Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Part Uno: Really Guilty?

If there is one thing that Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation teaches us (somewhat imperfectly) is that guilt can be a debilitating thing. The story goes that the young Luther never felt that he did enough good things to please a holy God. He was annoying about his habitual confession of his unworthiness to please the stern, holy God. He famously remarked on how could he love this type of God, in fact he hated him! Finally he was pointed toward the reading of the Bible. Upon reading St. Paul, Luther discovered that he no longer should feel guilty about past, present or future sins because of the freedom brought by God's grace in Christ. Finally no guilt!
Or is there no guilt? Is this freedom or are we even more bound to Christ? In short, did Luther miss the point? The point is if Christ paid for all our sins are we now even more his prisoners?
There are at least two ways to go from here. On the one hand, some will then impose a number of ethical/moral commands to follow to be so-called good servants of Christ. This usually consists of scavenging the Bible to set up some type of moral norm. Many call some forms of this legalism because it tries to make certain things universally binding on everyone because its source is the Bible. The guilty are those that do not follow this ethical norm. I think this view betrays a "yes, I'm free from sin by God's grace, but..." because something is always attached to the "but". This crew is often uber-anti-Catholic and prides itself over its grace-based salvation (not works based), even though they honestly spend most of their time complaining about the lack of people following the legalistic code.
On the other hand, a few will say that yes we are in fact free, really free. That the biggest obstacle has been removed: the identity of a stern, holy Other that watches our every move has been shown to be a scam. Now we have the incarnated God-Man of grace and his presence among us by his Spirit. I think we constantly do not take the freedom that Christ gives us seriously so instead because of our own internal or communal guilt we reestablish a stern Other to keep us in the cycle of law-sin-guilt. Instead, when we look to do the good, we only have to look as far as our fellow human being. Our guilt should come when we actually fail to live a life that avoids some sort of violence (objective or subjective) toward a brother or sister. The laws or codes within the Bible (especially per St. Paul) are ways to enact a healthy discipline among the brethren.

1 comment:

  1. That reminds me of some talk I've heard about idols. The tricky part about idolatry is you can also make a god, and then call that god God. That's tricky, since it's so hard to notice, and you think you're still OK. I wonder how possible it is to ever prevent that. Maybe keep it down a bit, but...anyway, your thoughts reminded me of that!