Monday, November 21, 2011

Follow Your Heart

The doctrine of invincible ignorance says that a sin is not a mortal sin if a person is ignorant of the sinfulness of the act through no fault of their own. There are two ways people run with this. One is the charitable way. We are to refrain declaring people to be in hell or on the road to hell because they have committed an act that is gravely immoral. This doctrine says we cannot know that unless we know the person's conscience and are qualified to judge it. Well we don't and we aren't. So we should stick to teaching the truth about gravely immoral acts and let the individual judge for themselves whether they are guilty of such sin and on the road to hell. Only their judgement of their own soul leads to repentance anyway.

But we don't just have the danger of judging someone guilty. We also have the danger of judging someone innocent. That can be a bigger danger in our tolerant and affirming culture. What happens is we assure people that although the church says what they are doing is wrong and it involves grave matter that they won't go to hell if their heart is in the right place. That might be technically true but it a very dangerous thing to teach. How can somebody know if their heart is in the right place?

We have many examples in scripture where somebody was telling themselves they were doing right and God judges them to be sinning gravely. One that comes to my mind now is from 1 Sam 15. Saul says explicitly, "I have carried out the LORD’s instructions" with respect to the Amalekites. Even after Samuel points out the fact that sheep that he was supposed to kill are still alive he repeats, "But I did obey the LORD." So he was telling himself he was being obedient. If you told him to not worry as long as his heart was in the right place he would have been reassured by that. But it would have been a false assurance. Samuel gives him the true word of God and it is not pleasant.

So the "follow your heart" gospel is not true. We are expected to obey God's word even when our heart finds it difficult. That is what it means to surrender your heart to God. It is precisely what the road to heaven is all about. So we can't present the gospel in such a way that these hard issues seem like optional extras. They are not. That is why the church says they are grave matter. They can cost a person their eternal soul. People have a right to be told that.

Two places where this comes up a lot is dealing with protestants and dealing with gays. They are both times where we run into people that seem to be good Christians except for one thing. But that one thing is a serious sin and seems quite unlikely to change. You don't know their heart. You don't know whether they are ignorant of God's true will for their lives or if they know and are just rationalizing their disobedience. But we tend to make assumptions. I tend to be quick to assume the protestant is invincibly ignorant. Not so much for the gay person. That comes from my own experience. I have no trouble imagining somebody wanting to serve God and not thinking even for one second that God wants him to become Catholic. I went to mass with my wife every week for years before that thought crossed my mind. So I know how slow that truth can be to penetrate. A gay person? I have trouble getting my mind around the idea that someone might not know that is wrong. I know people say it. I just have trouble believing it.

The biggest problem is this doctrine gets used by liberal teachers to finesse around unpopular church teachings. Yes, it says that in the catechism but if your conscience is clear you are OK. Just follow your heart. But you need to judge your heart against God's word. Don't avoid the parts of God's word that you are afraid will convict you of sin. Seek them out. Even if they tear your apart inside. Follow God's heart.

No comments:

Post a Comment