In dealing with the concepts of the love of God and the justice of God, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. It’s easy to get so caught up in focussing on one thing that one forgets that there are obligations to the other side of thing which God calls us to do. We are called, for example, to love those who hate us and to admonish the sinners.
For example, one of the things I notice when it comes to people being offended by the Church is that they tend to be too close to the issue to consider it objectively. It’s natural to feel threatened when someone is personally affected by an issue. But the problem is, when a person takes it too personally, they may lack the objectivity to listen to what needs to be said. It’s important to note that this is not limited to one faction or another. It’s not something that only happens to other people. Each one of us can feel attacked by something we need to hear and respond by refusing to listen. It’s common to hear things like, “God doesn’t care about your rules,” or “you need to stop being legalistic."
This becomes a problem when it comes to denying Church teaching because, as Catholics, we believe that the Church teaching has authority because Christ Himself gave the Church authority to teach, and so the denial of the Church is a denial of Christ. For example, if Jesus did tell Peter in Matthew 16:19 and the rest of the apostles in Matthew 18:18 that what they bound on Earth is bound in Heaven, then God does care about the rules of the Church.
Of course, God also cares about how we apply His rules. While we cannot set His commandments aside, it is possible to forget about the side of compassion and mercy required in teaching His commandments. The possibility of being so focussed on punishing the guilty and worrying about somebody “getting away with” things is dangerous. The possibility of a past mistake or sin repented of is not seen as relevant. If Bishop X once held a problematic position, he cannot ever be trusted again and whoever considers the possibility is not to be trusted either.
So it seems there is a problem with people confusing both what truth requires and what compassion requires. It seems like certain people think that God being loving and merciful cannot condemn the actions being done. From that error, it becomes easy to make one of two opposite false conclusions. Either the person...
- wrongly assumes that compassion and love means the Church cannot say things we do are wrong.
- wrongly assumes that compassion and love means the Church is failing to teach right and wrong.
That’s the danger of becoming so rigid or so attached to one’s sins that one loses sight of the big picture—that God is both loving and just. Ignoring one of these in favor of the other is going to give a person a distorted view of God and what we are called by Him to be. Losing sight of God’s justice means expecting God to just turn a blind eye to our sins. Losing sight of God’s love means viewing the sinner as an enemy to oppose instead of a person in need of salvation that we have to reach out to.
Both views need to be opposed. The person who does not want to change his or her ways, and thinks of Church teaching as “manmade rules” are creating a false image of God and risking their souls over a lie. The person who thinks of the sinner as “the enemy,” are claiming the role of judge that they are not allowed to have, risking becoming alienated from Christ and His Church. We need to realize that the role of the Church does not embrace either extreme. Rather, the Church loves the sinner, while rejecting the false ideas the sinner clings to. The role of God’s teaching is to lead us in living according to His will. Those who have not fallen into a particular sin are called to help their brethren who have and love them—even if the response we receive from them is hostile.
We are called to love and follow Our Lord Jesus Christ, and that means heeding the Church He established (Matthew 18:17). That also means serving in love in doing so. We can’t just point to the failures of the “other side.” We have to consider our own actions in relation to these two pitfalls.