Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Presumption, Mercy, and Following

I had an interesting conversation with my brother, his wife, and my niece last night.  In the process, we started to talk about a specific sin, and how I should conceivably and willingly put myself into a near occasion for sin (for those that don't know, a "near occasion for sin" is when you put yourself into a situation where you know you will be tempted to sin or where you know will tempt others to sin by your actions.  For instance, taking a recovering alcoholic bar-hopping would be a near occasion for sin.). When I protested and said that doing so wasn't safe, my brother told me, "Ruth, _______ is not the unpardonable sin."  Then my niece pipes up and says, "You can just go to confession afterwards!"  While we all laughed at the time and the conversation moved on, I found myself thinking about this conversation and some of the assumptions that underlie this attitude as I was falling asleep last night.

First, I have to say that, on its face, both what my brother and my niece said are correct--God is merciful, and He has given us the means to be forgiven.  That is the reason that Jesus died on the cross, as well as why  Jesus instituted Confession/Reconciliation at the end of the Gospel of John.  I am testimony to that fact--He has forgiven me for my suicide attempt 12 years ago, among MANY other things, and for that I will ever be grateful.    So, it wasn't really WHAT was said, so much as HOW it was said.  Whether you are Catholic or Protestant, all of us agree that God is merciful and that He forgives.  This is the greatest reason that I love the Divine Mercy Chaplet--it reminds me of what Christ did for me, as well as the fact that His mercy is fathomless.  This chaplet and image was a revelation to St. Faustina, and her diaries are on my list of books to read....Read the explanation St. Faustina was given about this picture in the caption...

The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him 

I want to dwell in the shelter of Christ's love and mercy, but I don't think that putting myself into a near occasion of sin is the way to do so.  When you take this idea, it feels too much like the argument St. Paul is refuting in Romans 6: 1-18 (I'm only going to quote vs. 15-18 here).

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? Of course not! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, although you were once slaves of sin, you have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were entrusted. Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness.
For me, willingly walking into a situation of a near occasion of sin is like willingly presenting myself to become a slave to that sin, and I only want to be a slave of Christ.  The verse that has been on a continuous loop in my brain, though, is something Jesus himself said (John 14:15-21):
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
So, the way that I show my love for God is to follow Him and keep His commandments--I can't do that if I'm purposely setting myself up to sin.  Even if I am able to resist the temptation (and that is doubtful--the fact that I'm willing to put myself into the situation in the first place says that I'm already half-way to consenting), I am giving myself permission to disobey because "Jesus will forgive me."   In Catholic-ese, this is probably the graver sin--I'm guilty of presumption.  I am saying that I don't need to repent in order to be forgiven by God, and no matter what faith tradition you come from, repentance means we must accept God's gift of salvation.    When I presume upon Christ's Mercy, I am basically saying that He is going to force His love on me and make me become someone that I clearly do not want to become.  According to CS Lewis,
In creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of such defeat. What you call defeat, I call miracle: for to make things which are not Itself, and thus to become, in a sense, capable of being resisted by its own handiwork, is the most astonishing and unimaginable of all the feats we attribute to the Deity. I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside. I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man "wishes" to be happy: but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good. --The Problem of Pain
If I have learned anything from my divorce, I have learned that none of us has the power to change or fix another human being.  I believe my ex married me a little less than a year after my suicide attempt because he  knew that I was vulnerable and it gave him a chance that he wouldn't otherwise have had to date me.  I also believe that he wanted to rescue me, but really, only I could rescue myself by resting in the Mercy of God. As the Lord healed me, I stayed because I felt that I needed to live with the consequences of my mistake.  More than that, I hoped that my ex would grow and change as time went on, but no amount of wishing, hoping, praying, nagging, or ultimatums changed my ex's actions or attitudes--he has to make that decision to change for himself.

And, that is why I won't be following my brother's advice from last night's conversation.  I like the changes that God has wrought in me, and I want Him to continue to make me more like Him--I don't see that happening if I create situations where I am purposely presenting myself to be a slave of sin. Instead, I will present myself to Christ.  When He sets you free, you will be free indeed!