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The other day I was suffering from the normal post-holiday, first-of-the-year, what-has-happened-to-my-life, dear-God-help-me blues. We’ve all been there, right? Right? I was scanning my bookshelf, as you do, desperate for some encouragement, and my eyes lit on PZ’s Panopticon.

I have quite a few of Paul Zahl’s books and have given away Grace in Practice, specifically, more times than I care to count. I even own Comfortable Words, edited by J.D. Koch Jr. and Todd Brewer, the festschrift (isn’t that a great word–literally means “celebration writing”) devoted to his life and work. Suffice it to say, I am a fan. There is a special place in my heart for the Panopticon, though. Maybe it is the sense of humor infused throughout, the freedom, the penetrating insights. Whatever it is, there is something deeply encouraging about it.

The book is a bit tricky to describe. Imagine you have minutes to live-time to pick a religion. It’s literally now or never. From this vantage point, Dr. Zahl explores what we worship and why, organized or not. To do this without being maudlin is no mean feat, but the good Reverend succeeds. Maybe a better way to describe it would be, it’s like extended episode of PZ’s Podcast, sans the awesome music at the beginning and end.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I had been suffering from the first of the year blues. This is what I found when I opened up the book that rather gloomy afternoon:

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Because one-way love works by means of imputation, which looks on the the beloved differently from the way the beloved sees himself or herself, a tension begins to build up inside the loved person. This tension is between the person who has been seen to be something, and the person who existed, and still exists, prior to the seeing. In the fairy tale, “Beauty’ kissed the ‘Beast’ and he turned into the handsome prince. He turned into the being who he had been kissed as. He had been kissed as if he were a prince. But was he no longer a beast? The answer is yes and no. The same goes for the frog who was turned into a prince when the princess kissed him. Was he no longer a frog after she had kissed his slimy mouth between those bulbous eyes? The answer is yes and no.

In Christian theology the loved person is both the person he is and the person he was, although he is now going “with” the person he is. The forgiven sinner is completely forgiven – “You can’ take that away from me” (George Gershwin) – but he still walks around in the body and has the memories of the man he was. The formal Latin term for this condition is simul iustus et peccator. It can be paraphrased as “loved and human at the same time”.

The condition of being simul iustus et peccator carries a lot of relief when you stop and think about it. It means, I can enjoy my new position of being endearing to someone I really love and look up to – my wife, for example. At the same time I don’t have to hide parts of me that haven’t caught up with the person she has blessed with her affection. If I believed that a person could only stay loved as long as they stayed perfect, then I would be sunk. I would be in continual conflict with my “other” self. My imputed self would exist in tension with my imperfect self-centered part, the part of me that apparently escaped the glance of my strange imputing admirer. Simul iustus et peccator tells the truth about me. It explains what’s going on. It makes it possible for me to really “count my lucky stars”; that both parts of me, the part she fell for and the part I wouldn’t let me exposed to her or anyone for a million dollars, are here. I am two things at the same time, simul iustus et peccator.

“Loved and human at the same time,” I like that. I need that. It tells the truth about me, yet makes me feel accepted. You know what’s even better? It doesn’t matter what I feel about it because it’s a fact!  Romans 5;6 says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” We simply aren’t in a position to do anything about what only Christ can accomplish. I love that!