Transgressing The Law

Transgressing The Law May 30, 2022

uroburos: Christ The Good Shepherd /pixabay

As Christians, it is important that we should spiritually develop our ourselves, abandoning vices and embracing the virtues promoted by the faith. We cannot do this if we are focused on others, looking at them, trying to find reasons to judge and condemn them. For then, instead of focusing on our own spiritual development, which is what we should be doing, our focus will be on others, and so, we would end up ignoring our own faults and weaknesses. Not only will we become oblivious to our own vices, the more we act in this way, the more we will find such vices taking root and growing in our soul (especially ones which have us compare ourselves to others, such as jealousy, envy, and pride). If we want to be holy, if we want to engage virtue, we will do so by following the teachings of Christ, the teachings which can be said to represent the new law, the law of love. Christ’s law teaches us to help our neighbor, seeking their improvement without giving way to the temptation to condemn them. This is why Theodore of Eleutheropolis warned us against judging others, pointing out that even if we are correct in what we say about their faults, we would be transgressing the law ourselves, and in a way which undermines the point of the law itself:

Abba Theodore also said, ‘If you are temperate, do not judge the fornicator, for you would then transgress the law just as much. And he who said, “Do not commit fornication,” also said, “Do not judge.”’ [1]

We must remember, when we act with a judgmental attitude, we ignore the spirit of the law, as we engage acts of unlove; it is in this it can be said that we violate the whole of the law, for the law itself is to love. For it is clear, we violate and undermine the very principle upon which the law is based, which is exactly the point James was trying to make when he wrote:

If you really fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well.  But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it (Jas. 2:8-10 RSV).

By singling people out to condemn them, we demonstrate our partiality, showing how we seek to separate them from the rest of humanity and the love which should be given to all. Again, it becomes clear, we end up ignoring the point of the law, the point of any good moral code, which is to reinforce the dictates of love. We are to reach out and help people, to lift them up, to make them and their lives better. If all we do is condemn them, we are not doing this. Most often, though we are acting for their benefit, it is clear, this is not the case; there is something which we gain by our actions, such as the pleasure we feel by putting them down, a pleasure which relates to the way we end up feeling superior to them, and this, and not any true concern for them, forms the basis of our judgment. To justify our action, we use elements of the law to violate the law, and instead of building them up and helping them become better, we only make ourselves worse (especially if and when we judge people falsely, accusing them of faults which they do not possess). Treating people in this manner not only undermines their dignity, it will make them hesitant to listen to us or others when they should. Since it is our mistreatment of them which causes them to turn away from what is good or true, we will be the ones held responsible. For, as James said, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness” (Jas. 3:1 RSV).

Therefore, We should seek to do what is good and just, to show love to others. Indeed, we should be so kind and considerate of others we become known for our love. It is better to be have a positive reputation, if it is based upon how loving we are to others, than to have a bad reputation because we treat others badly. This is what Abraham of Iberia learned from Theodore:

Abba Abraham of Iberia asked Abba Theodore of Eleutheropolis, ‘Father, which is right? Ought I to seek glory for myself, or ignominy?’ The old man said, ‘As far as I am concerned, I prefer to seek glory rather than ignominy. If I do something good, and praise myself for it, I can condemn my thoughts by saying to myself that I do not deserve the praise, but ignominy comes from evil deeds. How then can I appease my conscience if men have been shocked because of me? It is better, therefore, to do good and praise oneself for it.’ Abba Abraham said, ‘Father, you have spoken well.’[2]

Certainly this does not mean we should be concerned about attaining earthly glory. Rather, Theodore is pointing out it is better to have a good reputation because we have developed ourselves in such a way we properly embrace than virtues than it is to have an ignoble reputation because of the vices which we have embraced. Obviously, it would be better not to be concerned about our reputation, and just do good without concern of fame or glory. This is why, if we receive it, we should not let it get the best of us; we should fight against vainglory and pride, the thoughts which could easily arise if we become famous. But this does not mean we should engage false humility, either. We should recognize why people praise us so that we can use our good reputation as a way to encourage others to follow our example.

Thus, we should not judge. We should love others. We should not use mere appearances, the way things appear to us, as justification for judging others, for if we do so, we will likely misjudge the situation, and so give an erroneous judgment. On the other hand, we can use the judgement of others for our own good, even if they judge harshly, because if we examine closely what they say, we learn what possible ways we need to develop ourselves so as to become better. We must understand that in the end, there is only one just judge, Jesus Christ. When he judges, he will judge to save and destroy, that is, to save people while separating them from the evil which they have done. And so, we must be careful, and not go against the law of love by judging others, because if we do so, we not only end up usurping Jesus’ place as judge, we judge the law itself, as James warned us:

Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor? (Jas. 4:11-12 RSV).

Thus, let us live out the law, the law of love. Let us reject having a judgmental attitude. Let us recognize the one just judge is Christ, and Christ will judge, not to condemn the world, but to save it.

 


[1] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 80 [Saying of Abba Theodore of Eleutheropolis 3.

[2] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 79-80 [Saying of Abba Theodore of Eleutheropolis 1].

 

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