Is Sin Really Necessary?

Is Sin Really Necessary?

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

What are we to think of this? No sin, no mercy. Does this mean sin is necessary for a display of mercy? Should there be no sin, then there would be no mercy? Surely I can show mercy without being provoked by sin!

Maybe not. Is not the Latin word for mercy, MISERICORDIA? And is not this Latin word a combination of the words “heart” (“cordia”) and “mercy” (“miseri”)? Misery of some kind or other, that is, a deplorable situation, is linked to the inner working of the heart moving it to mercy, its fundamental response mode. If there was no misery, or deplorable situation, then there could be no heart motion called mercy. There might be kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness, but there would be no room for mercy.

So, in a perfect world, with no lack of any kind, or deviation, or failure, or emptiness, or suffering, or mishap—there would then be a world without mercy. So what, one might respond? Why postulate something so undesirable, so unwanted, so foreboding, so painful as these things, just in order to have some occasion for mercy?   It seems to me I can get along just fine without mercy if it means I can avoid all the unpleasant things that seem to make mercy possible. I can get along in a world without the pain, suffering, disappointment, lack, emptiness, coldness, cruelty, failure that make life here below so unpleasant and downright undesirable. Better no life at all than a life full of such negative experiences.

So then I wouldn’t have to worry over or fret about a baby about to be born with spina bifida or a cleft palate or blindness or deafness. I could then welcome a perfect baby into my life, and live happily ever after.

God apparently made a terrible mistake in setting up a world in which the possibility of multiple mishaps, misfortunes, mistakes and misadventures could occur. For these bring nothing but misery to us, and keep Him forever busy patching up all the mistakes that could have been avoided had He just carefully thought this whole situation through.   After all, He is perfect, and mistakes are not characteristic of His handiwork.

BUT, that is true except for one striking factor. He would never be able to manifest His mercy to the world if everything worked out just perfect. After all, what kind of God would we be dealing with were He all powerful, all wise, all holy, all knowing, all beautiful, but not all merciful because no occasion was available for Him to show His mercy, lacking any need or opportunity for doing so?

What is the greatest deed God is capable of? Showing mercy. This is how God wants to be identified by us: as the merciful one (Neh9.31). He doesn’t want a series of perfect little creatures like ourselves coming forth from His creating hand and then going about our happy ways with no more need of Him than of the man in the moon. No, God wants to be needed, to be wanted, to be longed for, and to be loved, but there will be no needing, or wanting, or longing for, or loving if we were all doing quite well, thank you. It would be like bringing an infant into the world who displayed no need or expectation of us at all: a perfectly self-sufficient and completely out-fitted little creature who can well afford to do without us because he or she has no need of us.

But, as a matter of fact, we all have needs, plenty of them, and they cause us misery. And we cannot handle them by ourselves because they’re linked to our sins, which we cannot eradicate or root out of our lives. All of our miseries are related to ours sins, and, ultimately, the only recourse we have for our sins is the mercy of God. In fact, God is delighted that this is so, because, more than anything else, God wants to be appreciated by us as a merciful God: more so than as a wise God or strong God or eternal God or infinite God or beautiful God. He is perfectly content to be regarded as a merciful God. His most cherished claim to fame is His mercy, and it is our sinfulness that triggers His mercy.

So, the trademark of the Christian way of life is the crucifix, for there is no better sign of Who God is for us and what He stands for in our life than the mercy He displays on the cross. So we thank and praise God for our faults, our failures, our weaknesses, our inadequacies, our ineptness. In short, we are grateful for our inept humanness because nothing better calls to mind Who God is in His infinity. We and God make a perfect team, complementing one another: we are finite, He is infinite: a compatible formula for working together well.

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