The Personalist Project

Isn't it weird how exactly right and at the same time completely wrong Sartre was when he wrote, "Hell is other people"? He is right in as much as hell is the use and abuse that is the master/slave dynamic of the fall.

When you're being used, you're in hell. When you're using others, you're in hell. 

The only way out is through the heaven of self-oblating, other-receiving, life-giving love. I've had very intense experiences of it this week. I mean, the contrast between being loved and being abused, between hell and heaven. I've had searing existential confirmation, this week, of the truth of the deepest mystery of human life: our path to heaven or hell has everything to do with personal relations.  

Will we spend ourselves in loving and serving others, or will we exploit and dispense with others to gratify and enrich our selves? When we're loved, we're full of life and joy and deep, deep consolation.  When we're treated with contempt and abuse, we're in anguish.

Finding myself abused by people who owe me love and respect, I have felt the full force of the temptation to hate in return.  And there I am, right in hell with my abusers.  I have felt the hard challenge of the gospel. "Answer the abuse with love and truth and sacrifice."  I have felt the human impossibility of it. "I can't. It's too hard." And then the promise of the gospel, "I'll help. You'll do it through My power. I will bear you up."

And I've felt the onrush of grace and mercy, even amid the unremitting human hardship of the task in front of me.  Here's the central message: "It's hard; it's going to hurt; you have a long way to go, but I will not fail you. Others will fail you. Ten thousand will fall at your right hand. Friends you thought you could rely on will desert you.  But I will not desert you. I hold you in the shelter of my wings. I will spread the table before you in the sight of your enemies. And I will make you to grow wings, like an eagel, and mount to the sky. All you have to do is say 'yes' to suffering injustice. All you have to do is reflect back to Me, an image of what My Son did for you on the cross." 

The way to put a stop to abuse is to agree to suffer it, as a sacrifce for love. Then, hand it back to abuser as a gift. "This is what you did to me, and this is what I did for you, because I want to see you in heaven, not in hell."

If he accepts the gift, you have heaven together.  If he refuses it, you have Divine Grace in much fuller measure than before. You really can't lose. 

Comments (11)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Jan 28, 2014 9:51am

I'm thinking about C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, too. The souls in hell keep moving further and further apart from each other. They can't stand each other.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#2, Jan 28, 2014 1:28pm

This is lovely, and very, very true to my own experience. There is abundant grace in responding to injustice with love. When we try to do it under our own power, I think the best we manage is a sort of grudging, resentful tolerance. Grace, though, makes what is unbearable, joyful, and makes what is crushing, light. 

First, though, there's that self-oblation. It's death, and like physical death, the mystery of what lies on the other side terrifies. It's the good news, but it's awfully hard to explain sometimes: "Hey, you don't have to be crushed by this weight! All you have to do is surrender and die!" 

Max Torres

#3, Jan 28, 2014 11:35pm

Tell Jules from me that he's a brute.  Just joking.  

I like your post but don't like Sartre's comment.  It reveals his selfishness.

My thesis advisor used a similar formulation to make a point about relations: Objectivity is the subjectivity of another.  Relations with others is the way out of solypsism.

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Jan 29, 2014 1:59am

Jules has been heaven for me this week. It's other people who have been hell.

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Jan 29, 2014 3:48am

I love that line from your adviser, Max!  So many people imagine that being objective means ignoring subjectivity.  Pretend there's no there there. But that's to collaborate with unbeing.

Cynthia Newcombe

#6, Jan 29, 2014 8:16am

I know what it is to suffer profoundly at the hands of those who are suppose to love and care for you.  One thing I have learned is that, as Christians, it is essential that we forgive but for reconciliation to take place there has to be an acknowledgment of the truth.  That is what the sacrament of Reconciliation is... we acknowledge the truth of what we have done before God.  We aren't telling Him what He doesn't know, we are acknowledging the truth of what WE have done so that the Grace of forgiveness (already given) can reach us and heal the breach in that relationship. True reconciliation has to be rooted in truth. 

Katie van Schaijik

#7, Jan 29, 2014 8:30am

Yes. We offer a gift to our abuser when we tell him the truth of what he's done—when we put it in front of his conscience in all its ugly reality.

But we have to find a way to do it with an attitude of mercy and hope for his good, not condemnation.  That's the trick and the challenge for the injured one.

It's not easy, I am learning.

Cynthia Newcombe

#8, Jan 29, 2014 9:19am

Actually Katie I think that only grace will bring a person to the truth, nothing I say or do can do that. My loving actions may help but in the end it is grace that brings a soul to the truth.  I never did reconcile with my father.  I forgave him and have grown in understanding and compassion for him but he died without ever acknowledging the truth.  You cannot force or demand or even confront others with the truth only love can do that and the other has to be open.  Some people, like my father, are too damaged and only God can heal that.  We may never see it in this life.  I believe that finding truth and living the truth of who we are in totality, with our gifts, talent and sins will put us on the road to reconciliation with others.  We can pray and accept the suffering this brokeness causes and that is redemptive and healing.

Katie van Schaijik

#9, Jan 29, 2014 11:33am

I agree that only grace can bring another person to the truth.  But grace may use us to do it.  We have to be open to that too.

Max Torres

#10, Jan 29, 2014 10:12pm

He taught that while I experience life through my subjectivity--as did others--organizational/social life required that subjects deal with one another.  The other, subjective as he might be, was as objective as the rock of Gibralter when I needed to relate with him.  

We were at a school of management and therefore were primarily concerned with the organizational consequences of management's relatedness to other participants, e.g., workers, suppliers, customers, shareholders.  It transpires--as any personalist would suspect--that only a genuine interest in the good of the other for the sake of the other contributed to the relational trust necessary to run any organization.

Dev loved him, and likewise.  His name was Juan Antonio Perez-Lopez.  He died in a car crash at the age of 62 in 1996.

Katie van Schaijik

#11, Jan 30, 2014 3:01am

Max, what a gift to have such a professor!

Cindy, a further thought: In my experience there are two "temptations" for the victim of wrong when it comes to "telling the truth" to the wrongdoer. (I put the word in quotes, because we're not talking about sin here, but about imperfection, which is something very different.)

The first is to do it in an accustory, condemnatory way that expresses no mercy and no hope for reconciliation.  This will tend to alienate further, rather than heal.

The second is to fail to do it at all, because we don't want to engage with the one who has hurt us.  We don't want the vulnerability that that requires.

Both these modes are natural in a person who's been injured.  There is nothing wrong with them, in the natural law sense.  And both might be good and right steps along the "gospel route" to holiness.  No victim should be taken to task by anyone else for falling short of moral perfection in her response to wrong.  

But both fall short of the possibility we have in and through grace.

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