Friday, July 30, 2010

Peace Despite Pain Overcomes Sin

Someone has asked me to rephrase the “Overcoming Sin by Not Hiding” entry. I don’t think I can, exactly. I’ll try. Let’s start by unpacking the guilt-leading-to-sin-leading-to-guilt syndrome. Certainly guilt is necessary when it functions as a red flag for the clueless that they have so wandered from God in their heart that they are breaking the law. That is, the mind having wandered from attention to God in the heart is seduced by thoughts and passions that lead to sinful actions. If the conscience (heart in this case) condemns the sinner and leads them to Christ through repentance, this is good. However, guilt coupled with self righteousness has the opposite effect.
Self righteousness says “I ought to be able to (not to) do this.” So when I fail, guilt--instead of leading me to Christ through repentance--says to me, “You can’t do this. You will never be able to do this. You will always fail.” This kind of guilt may motivate me to fight. I may try harder. But somewhere deep down I know it is true; and when strong temptation comes again, I fail again. Why? My self righteousness has kept me from fleeing to Christ. I thought, “I ought to be able to do this,” so I didn't flee to Christ.
When helping someone overcome a particular sin, emphasizing to them how terrible the sin is will not help them (e.g. “Don’t you realize how this hurts [your spouse, your children, etc.]”). Such words only increase guilt, and because the person is already confessing the sin, guilt has already done it’s job. Guilt is no longer needed. Transformation only comes in seeing ourselves in Christ as the poor and needy one. This seeing ourselves in Christ is a mystical coupling; it is finding our fullness, our true selves, in who we are becoming in Christ, which is who we already are in Christ. Failure then is not so much my “fault” (because I am spiritually poor and needy--why should I be surprised that the basest sins tempt me?). Failure is evidence of my wandering from Christ, who is the savior of the poor and needy. It is only as I cling to Christ that I can be saved.
Perverted guilt makes us hide from God like Adam in Paradise. And in our hiding, we try and try to do better only to fail again. Our struggle with sin becomes like a broken record, the same triggers leading to the same sinful responses leading to the same guilt leading to the same trying harder leading to the same triggers. Fleeing (warts and all) to Christ we find “rest for our souls.” I do not hide the passions (the pain) that dwell in my heart and mind, but I reveal my pain unashamed because I am the chief of sinners, the poorest of the poor, the most unworthy. And here is where the miracle happens. Just as the Prophet of old marries the harlot, Christ my God comes to me and makes me his own. He embraces me (warts and all) and gives me His Name. He lifts me up, He gives me my higher self, He becomes my refuge, my hiding place, my helper in time of need.
Paying attention to this mystical union with Christ in the heart delivers us from the sin that so easily besets us. Sure, guilt may motivate us to trade a lesser sin for a greater one--gluttony for vanity or drunkenness for pride, for example--but peace in the midst of passion (pain) is only the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Bridegroom. And it is this peace despite pain that breaks the cycle of sin.

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