This topic came to the fore of my mind recently while having a talk with my father on the burial of suicides. I brought up the fact that suicides were much fewer in number when they were forbidden a place on hallowed ground. This very practice highlighted the gravity of suicide, i.e. damning in and of itself. My father brought forward that there may be many extenuating circumstances (mental illness, extreme pain, or the threat of extreme pain) in each individual case, which diminish the suicide’s culpability. Also, the mercy of God is beyond imagining. Contrary to the opinion of the Church of the Middle Ages, we cannot be sure that every suicide is in hell. I countered, but, does that not diminish the seriousness of the sin in most people’s eyes? I might have even added that we now have people who hold suicide as a natural right or that suicides might now understand that they can gain the Kingdom without carrying their cross.
We went forth back and forth on this issue, I emphasizing justice and my father mercy, which leads us to the interesting topic of which of these attributes should be emphasized. (If you were curious, yes, I was playing devil’s advocate above: suicides ought to receive a Christian burial because God’s mercy is infinitely greater than human wickedness–even in the case of something as final as suicide.) Many say that we can reasonably assume that most are saved. Others, however, contend that this lackadaisical attitude toward salvation causes many to be damned. Rather, it is reasonable to assume that most or even all penitents are saved, but most of humanity do not seek or even want God’s forgiveness.
Hope rather than reason leads people to expect most are saved. The concept reason understands best is justice. It makes more sense for a person to be punished for the evil he does than to be let off. And, woe to the society that refrains from punishing the wicked at least to some extent! Under Draco’s laws, crime in Athens fell; under the Labour Party of England’s laxity, London became the crime capital of the Western world. God sometimes has to smack persons and societies on the head lest they persist in crime or the majority, since sin goes unpunished, see no need for virtue.
But, by the same token that justice is reasonable and mercy suprarational, we ought to emphasize God’s mercy more than His justice. In the face of possibly hundreds of years of Purgatory or eternal punishment in hell, God’s mercy may more easily be forgotten than His justice. As people consider the the punishments for sin and how they constantly sin, it is much more easy to fall into despair than presumption.
In truth, mercy and justice ought never to be separated. As the medieval Gloss says, “Justice without mercy is cruelty; mercy without justice profusion.” Still, an edge must be given to mercy, the Crown of God’s works. No one has a right to despair when Our Lord, as he said to St. Gertrude the Great, would go through His cruel Passion once again if it were necessary for the sake of a single soul–if somehow that soul were not covered in his original Passion. We should always look to Christ Crucified if we despair–and the Same if we presume too much! For, Christ has all the grace to humble the presumptuous and exalt the despairing.
Happy Trinity Sunday!