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Nothing Man Can Do Is Just Enough

centaur 0
architect sketch

I disagree with traditional religion about a lot, and I try to be up front about it. Contra Catholicism, I teach that women should be ordained priests and homosexuality is not a sin; contra fundamentalism, I teach the Bible is not literally true, but that the transubstantiation of the Eucharist is spiritually true.

But since we’re all inspired by the same one God, and since we’re all trying to follow Jesus, then in some sense, no matter where we are on our faith journeys, we’re all trying to look in the same direction. So if you extend Christian charity to your Christian opponents, you can usually find a nugget of truth.

While I disagree with the Catholic Church’s teaching on women priests and gay relationships, that is their consistent teaching and has some Biblical basis, so it’s right to say the Catholic Church can’t simply toss those rules out to match current social mores without developing a more mature understanding.

This seems disappointing if you’re a proponent of women priests or respecting individual sexuality, but unless decisions are made on principles that we can defend, then the Church can be swayed back and forth by any social movement, even a recidivist one that rolls the clock backward.

Similarly, while I disagree with fundamentalists who see the Bible as literally true – and in fact think that the way traditional “Bible-believing” Christians view the Bible approaches idolatry – nevertheless, I agree we must return to the Bible to understand Jesus because the Bible is our sole primary source.

On that note, I’ve got theological differences with Jehovah’s Witnesses – for example, they reject the Trinity and Jesus’s divinity in favor of their own decontextualized interpretation of the Bible that doesn’t build on the traditions and theology passed on to us from Jesus through His Church.

My sister-in-law is a Witness, and we’ve had many vigorous discussions over points of theology and even whether to call it theology or philosophy. But when I attended the wedding of her son, they mentioned Jesus and pulled out their Bibles far more often than other churches.

The Holy Spirit was moving with them: Jehovah’s Witnesses do not deny the Spirit’s influence, even though they do deny the Spirit’s divinity or its unity with God as one Person of the Trinity. Wherever two or three are together, Jesus is there with them; and He was there, helping them to follow Him.

It’s good for Christians to talk to one another, even if they disagree on doctrine. Once Jesus said that He came not to unite but divide, as part of his mission to set the world on fire with His teaching. His speech references Micah, an Old Testament book decrying dishonesty, even within households.

Both the author of Micah and Jesus aren’t asking us to fight with each other, but to be honest with each other and ourselves. Micah asks us for God’s help to get back on the right path. Jesus turns to us and asks us, why we can’t decide what is right amongst ourselves?

Explicitly, He was speaking about believers solving problems between each other without turning to a judge, but the broader message for the rest of us is that we should talk through our problems with each other, even if we disagree, trying to focus on what is right using honest reasoning with each other.

Christians should engage with each other, even if we disagree, and attempt to find out what’s right. It was in one of those conversations with a friend in high school, a fundamentalist, that I first heard the phrase that’s the title of this article: “Sometimes it seems that nothing man can do is just enough.”

We were discussing the death penalty. While I was a Catholic at the time, and was representing the Church’s teaching against capital punishment, even at the time in that conversation, I wasn’t certain I agreed with it. My friend was in favor of capital punishment, but wasn’t too happy with it either.

“You know, if you do nothing, then a criminal who killed someone gets away without punishment. Life in prison is like torturing them for the rest of their life. Killing them seems just for the victims, but it means that our society has taken a life. Sometimes it seems that nothing man can do is just enough.”

My friend was arguing that humans don’t need to be in the business of judging each other in this life. We can forgive each other and move on, confident that God will judge everyone at the Last Judgment, and that his decision will be the correct and just one.

This doesn’t mean that our society shouldn’t have a policy for dealing with people who hurt other people, but it does mean we’ll fall short. While this idea is qualitative, it’s like a theorem like the Halting Problem: no matter what we try to do, humankind isn’t going to get the problem of justice perfectly right.

This strongly argues for forgiveness on a personal level. When my Uncle Sam was murdered by gunshot by (as I recall) an employee he’d caught embezzling, I had a lot of emotions: Sam had been one of my favorite relatives, a kindly old man who did a lot for Saint Mary’s Church, who was now gone.

But it’s important to forgive. Perhaps it was easier for me to forgive his killer given that I had already left for college and hadn’t seen him in a while, but still, people have become enraged over far simpler things and held onto them for far longer. Better to let it go.

And when I do feel it difficult to forgive, when thoughts of vengeance consume me, I remember what my friend said: “Sometimes it seems that nothing that man can do is just enough.” And if I remember that no human action will be enough, that can help me turn the other cheek, and get back to following Jesus.

-the Centaur

Pictured: My friend from high school, who moved north and apparently followed his father’s footsteps, becoming an architect.

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