This is one of my all-time favorite quotes from New Seeds of Contemplation. The day I had read this for the umpteenth time and its truth finally struck me in all its depth and simplicity, my entire life of personal Christian faith changed:
The eyes of the saint make all beauty holy and the hands of the saint consecrate everything they touch to the glory of God, and the saint is never offended by anything and judges no man’s sin because he does not know sin. He knows the mercy of God. He knows that his own mission on earth is to bring that mercy to all men. —New Seeds, chapter 4
It never ceases to puzzle (note I don’t say amaze) me that most Christians I have shown this quote not only don’t get it, they argue with it. Generally, they tend to view it as doctrinally unsound, and their response is along the lines of, “Well, this a very dangerous statement. The Bible clearly teaches us that if we claim we don’t sin, we are self-deceived and the truth doesn’t live within us.” Yep. The reference is from 1 John chapter one. I know. But Merton isn’t even talking in the same ballpark as this kind of thinking, and Merton’s point, like most of his points, is so pure and clear that it takes only a bit of legalistic contaminant to make it cloudy and obscure. The point is easier to apprehend if it is reduced to this: The saint does not know sin. He knows the mercy of God.
In my opinion, Merton’s observation here is absolutely, one hundred per cent on target. When God takes hold of us, God desires for Love to be our singular vision, to the exclusion of all else. If we allow God to work in us, over time this desire becomes reality. It has been said that God’s Love is a consuming fire. One of the things it consumes is our petty, human propensity to fixate upon and judge the sin of others.
I guess I’m still waiting for us Christians to see another simple thing: in Christian doctrine, there is already a judge and there is already one who makes accusations concerning other men’s sins. The former is God, and the latter is Satan. I’m still waiting for us to figure out we are not the former, and that we shouldn’t act like the latter. I’m still waiting for us to understand that between the Judge and the Accuser stands a defender, who protects the accused and offers him or her mercy. I’m waiting for us to understand that the defender, one Jesus of Nazareth, is the one we are supposed to emulate. All in all, I guess I’m waiting for us to figure out that as long as we’re going to cling to doctrine, we should at least get our roles right.
It seems to me this means, for one thing, that we stop turning up our noses at other people, and simply love them like there’s no tomorrow. Until within us God makes this our spiritual nature, we can at least strive to do it by force of well-reasoned volition.