St. Hilary continues his examination of John 3:18-19:
He that believes, says Christ, is not judged. And is there any need to judge a believer? Judgment arises out of ambiguity, and where ambiguity ceases, there is no call for trial and judgment. Hence not even unbelievers need be judged, because there is no doubt about their being unbelievers; but after exempting believers and unbelievers alike from judgment, the Lord added a case for judgment and human agents upon whom it must be exercised. For some there are who stand midway between the godly and the ungodly, having affinities to both, but strictly belonging to neither class, because they have come to be what they are by a combination of the two. They may not be assigned to the ranks of belief, because there is in them a certain infusion of unbelief; they may not be ranged with unbelief, because they are not without a certain portion of belief. For many are kept within the pale of the church by the fear of God; yet they are tempted all the while to worldly faults by the allurements of the world. They pray, because they are afraid; they sin, because it is their will. The fair hope of future life makes them call themselves Christians; the allurements of present pleasure make them act like heathen. They do not abide in ungodliness, because they hold the name of God in honour; they are not godly because they follow after things contrary to godliness. And they cannot help loving those things best which can never enable them to be what they call themselves, because their desire to do such works is stronger than their desire to be true to their name. And this is why the Lord, after saying that believers would not be judged and that unbelievers had been judged already, added that This is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light.
So, judgement is appropriate for cases of ambiguity — for those who do not find themselves firmly in the camp of the righteous or in the camp of the ungodly. Unfortunately, the ambiguity that St. Hilary describes applies to the vast majority of us.
We give honor to God and try to place Him at the center of our lives, but are in love with the allurements of the world that draw us away from God. This why gathering as the Church as often as possible was the norm in the ancient world — drawing near to God helps us overcome our failings, encourages us to allow God to give us strength to overcome and to rely on our fellow Christians to pick us up when we fall. Most importantly, it allows us to see the overwhelming love of God and His Church as a hospital where we go to be healed.
Note St. Hilary describes the ambiguous: they are afraid. It is akin to those of us who are ill with something serious, but we don’t know what it is. The symptoms are not quite what we should expect from normal colds or flus. Something tells us that this time it is serious. Yet, we are afraid to tell our doctor for fear of hearing how bad it really is. We will go for regular check-ups, for the routine illnesses, but we don’t tell our doctor about the symptom that really matters.
The irony is that knowing is so much better than not knowing — even when the news is really bad. I’ve seen this in cancer patients all the time — especially with things like aggressive brain cancer. Yes, the news is bad. Yes, the disease is likely going to kill you (sometimes in months or weeks). However, the knowledge of what it is allows the cancer patient to decide what to do next. Instead of being reactive — worrying about what this strange symptom is — the cancer patient can be pro-active. They get to focus on what is next and they get to choose on how to proceed: chemo? hospice? travel while there is still strength? take care of all the little things left undone? repair relationships left fallow for years? The knowledge of having cancer is actually empowering.
So, too, is it with a relationship with God. When we come to understand the affliction that we are under — sin and death — and come to terms with it, it empowers us to be proactive. God offers us the tools with which to fight the affliction, to give us the strength to power through and (ultimately) to overcome.
Cancer patients (even those who refuse treatment) learn to live in hope. They hope for one more day to see and do all the things that they need to do. So, too, can we the ambiguous. What is wonderful is that our hope is Christ.