Capon’s Parable of Gracious Infidelity: The Marriage to Merit-Demerit

So often we talk about how much we hunger for the burden to be taken […]

So often we talk about how much we hunger for the burden to be taken from us; we beg mercy. We communicate a wanting for something other than the mode of exchange that so elementally buries us. And yet, and yet, most of the time, we don’t really want it. Our bondage, our birthwrought marriage, subsumes even our desires–that our fidelity to the Law (and its punishment!) fills the comprehensive whole, to the very inner-self. Freedom renders anxiety. When it comes down to it, we want the Preacher of Proving, we want the Very Right Reverend Reciprocity. This from Chapter One of Robert Farrar Capon’s Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace.

We are uneasy with the grace of a simply successful love affair not because it is unrealistically dull but because it is all too obviously dangerous. It threatens to blow apart the imagined framework by which we hold ourselves, however inconveniently, in one piece. As long as the law is upon us, we feel safe. Its b****ing, score-evening presence assures us that something out there has our number. Whether it approves or disapproves of us is almost a matter of indifference; the main thing is that, having our number, it absolves from the burden of learning our name. The law of retribution reigns supreme in our fantasies precisely to keep us off the main question of our lives: What would you do with freedom if you had it?

…Restore to us, Preacher, the comfort of merit and demerit. Prove for us that there is at least something we can do, that we are still, at whatever dim recess of our nature, the masters of our relationships. Tell us, Prophet, that in spite of all our nights of losing, there will be be one redeeming card of our very own to fill the inside straight we have so long and so earnestly tried to draw to. But do not preach us grace. It will not do to split the pot evenly at 4 A.M. and break out the Chivas Regal. We insist on being reckoned with. Give us something, anything; but spare us the indignity of this indiscriminate acceptance (6-7).



4 responses to “Capon’s Parable of Gracious Infidelity: The Marriage to Merit-Demerit”

  1. Jim McNeely says:

    I’m reading this right now, and this passage hit me so hard. It is so thrilling to be so free! People get upset when you teach this, but how else are we to take the cross? We have entered a new universe where the sting of the law is over with and we do what we do from freedom and love alone. Yet people keep throwing fear and punishment back into the equation. Capon is a wonder, and far more, the gospel of Jesus is a wonder!

  2. Lee says:

    What would I do with ultimate freedom? That is a huge, piercing question that creates an apocolyptic battle within.

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