How to Argue With God by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all day people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. So what do you say?" They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She replied, "No one, sir." Then Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more."
All children argue. And the children of God are no exception. Indeed, sometimes we ought to have a good argument. No, we ought not fall into those petty fights and silly quarrels that we often do. But neither should we avoid those inevitable and necessary confrontations and disagreements that arise in relationships. For those provide an opportunity to pursue the truth and seek the other’s good. As such, we need to know how to argue properly.
Time and again Our Lord shows Himself brilliant in an argument. On numerous occasions the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees try to ensnare Him in debate. He chides them every time. Such is the case when they bring Him a woman caught in adultery. They do so to trap Him. But they fall into their own trap, and leave defeated. We who bear the likeness of Christ, but who often act like the scribes and Pharisees, can learn from this scene.
First, we learn to argue for the right reasons. The scribes and Pharisees were not pursuing truth or goodness. They picked a fight to trap Our Lord. Worse still, they used the law of God not as an instrument for good, but as a snare for Jesus. This is why Our Lord’s words – “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (Jn 8:7) – strike them so forcefully. He convicts them of the sin that they are at that very moment committing – that they themselves were abusing the Mosaic law. They did not intend these things for good but for evil.
We stray into the same behavior of the scribes and Pharisees whenever we argue not out of a desire for the truth or for the other’s good, but simply to prove ourselves right. Indeed, this characterizes many marital squabbles. Spouses often fight not to win the other’s heart, but merely to score a point and win the match. Worse still, even in the Church people use God’s word as the scribes and Pharisees did – again, not in genuine pursuit of truth and their neighbor’s good, but to prove another wrong and themselves right. Let us learn from the negative example of the scribes and Pharisees. When we argue, let us argue out of genuine love for the truth and for the other.
Second, Our Lord teaches us to avoid certain debates. He does not respond to the question of the scribes and Pharisees. In fact, He ignores it. Only when they press Him again does He stand and deliver His rebuke. He behaves similarly on other occasions. (cf. Lk 20:1-8) And in another place He tells us why: “Do not cast your pearls before swine.” (Mt 7:6)
Point is, Jesus does not allow Himself to be drawn into an argument with those who are insincere. He knows their hearts. He knows that they desire not truth or goodness but only to accuse Him and vindicate themselves. He does not engage – not because he does not care, but because His opponents lack the basic openness necessary for an argument. He will not cast His pearls of wisdom into their pigsty of insincerity.
We must bear witness to the truth always. But we do not have to debate or explain the Faith to everyone because not everyone asks sincerely. In such instances we will find that the truth can actually be sullied and distorted by the insincerity of others.
Most of all, we must remember that words ultimately fail. In such situations, the greatest “argument” is the witness of our lives. During His trials, Our Lord would not respond to the chief priests (Mt 14:61), or Herod (Lk 23:9), or Pilate (Jn 19:9). Words had failed. All that could penetrate those hardened hearts was the witness of divine love, the offering of His life to the Father. So also for us – when words fail, the greatest way to “win” an argument is by acts of love.
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