Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sin and Sinners. . .

“Those who refuse to absolve the sinner end up absolving the sin.”  What a great line!  I believe the author is Nicolás Gómez Dávila (at least that is what I wrote down).  The point of it is that when we stop talking about sin, stop holding folks accountable for their sins, stop calling folks to repentance, the end result is the sin is no longer sinful, the wrong has been made into a right (or at least a tolerable wrong).  This is what has gone on for some time. Finding the call to repentance and confession distasteful, we have left to the moral vacuum the power to define what is wrong.  Our fallen heart and the culture around us is woe to call anything that we do wrong or sinful and so the sin becomes the norm.

Equally true is that when we refuse to absolve because we find the sin too egregious or the wrong beyond redemption or we find the repentance shallow, the sin becomes the norm for the sinner.  Redemption that is limited to only those sins on the approved list of forgivable wrongs is no redemption at all.  That is why the only unforgivable sin Scripture allows is the very rejection of faith, the sin against the Holy Spirit, final impenitence—dying in a state of unrepentance.  This is clearly the understanding of the early Church (in particular Augustine).  The unpardonable sin is unpardonable because the very nature of the sin is such that the person who commits it persistently rejects and blasphemes the saving operation of the Holy Ghost through the Means of Grace whereby he could otherwise be brought to true repentance and faith. Thus the sinner who refuses grace keeps forgiveness from himself forever.

What draws the sinner to God is not simply guilt but guilt that believes that there is forgiveness there for the sin and the sinner.  On Ash Wednesday we hear the solemn warning that sins are not without consequences but at the very same time we are bidden to come back to the Lord because He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  The sins we come confessing are not new sins we have not previously tried (not many of them, at least).  Most of them are the same tired old sins we confess to the Lord over and over again.  It would be reasonable and thoroughly just of God to draw a line in the sand and say "no more."  No more will He forgive these sins that we have so frequently confessed and just as often promised not to do again.  But the miracle of His grace is that He does not turn us away.  His grace and mercy are without equal. 

So when we ask Him how often we must forgive our brother who sins against us, He does not give us a different standard than the one He uses with us.  As often as he sins and begs forgiveness.  It is shockingly generous and seems foolishness to ears so quick to judge, to enlarge the sins of others, to minimize our own sins, to forgive only the worthy, to absolve only those we deem genuinely repentant...  What bids us come to Ash Wednesday is not the fear of failing to acknowledge our sinfulness but the remarkable promise of grace for the sinner who comes confessing the same tired old sins -- over and over again. . .

Yes, we too easily give up on the hard task of fending off temptation.  Yes, we too quickly grow tired of the discipline of saying "no" to the very things our sinful hearts ache to say "yes" to.  Yes, we have great intentions and poor follow through.  There is every reason to say no more, not now, already too much has been forgiven without evidence of much change of heart and life...  But God does not turn us away as He should.  He not only welcomes us but bids us come.  Return to the Lord.  We gladly wear the ashes for they are marked in the sign of the cross, the cross which has the power to give forgiveness and life even to ashes and dirt.
Somewhere I read a great line about the dirt that Jesus spat on to apply to the eyes of the blind man.  We are that dirt.  We come in need of His spit.  It sounds positively awful doesn't it.  Choose then what you prefer.  A sanitized blindness and death that ignores the consequences or dirt with His spit that opens eyes and bestows life?  We sinners cannot be choosy.  There is salvation in one place only -- in Christ alone.  Confession and forgiveness are not neat and tidy.  They are messy and dirty.  But even in dirt grace triumphs.  Even in ashes, there is life and hope.  Thanks be to God!

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

That statement is only the second part of an aphorism that comes from
Escolios a un texto implícito: selección (Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Villegas Asociados, 2001, p. 66):

"Cuando se principia exigiendo la sumisión total de la vida a un código ético, se acaba sometiendo el código a la vida.
Los que se niegan a absolver al pecador terminan absolviendo al pecado."

(When they begin demanding the total subjection of life to a code of ethics, they end up subjecting that code to life.
Those who refuse to absolve the sinner end up absolving the sin.)

As for what the aphorism means, it should be noted that as a Roman Catholic, Nicolás Gómez Dávila was strongly critical of the Second Vatican Council and the elimination of the Latin liturgy. Many of his aphorisms also mixes political and theological views. Some of his other thousands of aphorisms can be found here, such as:

Reason, Progress, and Justice are the three theological virtues of the fool.

What some call religion barely astonishes us more than what others call science.

The prejudice of not having prejudices is the most common one of all.

To patronize the poor has always been, in politics, the surest way to enrich oneself.

The poor man’s patience in modern society is not virtue but cowardice.

To the masses what matters is not whether they are free, but whether they believe they are free. Whatever cripples their freedom does not alarm them, unless they are told it should.

To appreciate the ancient or the modern is easy; but to appreciate the obsolete is the triumph of authentic taste.

The leftist screams that freedom is dying when his victims refuse to finance their ownmurders.

Politicians, in a democracy, are the condensers of idiocy.

Catholicism does not solve all problems but it is the only doctrine that raises them all.

To be Christian, in accordance with the latest fashion, consists less in repenting of our sins than in repenting of our Christianity.