In our discussions on a previous post, Miss Gwen asked a great question about the distinction between a person and a person's actions. She said, "I'm trying to see it, but I just don't." So, I thought the subject deserved its own blog post. Miss Gwen's words are in red.
I don't always see a clear distinction between the person and their actions. Maybe you can help me understand. I mean, does that entail "seeing" Hitler as a misguided person who performed bad actions?
First, we don't necessarily say that Hitler was "misguided". We don't know what he was. All we know is that his acts were gravely sinful, terribly evil. As Christians, we can say that part loudly and clearly, because we know what sin and evil are, without ambiguity.
What we cannot say is that Hitler was irredeemable. We don't (ultimately) know anything about the state of his soul or whether he repented of his monstrously evil deeds at the moment of his death. We just don't know. It is not our place to damn him to hell; it's only God who can read souls and pronounce ultimate judgment. When Jesus told us not to judge, this is what he meant. We may judge actions, but not people's hearts or the state of their souls. Only God can read a human heart, and only He knows the state of a soul.
Or a serial killer as someone with a troubled past who unfortunately gruesomely killed a lot of prostitutes because they were easy targets?
Same as Hitler. We can and must speak clearly that these actions are evil. Even if the killer had a troubled past, his actions are still evil. Even if he is mentally ill, his actions are still evil. Even if he committed his crimes under hypnosis by an evil genie, his actions are still evil. We can agree on that, right?
However, culpability -- i.e., whether or not a person is fully responsible for his actions -- is a separate issue. We can all understand that someone who is truly insane and completely out of touch with reality is not morally responsible for his actions. The actions of an insane killer are still objectively evil, but the killer may not have total (or even partial) moral culpability. [Note: Lack of moral culpability does not mean that a dangerous person is free to roam the streets; the state has an obligation to protect its citizens via humane and appropriate means of incarceration. And we should all hope that a mentally ill prisoner would receive treatment for his disorder.]
If we leave judgment to a higher power, then why is it so easy to point fingers at what people do and call it satanic or sinful?
Distinction: We leave judgment of souls to a higher power (God). But judging "what people do" (i.e., acts), is legitimate. We must speak clearly about what is right and wrong. Imagine a society, or even a family, that fails to identify or distinguish between good and evil.... What would that look like? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to live there.
Oh, and the reason we find it "easy" to call something sinful is that we know what sin is. Sin's been around pretty much forever, and it's not hard to identify. There are no new sins, just variations on the old.
And if we separate the actions from the person then all the good things we do aren't part of us too?
Please don't misunderstand: I've been talking about judging a person's soul vs. judging a person's actions. I have not been talking about what is or isn't "a part of us".
We have all been given the incredible gift of free will. Each individual "owns" his choices, good or bad. The good and the bad are both "part of you" -- but the bad is not "good for you". Does that make sense? It all comes down to our will. God does not touch our free will, and our actions are our own.
Maybe this is a good time for...
A little something about our human nature:
Human beings are essentially good. God did not create anything that was evil or corrupt.
Tragically, sin entered the world by our first parents' choice, and mankind fell from God's grace. Since then, humans have been afflicted with concupiscence, i.e., the tendency to sin. Where once humans had perfect integrity of body and soul, we now are easily tempted to evil. However, human beings, who are made in God's image and likeness, are still essentially good.* Every person, without exception, has inherent dignity and was made for the glory of Heaven.
So (going back to the original subject), that is why we can love the sinner.
And that is why we hate the sin.
We hate the sin because sin is destructive to the human person. Sin demeans. Sin enslaves. Sin offends against human dignity. Sin harms not only the sinner, but others as well.
Think of it this way:
A father discovers that his beloved child has been engaging in theft and vandalism. He loves his boy. He loves his boy with every ounce of his being and would be willing to give his very life for his son. But he hates the sin. He hates it with a red-hot hate, because it demeans his son, it enslaves his son, and it offends his son's human dignity. It twists and distorts that which is good in his son, thwarts his potential, and blocks his true destiny. The father pleads, works and prays for his son's conversion. It is precisely because he loves his son that he will not accept the sin as a legitimate choice.
The father hates the sin and loves the sinner. He is a good father.
Is that so hard to imagine?
*Note that this is quite different from the Protestant belief in the "total depravity" of human nature after the Fall. That is a post for another day.