Saturday, September 15, 2012

Death in Judgment

by Ryan

"Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends..." 
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

These words, among my favorite in the Lord of the Rings series, stand as a lesson on mercy and grace for the Christian. We should have mercy for the creature Gollum, who may deserve death, but we must also trust in grace. Grace can produce fruit out of the most hopeless of situations; this story provides a perfect example. Unfortunately, for every Abby Johnson there seems also to be a George Tiller — some human being who performs acts that are, in the understatement of understatements, utterly disgusting. Surely, if anyone is in Hell, it is men like Tiller the Killer (as he was often called) who is now paying for his crimes against life. Does that conclusion make you happy? Are you glad that Tiller the Killer can kill no more? I am glad that he can kill no more, too, but I am none the happier that he is part of the body count.

What if the story had a different ending? What if "Tiller the Killer" had a "Damascus road" moment and repented of his past life? What if George Tiller became the biggest advocate against the abortion industry, and became its biggest enemy? What if his book had a 4 1/2 star rating on We will never know; the man who cut so many lives so violently short had his life cut violently short.

So, most of my loyal readers (I know you're out there, mom!) would never go so far as to kill someone who is doing evil — we cannot use evil means, such as murder, to reach good ends, such as a reduced number of abortions. Still, we would do well to mind the tone we take in the numerous "social network" debates that we have with "Osiris Nostradamus Darko" or whichever bogus name the secularist we are arguing with this week happens to use. While we aren't killing these people with a weapon, we cannot calculate how much damage we are doing to the soul of a person by using the same sarcastic tone and cutting insults that even they might be using. We have to be mindful that the mission of Christ is one of mercy, and not condemnation, when having these conversations.

As always, scripture provides us with good company in our errors. This week, we have the always "encouraging" example of the apostles; pre-Pentecost, of course. In Luke 9, the apostles have just been given the authority over demons and disease, which they put to good use immediately. Yet, in no time, the apostles come across a particularly difficult case of a boy with a demon (Lk. 9:37-43). The response of Jesus, who heals the boy, is telling:
"O faithless and peverse generation, how long will I be with you and endure you?" (Lk. 9:41)
It seems that a lack of faith was a culprit in the failure of the apostles. Surely, the same would apply to the apostles when proclaiming condemnation, right? Later in the same chapter, Jesus and his apostles are passing through a Samaritan town that does not welcome him favorably. Instead of the customary "dusting off the sandals," James and John have another idea:
"Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" (Lk. 9:54)
Are we so different from the apostles in this story? Don't we too often have the faith to condemn, but not the faith to heal? Are we so obsessed with winning arguments that we forget about winning souls? It would seem to be no coincidence that the story of the Good Samaritan, who saves the man near death,  even when a priest and Levite will not, is located in the next chapter. In Scott Hahn's commentary on the story, he points out the lesson of St. Augustine, who compares the man "near death" to Adam (or fallen man) and the Good Samaritan as none other than Jesus, who comes to save the man near death. Christ brings him to the inn — the Church — where he continues his healing, even after Christ departs. Perhaps Augustine would permit us to be fellow lodgers at the inn, caring for our brother on his road to recovery. After all, Jesus has provided the denarii — the grace — to provide for all of his needs.

"Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."


  1. Good post . We so often are interested in the downfall of others. You are so right in reminding us that this is not the way of our Lord . We do have an obligation to speak up and then place the person in God's hands and continue to pray for the conversion of their soul to the will of God not to our will. May God give us the grace to be the people He has called us to be and to remain faithful and trusting in Him. Thanks for sharing the Scott Hahn commentary.

  2. I love that Tolkien quote. There is so much packed into those few words.