A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
Marty has a strong belief in God; however, he struggled to understand God’s unconditional love for him. Marty’s struggle with pornography addiction left him feeling worthless and unlovable, especially in God’s eyes. For Marty, a large part of recovery is understanding how God can be both just and merciful.
This is a struggle I find in many of the people I treat for pornography addiction. Because they focus so much on their sins, they can only see God as someone who is thoroughly disappointed in them, and thus they must be unlovable. The fact is that God’s justice and mercy are both based on His undying love for us.
As stated above, most addicted people have no problem understanding God’s justice. They are well aware of the ten commandments and the beatitudes and how they break them daily. They see how their addiction has hurt themselves and their loved ones. They see the damage their addiction has caused. They wonder how anyone could ever love them, especially God. While they might understand God’s love for all intellectually, emotionally, they feel completely unlovable and abandoned by God.
While I’m no theologian, I have found the best way to help addicted people understand God’s justice and mercy is to understand where they intersect. I call this place of intersection conviction. At this place of conviction, God says “I love you immensely! I created you to be in relationship with me for all eternity. I understand your wounds and I want to heal you.” This is God’s mercy. At this place of conviction, God also says, “because I created you and love you so much, I expect you to love yourself and others as I love you. I expect you to treat others with love and respect. To help you I have provided my ten commandments and the beatitudes.” Breaking them breaks our relationship with God. This is God’s justice.
The first three commandments instruct us on how to treat God. The remaining seven instruct us on how to treat others. The beatitudes show us how to live virtuous lives. By embracing God’s great love for us, and as a result, His expectations for how we should live our lives, it’s easy to live in this place of conviction. We can then accept his love and justice as wonderful gifts.
As Marty came to understand conviction, it was easier for him to accept God’s love for him and understand how God wants him to live. Knowing that conviction is life-giving, helped Marty understand how not living according to God’s justice (sin) separates us from Him, but never removes His love for us. He is always ready to call us back to Him through the sacrament of reconciliation. A good example of this is the women caught in adultery that Jesus saved from being stoned. His final words to her were “Well, then, I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again” (John 8:11). Here Jesus extends to her His unconditional love (mercy), but also admonishes her avoid sin (justice). She is able to walk away with a new direction in life.
With conviction, God gives us all we need to become the people He created us to be. It challenges us to love God, ourselves, and others even when it’ not easy. It also challenges us to accept the love of God and others even when it is not easy. In time, I believe living in this place of conviction will make understanding the gift of God’s mercy and justice easier for people in recovery. This in turn will make achieving long-term recovery easier and more effective.
Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D., SATP-C is a Licensed Clinical Therapist and Assistant Director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in Conshohocken, PA. Dr. Kleponis has over 18 years of professional experience working with individuals, couples, families and organizations. He specializes in marriage & family therapy, pastoral counseling, and pornography/sexual addiction recovery. He works with individuals and couples from around the United States and internationally in-person, by phone, and by Skype. For more information see his website, www.peterkleponis.com.
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