Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
I have noted lately some general confusion on the distinctions between God’s mercy, His law (Church doctrine and law), and His Justice.
Some people seem to equate God’s law, as presented in the decalogue and Church law, as being about God’s justice. Unfortunately, this is the way that certain members of the Church hierarchy have chosen to frame the discussion. Consequently, some people have come to believe that God’s law (Doctrine) is somehow in opposition to God’s mercy. Heavens no!!
God’s law is all about mercy, about love, and about truth. Church law, as revealed in Her doctrine, is never about justice in the sense of punishment or paying for your crimes. Rather it is only about justice in the sense of what is just, what is true!
In the context of today’s discussions, the Church doesn’t punish people for sinning or for being an active homosexual or for being divorced or remarried. Church law does not punish. And it is not punishment to state the truth that gay people and the divorced cannot marry. A parent has laws too. A parent tells a child to not touch the stove, for is hot and you will get burned. Not permitting that child to touch the stove is not a punishment, but a mercy born out of love.
Similarly, Church law regarding the reception of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried is not punitive, but abundantly merciful. We tell them to refrain lest they commit additional grave sins. It is no mercy, no loving action, to allow them to touch the hot stove simply because they desire it and pretend it does not burn.
Some people want to frame the current discussion as God’s justice (the law) vs God’s mercy. But this is fundamentally wrong in its premise. God’s justice is reserved to Him. Church law does not punish, rather it is there to help us avoid punishment through truth. That the stove burns is true, no matter what clever arguments people put forth! God’s law, Church law is not about justice other than in the sense of truth. And mercy, genuine mercy can never be a lessening of truth.
Over these past weeks as we all try to understand the discussion going on in Rome, I have seen many people get sucked down the Mercy v. Justice (Law) rabbit hole. Don’t let it happen to you.
Remember this, God’s law is mercy based on truth. Less truth is less mercy.