When We Are Attached To Sin, We Impute It To Others

When We Are Attached To Sin, We Impute It To Others January 9, 2024

Hieronymous Bosch: Hell / Wikimedia Commons

Those who have never succumbed to a particular vice or sin can be naïve and assume everyone else like them. They will ignore signs of people being attached to or addicted to that vice, thinking very few, if any, really are, as St. Gregory the Theologian once noted: “For someone free of vice is slower to suspect vice…”. [1]

The more corrupt someone is, the more attached they are to sin, especially grievous sins, the more likely they will assume everyone else is as well. They will impute to others what they themselves do, assuming everyone is just as sinful, just as corrupt, as they are.

Someone who has once been corrupted by a particular vice but found a way to overcome it, that is, someone who has had a change of heart, will be able to detect its corruption better than the one who has never fallen for it. They will not be looking to impute corruption when it is not there, as they will hope that they can truly be free from corruption themselves. This leads them to be more merciful, as they know they themselves need it.

This is why the one who is constantly looking for sin in others tends to do so because they are trying to evade their own sin. They are corrupt, and they know it. They do not see a way out of the corruption in their own lives. They have not reformed, so they do not think others can reform. They know no sense of mercy. If they ever talk about morality, it is for the sake of power and control. They like to pretend they are interested in morality as a way to hide from others their own immorality even as they use morality as a way to denigrate others, dehumanizing them, in order to justify whatever it is they want to do with them.

We should be concerned about sin. Sin is a problem. And it is not just a problem for the one who sins. Sin has communal effects; it can influence society, and slowly develop structures of sin which control the way society thinks and acts.  However, we must treat people with mercy and kindness; while promoting justice, we must explain what is just and provide the mercy people need so that they can reform themselves instead of merely condemning them outright. This is especially true when their faults are minor – those who exaggerate the faults of others to condemn them demonstrate their lack of charity, and in doing so, demonstrate how far sin has taken over their thought processes and led them astray for love (and charity) is the foundation of any authentic moral expectation. “Ethical discipline is an attitude of abstention that turns your mind away from harming others and from the sources of such harm. Therefore, you bring about the perfection of ethical discipline by progressively increasing your habituation to this attitude until you reach completion.” [2]

When Christians complain about mercy being shown to others, especially when what is being shown mercy is some minor blight and not the sort of sin which cries up to heaven (those based upon hatred and the dehumanization of the other), we should wonder how, exactly, they think sin and its effects will be overcome? They should listen to St. Leo the Great, who said: “Nothing is stronger, dearly beloved, against the wiles of the devil than the kindness of mercy and the generosity of love, through which ‘every sin’ is either avoided or conquered.” [3]  Without mercy, without grace, sin will not have what it needs to be properly confronted, and so, instead of making things better, those who are quick to condemn others only make things worse. Unnecessary antagonism only makes people defend themselves and double down on what it is they do. God reveals to us the way forward, the way to deal with sinners, by the way Jesus overcame sin in the incarnation, that is, by going all the way to the lowest depths of hell, showing everyone the love God has for them:

Do you murmur, O man, about why God looks for the human being in the midst of his sins? What will you do when you see him penetrate the murky depths of hell for the sake of the human being? [4]

God is love, and that love is infinite as God is infinite. God’s love knows no bounds.  God will not force people to accept such love, nor the mercy and grace which comes from it, which is why people, in a way, can be said to separate themselves from God. In another sense, no one can entirely separate themselves from God. God is everywhere present and fills all things. There is no place, no state of being, in which God cannot be found. Jesus’ descent into hell is a representation of this truth just as Jesus’ resurrection from the dead proves that hell does not have any power over God. Even in the midst of our sins, if we look, we can find God present with us, offering us love. Sin does not have the final say over creation. God will be all in all as the good will prevail over evil. Indeed, the good has being, while evil does not. The more we look for the good, the more we will see it and see God is there with that good building upon it and developing it, so that what is good can and will become something greater.

When we look for evil, what we find is where some good which should be there is not there. The more we look down upon others due to their sin, or worse, for the sin we project upon them, the less like God we become. We ignore the good that is there as we focus on the evil, becoming, as it were, attached to it, so that all things are viewed in relation to it. We end up making our lives a living hell. All that we see, know, and experience is in the light of the corruption and defilement of sin.

Once we understand this, once we understands we are roasting in our own little hell because of our lack of charity and lack of ability to see the good in the other, hopefully we will detach ourselves from the evil, from sin, and begin to look for the good in all things. We will be merciful to others instead of judging and condemning them. The more we do this, the more we will experience the same mercy ourselves and find ourselves coming out of our own private little hell. We will find that Jesus will be working in and with us, in and with the good we have, building upon it, giving us grace upon grace, so that then we will truly see all things in the light of grace and the beatitude which flows from it instead of the lens of sin and the darkness which it brings to our soul. We will see God building the kingdom of heaven, seeing, truly, it is everywhere present, as all things, heaven and earth, are made one in the presence of God’s deifying grace.

[1] St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nazianzus’s Letter Collection. Trans. Bradley K. Storin (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2019), 72 [To Basil, Ep. 40].

[2] Tsong-kha-pa, The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. Volume Two. Trans. Lamrin Chenmo Translation Committee. Ed. Joshua W.C. Cutler and Guy Newland (Ithaca: NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2004), 143.

[3] St Leo the Great, Sermons. Trans. Jane Patricia Freeland CSJB and Agnes Josephine Conway SSJ (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1996), 329 [Sermon 74].

[4] St. Peter Chrysologus, Selected Sermons. Volume 2. Trans. Willam B Palardy (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2004),210 [Sermon 54].


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