Thursday, November 16, 2006

Incomplete understanding of sin

I am reading Philip Yancey's "The Jesus I Never Knew" and came across this interesting quote from Flannery O'Connor. The ones in italics was extracted by Yancey. I have underlined those which has gotten me thinking.

"Glibness is the great danger in answering people's questions about religion. I won't answer yours because you can answer them as well yourself but I will give you, for what it's worth, my own perspective on them. All your dissatisfaction with the Church seems to me to come from an incomplete understanding of' sin. This will perhaps surprise you because you are very conscious of' the sins of Catholics: however what you seem actually to demand is that the Church put the kingdom of heaven on earth right here now, that the Holy Ghost be translated at once into all flesh. The Holy Spirit very rarely shows Himself on the surface of anything. You are asking that man return at once to the state God created him in, you are leaving out the terrible radical human pride that causes death. Christ was crucified on earth and the Church is crucified in time. and the Church is crucified by all of us, by her members most particularly because she is a Church of sinners. Christ never said that the Church would be operated in a sinless or intelligent way, but that it would not teach error. This does not mean that each and every priest won't teach error but that the whole Church speaking through the Pope will not teach error in matters of faith. The Church is founded on Peter who denied Christ three times and couldn't walk on the water by himself. You are expecting his successors to walk on the water. All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful. Priests resist it as well as others. To have the Church be what you want it to be would require the continuous miraculous meddling of God in human affairs, whereas it is our dignity that we are allowed more or less to get on with those graces that come through faith and the sacraments and which work through our human nature. God has chosen to operate in this manner. We can't understand this but we can't reject it without rejecting life."

Quote from Flannery O'Connor (in a letter to Cecil Dawkins) - Letters of Flannery O'Conner, p307.

An incomplete understanding of sin leads to disillusionment with Church and the Christian faith in general. O'Connor is simply right on, in pointing out the impatience of the human being with regards to sin. Cynical people expects church people to be perfect, or close to their perceived views of perfect saints. This is not to say that the church should not be perfect, or find excuses for their weaknesses. This is for all of us to understand that criticising one another is like sawing off the SAME branch of hope we are standing on. Are we behaving childishly in expecting God to meddle in our world all the time? Are we regularly on a complaining mode, dissatisfied with nearly everything we see? Are we waiting for something better, even when we ourselves are able to take initiatives to DO SOMETHING BETTER NOW?

I have heard time and again the following:
- "The Church comprises people who are hypocrites" {I will reply saying all human beings are hypocrites in one way or another.}
- "If the Church themselves are sinning, what hope is there for the world?" {My reply will be, the Church is a place where sinners are able to look together to God in the name of Christ. It is a place where all depend on the mercy of God. Any attack on the church is essentially an attack on the one Christ has died for. Our faith is built with Christ as the cornerstone, not on the behaviour of the people inside.}

The antidote for people's cynicism about the church is grace. If Christ had not shown grace and mercy, all of us would have perished and live on this earth without much hope. True, the church is not perfect. All continue to live under grace. If we reject this grace, our lives will become inherently graceless and bitter. Being able to give and receive grace is one of the best human expressions in life. In fact, grace is the essence of true living. O'Connor puts it very well. We cannot reject grace without rejecting life itself. Live in grace and learn to live graceFULLY.


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