. . . it is possible for some Christians to live and work in a shockingly unjust society, closing their eyes to all kinds of evil and indeed perhaps participating in that evil at least by default, concerned only with their own compartmentalized life of piety . . .
--Thomas Merton, in Life and Holiness
We who are financially secure first world Christians can easily fall into the delusion that we are “good people” because we avoid what we think of as big sins, such as murder or theft. We can fail to see that we are part of systematized injustice because we are often so far removed from the injustice as to be unaware of our economic contribution to unjust practices.
We purchase food and consumer items made or harvested by people who are not paid a living wage. We support businesses that exploit the environment. We overspend on ourselves and balk at providing assistance to others, arguing that they “deserve” their difficulty and that we “deserve” our luxury.
We can become desensitized to the ways we mistreat others while priding ourselves on our service to the church, our work in the community, on our morality, or on the compliments we receive for the work that we do.
I’ve been reading through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul admonishes the Galatian Christians for losing sight of the grace they have received and relying instead on their own morality as measured by obedience to the Jewish law. Paul says “You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4) He points out how they “bite and devour one another.”
When we are more concerned with image than substance we can easily become blind to the ways we participate in evil. Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 is preceded by what we might call the fruits of human nature. Here’s what Paul says: What human nature does is quite plain. It shows itself in immoral, filthy, and indecent actions; in worship of idols and witchcraft. People become enemies and they fight; they become jealous, angry, and ambitious. They separate into parties and groups; they are envious, get drunk, have orgies, and do other things like these.
The temptation is to look at this list and say, “I don’t practice witchcraft. I don’t have orgies or participate in indecent actions.” But read the list again and consider some of the other items like ambition, anger, jealousy and separating into groups that exclude others. When we combine prideful morality with acting according to human nature, we blind ourselves to our need for grace.
We grow spiritually as we are able to receive the gift of grace and respond in gratitude by choosing to live in love. Grace invites us to see ourselves as we really are, and to know that God loves us as we really are. Grace is the cure for spiritual blindness.