Thursday, July 01, 2010

Theology and "condemn the sin but not the sinner" 2

Following the first part, we'll here try to explore further the basis of Christian's relation to 'judgment' and 'condemnation' after taking into consideration all responses to the initial post.

Let us recap the 3 points discussed there.
Point 1. It is not a symmetrical relationship between, on one hand, pronouncing a judgment as well as condemnation on a believer and, on another hand, embracing the believer with grace and forgiveness. Given this asymmetrical relationship, there is no contradictory tension between both.

Point 2. Bearing this framework in mind, we can think that the nice old saying "condemn the sin but not the sinner" is untenable. In order for it to be tenable, we have to separate the person from his/her deeds in our recognition of that person. This sounds good and might have a psychological benefit that helps us to forgive other believers.

Point 3. However, this is problematic on the premise that we can recognize the person apart from his/her deeds. We simply cannot do that because it is theologically, morally, and politically wrong.
We shall examine further point 1.

Is the nature of the relationship between pronouncement of judgment and the act of reconciliation on a person is really asymmetrical and hence non-contradictory?

Yes, simply because each one does not cancel out the other. When a judgment is pronounced on a person, that does not mean the person is beyond reconciliation. We shall see how can this be understood on a social and then on a theological level.

A functioning society is one that cultivates an asymmetrical relationship between judgment and reconciliation. The society needs a judiciary that pronounces judgment on criminals.

However, if the society contents only with judgment, then this will create a margin within the society which is separated from the society even though it is part of the society. In this case, ex-offenders can never be reconciled in the society. Hence to remain content with judgment is frustrating the society from recognizing itself as itself. And this will make a joke out of various initiatives such as the Yellow Ribbon Project.

And these initiatives will not be successful unless they see their works not as re-integrating ex-offenders into the society as if the former is not part of the latter, but as alerting the latter to its own deficiency. The wider part of the society needs to come to the acknowledgment that these ex-offenders are the result of the social lacking which the whole society is in one way or another has failed to address. Why would anyone commit a crime if he/she has no lack? And why would he/she lacks if the social surrounding does not allow it? Hence on this level, reconciliation is not between the ex-offenders and the society, but reconciling the society with itself. If the society able to reconcile with itself, naturally the ex-offenders-margin is eliminated.

Theologically, it is precisely the believers as the sinners that God reconciles with us. There is no separation of our personhood from our sinful deeds in the divine reconciliation in the same way there is no separation between our personhood from our sinful deeds in the divine judgment. We are reconciled in our personhood as sinners to God through Christ not as persons separated from our deeds, but as persons with deeds. Hence "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5.8). In fact, the act of reconciliation presupposes judgment. What was there to reconcile if there was no judgment in the first place?

It was in God's judgment that God's reconciliation emerged.

Extending out of this divine judgment and reconciliation, Christians are summoned to "Forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." (Mark 11.25. Italic added.)

Here it implies that our Father already hold us accountable for our deeds. And the condition for him to override this accountability is not by separating our deeds from our person but to set accountability based on our deeds as a person. Hence the conditional "so that". This point is made obvious with the supplementary verse 26 which was probably added into the text later to illuminate further its meaning, "But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses."

Nonetheless, when reconciliation took place, that does not mean the person is beyond judgment in the sense that the person is immune to accountability. Reconciled sinners are still accountable for their deeds as persons. If they do wrong again, judgment will be there. Hence each wrong that a person has done will have its consequence. But the consequence does not mean that the person is irredeemable because reconciliation will also be there. Christians do not have to choose one from the other. We can and should choose both.

Luther's theology has this term 'simul iustus et Peccator' (Saint and sinner at the same time). He meant it to mean that we are sinners who are made righteous by Christ. In the same way, the society has to function with judgment and reconciliation existing asymmetrically without one overriding the other. Without reconciliation, alienation pervades the society, making it unlivable. Without judgment, the society simply cannot function and hence leads to its own destruction.

After writing this, I realize that this perspective is a sort of theological sociology; seeing how theological categories enable us to better understand the society. Recognizing the ideal, challenges, and operating forces in the society in theological manner.


Rasselas said...

thanks for sharing

Sze Zeng said...

You are welcome, Rasselas.