Sin and Mercy

July 13th, 2008

Psalm 41:4 I said, LORD, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.

This is an illuminating prayer. It contains within it a great deal of theological information. It is illuminating,

First, in the matter of sin. What is sin? This verse gives us an answer.
A. Sin is an offense against God. When David confesses his sin he admits that it is against God (cp. Psalm 51:4). Sin is contrary to God: it is opposition to Him, rebellion against Him. Sin is transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4): it is an insult to His majesty; it is a denial of His glory.
B. Sin is self-destruction. Notice the petition, heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee. Sin has injured David’s soul. It is like a wound, or a debilitating disease (compare Isaiah 1:2-6). But it is like a disease we have brought on ourselves, as when undisciplined eating produces high cholesterol, or when drunkenness results in cirrhosis of the liver. Sin is destructive: but sin is self-destruction. There are certain very obvious forms of this: we can think of people who cut themselves, or in some other way inflict pain on themselves; or you can think of someone so enslaved to alcohol that they’ll squirt hairspray into their mouths for the sake of the alcohol within it. But it is not just when people do things that are that obvious that sin is self-destructive: all sin is always self-destructive, even when it seems like what the sinner is doing is taking care of himself. Remember the words of Christ in Mark 8:36. A man can be a sinner who takes care of himself, who makes sure he has the best of everything, and yet his life is self-destructive: what does it profit to gain the whole world and lose your own soul? (Compare Luke 12:15-21). Or as Jonah puts it (2:8), they that observe lying vanities (that is, pursue after false gods or even the true God in the wrong way) forsake their own mercy.

Second, in the matter of mercy.
A. Mercy is the answer to sin. God’s mercy can heal the wounds in our soul. In saying that I’m talking about more than the pain and bitterness that people feel, though that’s part of it: but there’s a lot more: there’s also the longing to sin, the hatred of God, the inability to even see what a slavery sin is. In other words, mercy is not just the answer to the consequences of sin: it is not just a way of reversing the self-destruction that our sin has caused. It is that: praise God that He restores the years that the locusts have eaten, He recovers the bitter waste of mind and heart and body on idols and vanity. But there is more: God deals not just with symptoms and results, He deals with the disease. Say that you have bronchitis, and because you cough so hard you break a rib, and they take you to the hospital. Well, they need to do something about that rib; and they need to do something about the cough; but that by itself doesn’t take care of the bronchitis. What’s needed is to get rid of the infection and build up your immune system so it doesn’t keep on or happen again. Well, that is somewhat like what mercy does. It does strap up our chests to protect the broken rib; it does suppress the coughing; but more fundamentally it gets down to the infection and takes it out. Mercy not only helps with the damage we’ve already caused: it gets right to the root of the problem, the stony and vicious heart of man that is not subject to the law of God and changes it for a heart of flesh. It takes a decaying corpse, and raises it to life, rather than just embalming it.

But God is the only one who can show this mercy. As sin is against Him, He is the only one who can forgive it. And He is the only one with the power to deal with it. And so we must go to the very one we have offended, we must go straight to the angry judge and plead for mercy from Him alone. It seems unlikely, doesn’t it, that He would have mercy. But remember that this same judge has sent forth His perfect and spotless Son, and that this Son died on the cross, bearing the punishment that really belonged to His sinful people. It is only by looking to Christ that we can understand that God will be merciful to all who call upon Him through Christ. Lord, be merciful to me; heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee. The only claim we have on God’s mercy is precisely the fact that we are sinners; but when we remember what Christ has done we know that it is enough of a claim. There is no reason in us why God should be merciful; but Christ shows us that there is a reason in God, that it is His good pleasure to hear and to save all that call on His name.

Theology is Piety

July 11th, 2008

Karl Rahner, Thomas Aquinas: Monk, Theologian, and Mystic
One becoming a priest must be a theologian. Not a schoolboy who snakes his way through examinations because otherwise one won’t get ordained. We don’t need to be theological geniuses. But we have to be human beings and Christians who love theological knowledge, who are there for it with mind and heart. For us there can in the long run be no really spiritual life without an intellectual life. In theology we have to allow ourselves to be challenged as whole persons with all we are, with mind and heart, with the whole weight and seriousness of existence in our times, with all the experience of our lives. Not only what is written in schoolbooks belongs to theology.
But theology can only be pursued as preparation of the whole priestly person preaching later on, if there flows into it and there is elaborated in it whatever moves or what ought to have moved a cultivated person in the age in which God has placed us without our asking. Just as Thomas did, so must we. If the living God has spoken to us, and if theology is nothing but the exact listening to God’s revelation with every means of grace and nature available to a person, then we have to be theologians, or we are not in general what we should be. For us, theology is simply a part, an inner moment of the work of salvation on our own existence and that of others. Not just an academic affair.

On Finding Allegory

July 4th, 2008

C.S. Lewis, Letter to Father Peter Milward, 10 December 1956

We shd. probably find that many particular allegories critics read into Langland or Spenser are impossible for just that sort of reason, if we knew all the facts. I am also convinced that the wit of man cannot devise a story in wh. the wit of some other man cannot find an allegory.