The Work of Grace: Part 2
Building upon part 1 we will continue the discussion of grace vs. works paradigm of understanding an individual’s sense of worth. These ancient modes of expression seemingly portray opposite sides of God’s supposed conflicting natures of being both just and loving within a logical binary. Today we will see that using this binary necessarily breaks down into judgmentalism, hypocrisy, and self-loathing.
Taking as our example the commandment against theft we can see the works paradigm in action. If an individual functions with a works based approach to theft, then they consider not stealing part of their own worth. That is to say, they become worthy insomuch as they do not steal. Within their psyche not stealing is a fundamental component of goodness; being such, they must then apply that same standard to others. So long as one does not steal, they retain their essential goodness in the eyes of the individual in question. If, however, the individual or anyone else commits the sin of theft they become bad.
In complicated situations, as is the case when most ethical questions arise, it is not this simple of an equation. Under the same paradigm we might consider Les Misérables and Jean Valjean. No matter their worldview, most do not consider Valjean an evil character, despite stealing bread and the silver of Bishop Myriel. This is because as one is considering the situation it is not only theft which is of importance, but instead a complex ecology of values, all of which vie for superiority. In most people, they look to Valjean and consider at least two things: supplying for one’s family and theft. Given the situation, he becomes a good character as nurturing is more rooted in a person’s sense of worth than theft.
Turning now from French literature to the Bible, we can perhaps see the words of Jesus in a new light. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus declares “with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” It is possible, as most have presumed, that what Jesus is advocating for here is a grace based paradigm. That is that under the example above we should simply ignore the transgressions of the thief and instead welcome them with unconditional love (the grace paradigm). Given the list of things which Jesus opposes prior in the Sermon on the Mount, however, this would seem untenable. How can one oppose anger, adultery, oaths, divorce, retaliation, pride, profanity, and avarice, while simultaneously saying one should not judge such actions? Either Jesus is blatantly contradicting himself, or this statement should be pointing us to a different understanding of judgment, quite removed from the grace vs. works paradigm.
Looking at the text plainly, we can separate what it says from what we think it says. Our biases project themselves onto the page: instead of reading “with the judgment you make you will be judged” we read “with the judgment you make you will be judged (by God).” Nothing in the text explicitly states that God will be judging us or declares anything about the nature of God. Instead, we assume that God judges in the same way we do, rather than searching for alternatives. A new reading of this text might say “with the judgment you make you will be judged (by yourself).” See above for an example of what that might look like, but leave God out of the affair. What Jesus is doing here is adding to the list of those things which he opposes in the Sermon on the Mount: the entire tautology of grace and works. When man judges and condemns in this way, that is, using the grace vs. works paradigm, he logically must use the same criteria for himself, ending in bitterness, self-loathing, and hypocrisy.
Next time we will reconstruct the ideas of grace and works within a new framework rooted in the idea that we are all children of God. A paradigm which does not break down under these conditions.