If you have ever done something egregious for which even you can’t find an excuse; been embarrassed by your children because they did something that makes you and others question your parenting skills; acted in a way that even you don’t understand; or basically did something that your conscience calls to account; these words should ring true for you. Part of our problem today is that in my humble opinion we have lost the power of conscience. Because of that when the Law comes at us with full force we go to a “counselor”, get a prescription, or run away. We might try and do a bunch of good stuff to try and “make up for” the bad but that is a dead end street because the Law tells us we are doing it for the wrong reason and we are even sinning more. We are them sinning against God because we are trying to take from Him His glory and not trusting in His forgiveness. Luther got a handle on the difference between the Law and the Gospel. The Law is designed not only to make us feel bad, to make us feel guilty, to make us feel that we are in a “narrow place”, it is meant to “kill us”. The Gospel frees us and makes us alive again and opens us up to a spacious place of freedom.
For those who don’t know what “venial” is here is a definition from the Catholic Catechism – The Catechism describes two main types of venial sin. First, one commits venial sin when “in a less serious matter [than mortal sin], he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law” (CCC 1862). In other words, if one does something immoral but the matter is not serious enough to be gravely immoral, he commits only venial sin.
Thank for that definition. I will try and keep being immoral then, but only in less serious matters.
Anyway here is Luther on struggles with conscience.
For here the heart really struggles alone with sins. It is feeble and desperate, and unless it is used to raising its eyes against the assault of its sins, and to invoke God against its conscience, there is danger, really, of an evil spirit, which in this affair walks about in darkness striving to snatch the soul. Finally, they are devoured by sorrow in despair.” And on this account they have a multitude and magnitude of sins. Here God surely shows that the cause of despair is not the multitude of sins, but the foolish state of searching for good works in a time of confused conscience, which opposes to sins the burdens weighing on it. For it supposes (in its hopeless opinion) that it was and is able to conquer sins through deeds. When this does not happen, and not knowing it may look to God’s mercy, it unavoidably despairs. Even so, that person who through neglect of God regarding the good seeks to oppose evils and does not possess it is made impatient. For no works at all avail, even against one sin, however venial.” Martin Luther