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By Dr. Jeff Mirus, Catholic Culture, Sep 07, 2004
Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.
The Bible mentions only four sins which cry out to God for vengeance. Considering the source and the emphasis, we have little choice but to examine our consciences on these points. A cursory examination will not do; we must cast off our cultural preconceptions to see beyond the obvious.
And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” (Gn 4:10) It is hardly surprising that Cain’s murder of Abel provides the first instance of one of these sins that cries out for Divine vengeance. While all sins disrupt the natural order in some way, those enumerated as crying out to God appear to be chosen because they strike at nature’s root.
It is easy to see how murder fits into this category. The unjust termination of the life of another is a profound violation of “how things should be” precisely because our very nature compels us to regard our own lives as precious. To take a person’s life is to terminate in another what we instinctively regard as our own highest good.
Sadly, the ease with which we understand the foulness of murder may be conditioned more by our culture than by Divine Revelation. We must take care that we do not find it abhorrent only insofar as we are creatures of society, rather than creatures of God. Abortion is a case in point.
Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me.” (Gn 18:20-21) The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of homosexual activity. So far gone were they in this vice that the men of the town would not even accept heterosexual license with Lot’s daughters, both virgins, as a means of sating their lust (see 19:8-9).
Here we have another case in point for cultural conditioning. It is far more difficult for our contraceptive culture to see how contrary to nature homosexuality is. Those of us who instinctively feel its deep unnaturalness rightly react to homosexual activity with disgust, but logical arguments are unlikely to produce the same reaction in those whose instincts are damaged, blunted or rationalized away.
It is precisely in such situations that Divine Revelation is so very useful, for we cannot trust our feelings when they run counter to reality. We require a better guide. Sodomy strikes at the root of human nature because of its perversion of the procreative impulse, without which the race must die. But in case we don’t see it, God does.
Oppression of Widows and Orphans
“You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.” (Ex 21-23) There is a deep truth in this passage about the relationships of husbands to wives, and of parents to children, and about how vulnerable wives and children become when their natural protection is removed.
Very probably all of us can see that it would be gravely sinful to take advantage of the weakness and vulnerability of either a widow or an orphan, and we can readily imagine the financial burdens and solicitation of “favors” with which either can be afflicted. It is much easier in every way to abuse a boy or girl who has no father and to intimidate a woman who has no husband.
Once again, however, we must remove our social blinders to see the great evil in our culture which turns so many into widows and orphans in the first place. The grave sin of divorce, by which natural protection is ripped away from women and children, surely tops the list of horrors under this heading.
Cheating Laborers of Their Due
“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brethren or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns; you shall give him his hire on the day he earns it, before the sun goes down (for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it); lest he cry against you to the Lord, and it be a sin in you.” (Dt 24:14-15) Here we come to a principle of sound social order: those in positions of authority and wealth have serious obligations to those who depend on their decisions for their well-being. Fortunately, we live in a very wealthy society.
But does our very wealth cause this sin to appear irrelevant? Free enterprise is an excellent system, but too often it carries the completely unnecessary baggage of a callous attitude toward employees, regarding them as commodities. The social teachings of the Church have attempted to address this concern (without pointing at all toward socialism) for over a century.
Yet the latest trend, at least in the United States, is constant mergers and buyouts which throw hundreds of thousands out of work while enriching an elite few. Even temporary unemployment is both a bank-breaker and a heart-breaker. Working under an abusive or negligent boss can be a living nightmare. And most of us are well-shielded from adults who must work for a minimal wage. The Israelites were urged to remember their days in Egypt, and treat others accordingly.
Together and In Order
All of these sins cry out to God, but the four are not equal. The sequence in the text suggests a hierarchy of value, and it is a tightly linked hierarchy. One sin leads to another, from the gravest to the least, as we make objects out of persons and treat them accordingly, subverting all our natural relationships. For this reason, we cannot assuage our consciences by attending to the fourth sin while ignoring the first, or by claiming virtue on the third and closing our eyes to the second. If these sins cry out to God for vengeance and we still commit them or do nothing to restrict them in others, we mock God to His face. Of course, when we’re wearing our usual cultural blinders, it often appears to us that we can mock God with impunity. But isn’t this something else we know from Revelation—in case we cannot see it for ourselves?