Monday, December 07, 2009

Benign Tolerance?

Systemic child abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Irish Orphanages, the climate change email scandal, the Tiger Woods marital mess: what do these three apparently disconnected things have in common?  Simply this:  the human tendency to compromise the truth and to then do damage control rather than come clean and address the real core of the problem.  

In each case, people have violated public trust by ignoring their stated baselines of moral behavior.  The Roman Catholic Church stands strongly on respect for human life.  However, incontroverable evidence now shows that such respect apparently did not extend to children housed in multiple orphanages run by Roman Catholic priests during the middle to latter half of the 20th century.  Scientists pride themselves on intellectual honesty, and insist that they deal with facts, only facts. Unless, however, those facts do not line up favorably with the current theory in vogue.  Tiger Woods publicized himself up as a boring, clean-living dedicated athlete.  It is now looking like much of his clean public image covered years of unfaithfulness to his wife.

Now, I'm not interested in pointing the fingers at these three situations and piously saying, "There but for the grace of God go I."  What a nasty statement that is!  All of us have discrepancies between our public statements and our private behavior and actions.  Everyone one of us stands very much in the need of the grace of God.  We're no different--just less public in our behavior and less likely to see the tatters in our souls held up to world-wide scrutiny.

The question for me today is: What does God's grace really look like?  Many people see grace as a kind of benign tolerance of one another's peccadilloes and personal preferences and a decidedly non-judgmental stance toward the decisions of others, even if such decisions seem somewhat misguided.

Let's try that on for size here.  Do we just dismiss those serving in ordained ministry with a decided taste for hurting children as just having a personal preference for such things?  Or suggest that scientists who hide or twist evidence that call into question pet theories only somewhat misguided, especially when their pronouncements will guide public policy for years to come? Or write off Tiger Woods' preference for multiple sexual partners while systematically lying about it as simply private behavior that affects no one else?  What hogwash.  We are rightly horrified by such things.

So "benign tolerance" and "non-judgmental" doesn't seem to work so well as a definition of grace when the peccadilloes of others build mountains of hurt and destruction. 

Grace is much deeper than that.  Grace says, "Look closely at your souls.  See them in the light of powerful and justice-loving holiness.  Speak truth about yourselves, and find yourselves free to leave behind that which is destroying you and others.  Seek the face of God and know forgiveness is yours when you bring a repentant heart." 

Christmas is just around the corner now.  That is the time when Christians celebrate something called the "incarnation."  This is God saying, "I've sent the law and the prophets, and you didn't listen.  So I will bring myself to show you the way of true reconciliation.  I will come in complete weakness and humility, not in power and public adulation.  And I will live grace.  In this grace, the only sin that can't be forgiven is the one that won't be acknowledged because you have excused it with the personal peccadillo of 'I'm not perfect--cut me some slack.' Instead, come, speak truth and find freedom in me."

Grace:  we all need it.  The process of maturity, that which Jesus calls, "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect," is one of bringing into harmony public pronouncements of who we say we are and what we believe into the private, tiniest details of our private lives.  A grace-filled life does not run from scrutiny and exposure, but embraces them.  For such exposure reminds us of this, "here, because of the grace of God, I am."

No comments: