Hating What is Evil; Clinging to What is Good
PAGES 5, 6
In a book called Days of Our Years, Pierre Van Paassen tells the story of a hunchback named Ugolin who lived in the French village of Bourg in the years before World War II. Ugolin was a kind man and a devout Christian. He was also ugly. In fact, he was so ugly that he scared children and stopped traffic. So the villagers mocked him. They stared at his hunched little body and pointed out that Ugolin's hands twitched and hung to his knees. People followed Ugolin as he walked, and sometimes they jeered at him. "Whore's child!" they shouted. "Devil's spawn!"
Ugolin made what he could of life in Bourg. During the night hours he would loiter near the village station, hoping to earn a few coins by carrying a bag for a visitor. Sad to say, on his way home from the station he would sometimes stray onto a street where the local toughs had gathered to ogle girls and tell jokes. Then a couple of them would undertake to teach Ugolin a lesson. They would grab at him and curse him. And finally, to send him home with something to think about, they would give Ugolin a good drubbing on his crooked spine.
Pierre Van Paassen was one of the few to take pity on Ugolin. He invited Ugolin into his home one night, and made a meal for him, and asked about his life. As it turned out, Ugolin's family was dead except for one older sister named Solange, who had taken care of Ugolin as he grew up. When Solange was a teenager she had gone to work for a farmer in order to make something to support herself and her brother. This arrangement worked until one day when the farmer tried to take advantage of Solange. She resisted, so the farmer took his revenge by accusing her of theft and getting her jailed for two years.
It was while Solange was in jail that Ugolin's spine had become diseased. When she was released, she tried to get a job, but nobody would hire her. Wasn't she a thief, after all?
Ugolin's health deteriorated during this period and was restored only when Solange showed up one day not only with her usual words of kindness, but also with food and medicine. She also arranged for a physician to see Ugolin and even got her brother some treatment in a hospital.
How had all this happened? Ugolin found out the truth only after he was discharged from the hospital. The truth was that his lovely sister had become a whore in order to pay for his care. Because she loved her brother, Solange had rented out her body to some of the same customers who had treated Ugolin so shamefully.
Pierre Van Passen heard Ugolin's story, and in the weeks afterward he gave Ugolin a little work and looked after him. But he couldn't prevent the terrible event that shook the village to its roots. One night Ugolin was making his way home when he ran into a crowd that was in a jovial mood. Some of the men were drunk, and one of them tied Ugolin to a lantern post, and stripped him. Then a ring formed, and pretty soon everybody in the ring was dancing around Ugolin and singing, "The lovers of your sister pay a dollar apiece."
Finally the village priest appeared, cut Ugolin loose, and carried him away. Father de la Roudaire, the 80-year-old priest, hoisted Ugolin over his shoulders like a sack of potatoes, carried him home, and put him to bed. In the morning, while the priest was at Mass, Ugolin woke up, walked to the river, and drowned himself. That afternoon Solange shot herself in a room at the brothel.
Pierre Van Paassen reports in his book that Father de la Roudaire performed a Mass of requiem, treating the deaths as murder, not suicide. Never was such a crowd at church as on the day of the funeral. Half the shops were closed, and all the dignitaries were there, and most of the local rowdies. Up in front, one black cloth covered the two coffins of Solange and Ugolin, sister and brother.
Van Paassen tells what happened next. Father de la Roudaire mounted the pulpit and stood there for a moment in silence. He slowly swept the congregation with his eyes, as if he wanted to peer into the soul of every man and woman who was there.
"Then he said: 'CHRISTIANS!' and the word was like a whiplash. 'CHRISTIANS!' When the Lord of life and death shall ask me on the Day of Judgment, 'Pasteur de la Roudaire, where are your sheep?' I will not answer Him. And when the Lord shall ask me for the second time: 'Pasteur de la Roudaire, where are your sheep?' I still will not answer him. "But when the Lord shall ask me the third time, 'Pasteur de la Roudaire . . . where. . . .are. . . .your. . . . sheep? then I shall hang my head, and I shall say: 'O Lord, I never had any sheep. All I had was a pack of wolves!'"
As Van Paassen tells his story, you find yourself filling with alternating love and hatred. You love the courage people show; you love their kindness. You hate the mockery, the taunting, the sheer wickedness that tells us how much our world needs its Savior.
"Hate what is evil," says St. Paul in Romans 12:9; "cling to what is good." This is the natural rhythm of people who have died and risen with Christ—people who have been mortified and vivified by the Holy Spirit. Such people naturally hate what's evil and cling to what's good. Paul is teaching us, I believe, that when we are transformed by the renewal of our minds, then we will know something of the will of God, and we will hate what God hates and love what God loves.
Hate what's evil; cling to what's good. Each implies the other. If you love the truth, you will hate lies. If you love faithfulness, you will hate treachery. If you love kindness, you will hate the cruelty that shames a person to death. If you love the compassion of Jesus Christ, who was mocked and maimed to save all the Ugolins of the world, then you will hate the sin that made all this terrible saving so necessary. You can't do the one without doing the other.
Here, says Jonathan Edwards, is the center of true religion. Here is the center of Christian spirituality. Everybody is "a spiritual person" because the world is full of spirits that claim human allegiance. As Robert Roberts once put it, "the Holy Spirit isn't the only spirit around" and so we need the gift of "discerning the spirits." But Christians are spiritual in a special sense: they are animated by the Spirit of Christ because they have died and risen with Christ. They have been born again. You can tell by what they love and hate, and especially by the way their loves and hatreds generate a whole life of devotion and good works—what Edwards called "the central business of the Christian life."
In a noble essay elsewhere in this issue, my colleague John Cooper tells us about the height and depth, the length and breadth, of Reformed spirituality. I want to say only that at its center will be a great sequence of Yeses and Nos. That's what determines who we really are; that's what generates the central business of human life—what we love and what we hate; what we cling to with all our heart and what we loathe and fear so much that we want to drop it like a snake.
Christian spirituality consists largely of healthy loves and hatreds, and then of thinking, acting, and speaking in ways that follow suit. Every prayer, all longing for God, every thoughtful reading of Scripture, each spiritual discipline—each and all express our loves and hatreds, and deepen them. Why preach Scripture instead of just reading it? Why sing our praise instead of just saying it? Because, as Edwards says, these activities stir our hearts. They help us cling to God, who is our first love whether we know it or not.
So let love be non-hypocritical (as the Greek says). Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Let life before God begin to thrive.