instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, March 15, 2004

Love the sinner. Amen.

It occurs to me that it is critical for us Christians to separate our sinfulness from our lovableness. We need to recognize that, fundamentally, neither depends on the other. That's the only way we can make sense of the fact that we are sinners beloved by God.

Here I don't mean making intellectual sense out of God's questionable choices for the objects of His affections. I mean practical sense for ourselves to understand who we are and what we are to do.

If my sinfulness depends [inversely] on my lovableness, then if I am lovable I am not sinful. But I am lovable; in fact, I am loved, and there's a crucifix in my pocket to prove it. So, if sinfulness depends on lovableness, I must not be sinful. "I am lovable and not sinful": does that sound like a sentiment you've encountered recently?

Putting it the other way round, if my lovableness depends [inversely] on my sinfulness, then if I am sinful I am not lovable. But I am sinful, which would mean I am not lovable, and God can't love me, although if I'm careful and sufficiently craven He just might let me get away without being damned, if lovableness depends on sinfulness. This sentiment might be in the minority these days, but in various times and places it has, I think, dominated.

Now, there is a theological relation between sinfulness and lovableness. The less sinful you are, the more "you" there is to love, and in that sense the more lovable you are. As a practical matter, though, since we don't have very accurate being-meters, the state of this theological relation is hidden from us, and all we have to go on are the dual facts that God loves us no matter how sinful we are -- which preserves us from despair -- and that no matter how much God loves us, we are sinners -- which preserves us from presumption.