Sunday, December 27, 2009

On Feeling Bad About Sin, Part 1 of 2

Cain, from malice, killed Abel his brother, and what immediately happened to him? From Genesis, Chapter 4:

13 And Cain said to the Lord, "My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14 Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me."
15 And the Lord said to him, "No so; whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." [More nearly literally: seven vengeances shall paralyze him.] And the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him.

Cain felt (and objectively was) guilty, and guilt, as always, brought fear of punishment with it. Notice, please, that there is no record of Cain repenting. He simply complains about his punishment. (Nevertheless, our all-merciful, compassionate and kind Lord places a mark on him to serve notice to others not to kill him.)

When Adam and Eve sinned, there was a difference. They, from distrust of God and from pride stirred up by the serpent, ate of the forbidden tree. And their reaction? They didn’t repent, either; they tried to hide themselves from God. They were ashamed, and indeed had done a shameful thing.

Adam and Eve experienced shame. Cain experienced guilt.

They aren't the same, although it's common to experience shame and guilt both together. But guilt feels like squirming little worms gnawing at your soul, whereas shame makes you want to run and hide. Shame makes you embarrassed, while guilt makes you want to kick yourself, or flagellate or starve or otherwise deprive yourself. Martin Luther famously tried this approach, performing all sorts of ascetical tasks in fullest measure, and found out self-punishment really does not help. See Footnote 1.

Most sins, the ones proceeding from lust, pride, gluttony, sloth, or greed, bring forth shame. People fornicate or overeat secretly. It’s the sins proceeding from hostility toward God and man (i.e., envy or anger) that produce the experience of guilt. That is, it is not the specific behaviors that bring shame or guilt; it’s mostly the “sin behind the sin,” the attitudes giving birth to those misdeeds. If you merely feel sorry for specific acts, yet hold on to the pride or hostility or whatever was behind them, your feelings of shame or guilt will persist and even Confession of the particular misdeeds won’t help.  Both the objective and the subjective guilt will remain.  (And failure to give up the underlying wrong attitudes is the ONLY reason shame or guilt persists even when you regret the specific things you've done.) See Footnote 2.

This is why neither shame nor guilt is an appropriate reaction to sin. They are both forms of wounded pride, both ego-centric, both are unhealthy, morbid. Worst of all, both are (highly unsuccessful) substitutes for what’s really needed.

What is the right reaction to sin? For anyone who loves God, it is sorrow. Sorrow that has nothing to do with embarrassment and is equally free of self-loathing. Sorrow is not wounded ego, but wounded love. It’s a cherished relationship disrupted, a love betrayed (in fact, THE Love of all loves betrayed), and not a wish to hurt yourself, but a recognition of the hurt already done to your innermost self, as well as to others.

It’s a sweet sorrow, too, for at least two reasons; first, because it immediately brings with it not fear of punishment, as guilt does, but profound and joyous awareness of God’s tender mercy. (“Perfect love throws out fear.”) And secondly, because this sorrow brings not only fresh joy but also new hope: yes, God has granted me a change of mind; now He will help me change, truly change, everything else: heart, attitudes, behaviors, everything, from the inside out! Starting right now. See Footnote 3.

Guilt and shame, then, are false postures, failures or even evasions of true contrition, for which there really is no substitute. Implication: religions that center around relieving our shame and guilt are dealing with the wrong problem! The problem is how to cure the passions infecting our hearts.  Then all the rest will follow.

Kyrie, eleison!  Open unto me the doors of repentance!


1.) Pseudo-ascetical tasks Luther did, really. True asceticism is not an effort to punish oneself for ones sins. It is rather an effort to wean oneself from addiction to the things of this world, to achieve greater inner freedom to offer God in His service. It is, in other words, a labor of love.

2.) Some degree of hostility toward God is going to be extremely tough to get over, maybe even impossible, if you believe in God as He is usually preached outside of Holy Orthodoxy, Who commits what you'd call atrocities if anyone else did them.  Hostility toward that kind of deity is only natural in us, as those very religions also admit and teach; thus, it is absolutely persistent. Nevertheless, unless we get over that remnant of hostility lurking in some dark corner of our hearts, we will never get past the subjective guilt, nor indeed the objective guilt, either.

I'm sorry, but only Holy Orthodoxy consistently teaches you about the God Who is entirely loveable, entirely delightful, “in Whom there is no darkness at all,” the God you can love unambivalently from the core of your being.

3.) If you belong to a religion that teaches you can never really change appreciably this side of the grave, that says at best you can only be like a manure pile covered with snow, then I suppose you’re deprived of this blessed Hope of renewal, and with it, of any genuine, lasting, or non-superficial relief from guilt. You just really do need to become Orthodox.



William Weedon said...

Just to note: Dr. Luther NEVER said that saying about the manure pile. Some try to attribute it to him (it's all over the net), but it's not in his own writings or anything even approximating it.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

That's good to know.

I wonder where it came from?

And whether you think it an apt analogy for Lutheran teaching on justification.

William Weedon said...

I am not sure where it came from, and think it is a horrid caricature of the Lutheran teaching on justification.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Then I offer you this venue to explain, if you like, why this is so.

William Weedon said...

Because Lutheran doctrine has always taught there is a real beginning of righteousness within the Christian - a beginning which grows though it is not brought to its final perfection short of death. We've had this conversation before, no?

From the Lutheran Symbols: "For through one's entire life, repentance contends with the sin remaining in the flesh. Paul testifies that he wars with the law in his members, not by his own powers, but by the gift of the Holy Spirit that follows forgiveness of sins. This gift daily cleanses and sweeps out the remaining sins and works to make a person truly pure and holy." SA III, III, 40

And thus, we have in our Treasury reading for St. Stephen's Day these words by the Lutheran pastor Valerius Herberger:

"Devout Christians are virgins before God and have four different virgin garlands. The first is the garland of righteousness gifted. The second is the garland of righteousness begun. The third is the garland of all kinds of cross and thorns. The fourth is the glorious garland of perfect righteousness."

Sound like snow covered poop to you? :)

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

No, it does not.

But I can't help noticing that I asked you about justification and you responded with sanctification.


William Weedon said...

Because while the two are sharply distinguished in Lutheran teaching they are never to be divided from one another; the one does not exist without the other, though sanctification never becomes the BASIS for justification, it remains its fruit. Just like you can distinguish the fire itself from the light and the heat, but never divide them from each other. :)

Dixie said...

Not saying for a minute that he is the Oracle of Lutheran wisdom but the WELS answer man seemed to think that even though there is no record of Luther saying sounded like him. ;) There is some information about it here.

Oh...and something interesting from the same place...Anastasia, remember when I told you that I taken aback in my catechumenate when my priest told me that when I encounter holy person I would know it and it would have a huge impact on me...and I was skeptical, thinking no man is holy? And you asked why would I have thought that?

The same page referenced above has a number of things that explain why but this quote from Luther (LW, Vol 12, page 325) really captures it.

. . . it is a fictitious expression to speak of a "holy man," just as it is a fictitious expression to speak of God's falling into sin; for by the nature of things, this cannot be.

For this reason we must reject those very ancient and deep-rooted errors by which in monastic fashion we speak of Jerome or Paul as "holy." In themselves they are sinners, and only God is holy, as the church sings. Those whom we call "holy" are made holy by an alien holiness, through Christ, by the holiness of free mercy. In this holiness the whole church of the faithful is the same, there is no difference . . . It does not matter that Peter and Paul did greater things than you or I . . . So you see nothing holy, nothing good in man, as the psalm says (Ps. 53:2,3), "God looks down from heaven upon the sons of men . . . There is none that does good, no, not one." . . . Therefore let us keep quiet about holiness and holy people . . . everything that is ours is evil before God . . .

I do think that both the Orthodox and Lutherans can agree that all holiness comes from God...but in the end the Lutherans keep quiet about holiness and holy people and the Orthodox truly acknowledge them. I personally think it has to do with acknowledging the role of synergia. As Orthodox we believe ALL in Christ have the potential for holiness...but most of us can't cooperate to that level...unlike Father Anthony in Fort Wayne...we don't really think Christ is enough, is all we need.

William Weedon said...

Yet, Dixie, notice how the Larger Catechism speaks when exhorting us to prayer. There Dr. Luther (and the Lutheran Church with him) says:

You should say, My prayer is precious, holy, and pleasing to God as that of St. Paul or of the most holy saints. This is the reason: *I will gladly grant that Paul is personally more holy*, but that's not because of the commandment. God does not consider prayer because of the person, but because of His Word and our obedience to it. For I rest my prayer on the same commandment on which all the saints rest their prayer. Furthermore, I pray for the same thing that they all pray for and have always prayed. Besides, I have just as a great a need of what I pray for as those great saints; no, even a greater need than theirs.

LC III:16 Note the asterisked words. We freely grant that there is St. Paul (and all the saints) a greater personal holiness (that they have come much further than we in that "sweeping out" of the sins that remain). Nevertheless, together with all the saints we share in the perfect holiness which is alien in its origin (not arising from us) but given whole and entire as gift - which is Jesus Christ our blessed Lord.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

By the prayers of St. Paul, God healed countless people. Does God do that through your prayers? Not through mine. There's definitely a big difference. "The prayer of a righteous man avails much."

My prayer is nowhere near as precious and pleasing to God as St. Paul's, because it is nowhere near as pure, as undistracted, as wholehearted, as loving, as adoring or as repentant as St. Paul's - for starters.

"God does not consider prayer because of the person, but because of His Word and our obedience to it." St. Paul was also far more obedient than I. Yes, we all share in Christ's perfect holiness, but both the quality and the degree of each person's participation varies. Not all of us shine visibly with the Uncreated Light.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

But the discussion was going to be about how the snow-covered dungheap analogy does or doesn't relate to justification, specifically. If that isn't going to be discussed, then perhaps we'll have to be content never to have any basis for deciding whether the analogy is apt or caricature.

William Weedon said...

Show me the snowcovered dung-heap or anything approximating it in Luther or the Lutheran Symbols. Until then, attributing it to us (or implying it is ours) is just false witness.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

If it's false witness, I rejoice not to have made that mistake in this post, and shall certainly be equally careful in future, and shall point out the error should I see others making it.

Finding similar things from Luther is not at all difficult; I found a couple the first place I looked, which is probably where Dixie looked, too:

But I think that point, that Dr. Luther never said this, we've established.

William Weedon said...

It is probably worth remembering too the wise words of Krauth: "Any man who, on any pretence, gives ecclesiastical authority to private opinions, is robbing the Church of her freedom. *She is to be held responsible for no doctrines which she has not officially declared to be her own.*" (CR 265) Which for Lutherans means that much as we treasure and value the writings of the ancient fathers and the fathers of the Lutheran reformation and the writings of others since, the *doctrine* of the Church is that found in our Symbols. A discussion of the doctrine of justification from the Symbols would not yield the snow-covered pile of poop, but a verdict of not guilty that truly results in transformation of the person, sweeping out the old sin, and growing day by day into a personal appropriation of that holiness which we have been given in Jesus Christ. FWIW. A blessed ongoing Christmas Feast to you and yours!