The Christian Family and the Spirit of Truth

A statement by Jesus concerning the Holy Spirit has always perplexed me. John 16:8-11 is a strange text.

8 And when he comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

8 et cum venerit ille arguet mundum de peccato et de iustitia et de iudicio: 9 de peccato quidem quia non credunt in me; 10 de iustitia vero quia ad Patrem vado et iam non videbitis me; 11 de iudicio autem quia princeps mundi huius iudicatus est.

Another translation uses the term “convict” the world concerning sin. I recently found a passage in Karol Wojtyla’s marvelous book, Sources of Renewal: the Implementation of Vatican II, a discussion of the prophetic office of Christ and the ways in which Christians share in that office (pp. 244-247). He refers to a passage in Lumen gentium to explain how the family is prophetic: “where Christianity pervades the entire mode of family life, and gradually transforms it, one will find there both the practice and an excellent school of the lay apostolate. In such a home husbands and wives find their proper vocation in being witnesses of the faith and love of Christ to one another and to their children. The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come. Thus by its example and its witness it convicts the world of sin and enlightens those who seek the truth.” (§35)

So now a double perplexity — how and why does the family “convict the world of sin.” This is an obvious allusion to John 16:8. Must married people be “accusing” people and pointing out defects — is this not a recipe for self-righteousness? Wojtyla does not offer much commentary on this aspect, only to say the family must be part of evangelization. Later he will discuss the role of married couples in their openness to life, mutual charity, and education of the young. (291) He cites another fascinating passage from Vatican II, on the Apostolate of the Laity (§11): “This mission-to be the first and vital cell of society — the family has received from God. It will fulfill this mission if it appears as the domestic sanctuary of the Church by reason of the mutual affection of its members and the prayer that they offer to God in common, if the whole family makes itself a part of the liturgical worship of the Church, and if it provides active hospitality and promotes justice and other good works for the service of all the brethren in need.” The family should be a sanctuary. That term is also used to describe conscience — a place to encounter God in depth of the soul. It is a place where the word of God may resound. It is a place where reverence for truth is honored and practiced. It is a place where the law of free-giving is practiced. And a place where we can find down-to-earth patience and affection for each other and hospitality towards others. A place where mutual forgiveness is found.

Now can we put the puzzle together regarding convicting the world of sin. I found these comments by a bible scholar helpful: “the purpose of the Paraclete’s convicting work is gracious; that is, the Paraclete exercises this convicting ministry to bring the world to recognize its need, and so to turn to Jesus, given that the world’s unbelief prevents it (apart from the work of the Paraclete) both from ever facing its own need and from turning to Jesus.” by D. A. CARSON, THE FUNCTION OF THE PARACLETE IN JOHN 16:7-11 JBL 98/4 (1979) 547-566.

Here is Carson’s loose expanded translation of Jn 16:8ff

When the Paraclete comes, he will convict the world of its sin (that is, so convince it of its sin as to drive home self-conscious conviction of sin), its righteousness (that is, what the world takes to be righteousness but which is woefully inadequate or tainted), and its judgment (that is, all of its false assessment of spiritual reality, culminating especially in its false assessment of Jesus):
— its sin, because the (the people of the world) do not believe in me and are by this unbelief self-excluded (apart from the work of the Paraclete) from the one source that would reveal their need to them; — its righteousness, because I am going to the Father and will no longer be present in the same way to convict them of their sin. The Paraclete will therefore take over this ministry from me. Moreover, you believers will no longer see me either; but the Paraclete will enable you to discharge faithfully your responsibilities as witnesses. — its judgment, because, with the condemnation of the prince of this world, the age of salvation and of condemnation has already dawned, and it has become terribly urgent that the people of the world change their false and sinful assessment of spiritual reality before it is too late.

 So the great insight, I think, is this. The Christian family, by being a family, through the aid of the Holy Spirit living in authentic love, will have a prophetic role. It will “convict” the world, persuade and rouse the conscience, on these matters:

The sin is unbelief and the failure to see in Jesus the way, the truth and the life. But Christ  reveal man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear – it is sacrificial love. (Redemptor hominis) Life has a meaning, a depth, a hidden glory in free-giving, reverence, patience, hospitality, forgiveness. It is palpable. It can be manifest, especially in hospitality. The family could reveal the need people have to live a truly human life in love. The family is not just a “refuge in a heartless world” — for that sound too defensive. It is a sanctuary, a font of life and love.

To convince or convict on righteousness? — Hazel Motes (Wise Blood) said “a man with a good car don’t need no justification.” We laugh at that bumpkin.  But we are that man. Things justify us; we live for having over being, as JP2 said. Money. Prestige. Or maybe freedom and power. There are the world’s standards of what is righteous. But in the Christian family the world should see Christ. Self-sacrificial love. Does marriage (faithful until the end) or does the child and family bring the human person crashing down from the height of freedom and power? Or exalt and revere the person? The Holy Spirit will use the family for persuasion on what is right.

And on judgment. The Prince of the world appeals to beauty, pleasure and the illusion of mastery and possession of the heights. He is cast out already, and every day he rises to fall. The scandal of the man with the cross passes by — we barely recognized him in his suffering. But who shall rise? Who shall enter? Who shall inherit the earth? Who shall be comforted? Who shall have mercy shown them? Who shall be satisfied? Who shall see God? Who shall be called children of God? Will it be the proud and powerful who live for themselves, and use each other by mutual consent? Or the little ones in the humble sanctuary of the family who live in service for each other? Brothers and sisters, do we not know? Can we show the world so the Holy Spirit can do the work Jesus promised?.

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