so also I must also confess that every hair on my head is counted and that Jesus looked with tenderness on those who put Him to death.

truevyne said...

If you knew me well you might be surprised to hear me say that, "There is a space for correction in the church." I tend to lean more toward the listening side than the "Get 'em" side generally speaking. I look for a much more gentle restoration, but I can't say I'd do or live it well. What I mention here is in the fiction book, The Hawk and the Dove- Father Peregrine understands how to BE while those in his monastery confess, repent. The overreaction of one in a position of power to punish rather than to restore makes me, perhaps everyone shrink back from the idea of judgment at all. Yet, for the man who walks away from his family, shouldn't someone, hopefully the church, walk with his wife and children to try to gain him back?

Scott Lyons said...

I am under some stress for time due to the needs of the little ones. Please be patient with me. I hope I don't misspeak. If you need to push back further against what I'm trying to say, or want some better clarification, I want to hear it. I hope that my response makes some better sense from where you are writing from.

Let me say, emphatically, that this post is highly personal and has only myself in mind. It is not my perspective on how the Church should deal with sin (or not deal with sin), but how I treat people, how I talk about people, and how I fail to love others. I have such a spirit of judgment. It's tangled in my heart and soul, tangled so tightly that I have begun to believe that it's life rather than death, love rather than pride.

So, Kelsey and True, I agree with you both. I think that my brother who is living in immorality ought to be pursued/rebuked that he might be restored to God, to the Church, and to his family. It's the right thing, the loving thing, the biblical thing to do. But we can only here even go so far. If I were to apply my post to that kind of situation, the post would not be addressing how I might need to act in love toward my brother, but how I think about and talk about and view him. Let me use (and embellish) True's example: Suppose my brother walks away from his wife and family and is living with another woman. How do I act? Certainly I don't quietly let things be as things will be. (Understand here that the texts of the Desert Fathers also have their contexts. Remember, they also stood up and defended the Church against heresy, for example.) I carefully and prayerfully pursue in love. So I go to my brother and confront/rebuke him. He is aware of his actions - and even aware that they're sin - but is unrepentant. What do I do? Perhaps I properly take two more with me to confront his sin that he might be restored. He remains unrepentant. What do I do? Suddenly this situation and Jesus' words crash roughly into my ecclesiology. Do I have a Church he can be handed over to, that can deal with the situation, and, if necessary, "hand him over to Satan," as Saint Paul said - all in love, all for his restoration? Or can he just get up and attend the church down the road, without consequence, with little ado? Because if I do not have a Church that can act here, then I have no further recourse. I can only love and pray and beg God's mercy for the both of us, which I should already be doing anyway.

So I would agree with both of you that a situation like that ought to be handled properly and with love and with a mind to restore my brother. That isn't what I'm speaking of in my post, however. That is not, I don't believe, what the Desert Fathers had in mind either. I think, and will gladly be corrected, that the Desert Fathers are addressing this strong attachment we have to try to be God, to be the Church, and/or to look at someone and say, "Yes, I'm a sinner too, but at least I'm not that bad of a sinner or that kind of sinner." To look into my heart and see that what I really want is my brother to be punished for the pain he's caused rather than desiring his restoration. What I really want is my hurt to be redressed. And even, What I really want is to be seen as more righteous. That is the spirit, I think, that the Desert Fathers are addressing.

My post speaks more about the struggle in my heart: Why do I feel so strongly that I need to call out my brother's sin? God has called it a sin. The Church has called it a sin. My brother knows it is a sin. Why do I want to peg it as one too? Why can't I, in love, "cover it"? Isn't it better for me to say "Lord Jesus, have mercy on us" than to sit down with a coffee on a Saturday morning with my wife and complain of others' sins and how we've been hurt by them? So the context for this post is far different than the situations you're dealing with or imagining, I think. I'm writing about my heart and how my heart responds to others' sins.

I hope that makes some sense.

Fred, thanks for pointing out that mental burp. You're exactly right. Another's sin ought to make me aware of my own need for mercy more than it does preoccupy me with that other's sin - it ought to drive me to God. And one other thing - our understanding of our need for God's constant mercy is met with the understanding that God, in His greater love, gives it. He gives Himself and He is love.

truevyne said...

I'm so glad you went deeper into your thoughts. I join you in the struggle against my own heart of darkness, quick to harshly judge and punish, slow to preserve others. I fight with you every. single. day.

kelseyad said...

Very well understood and agreed with...I will add that in my situation, the important revelation for me was almost fear and then humility...but for the grace of God I could be in that similar circumstance - that exact turning away, knowingly, from God. It also strengthen my resolve to continue seeking out my sin, my repentenance and turning away the things of this world. (not even the slightest bit successful, but I am trying).

Thanks for the interesting read, Scott.