On the one hand, it’s been nearly 500 years since Martin Luther affixed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. So, Catholics, that’s enough time to figure out how not to get your cassocks in a bunch every time a non-Catholic appears to reject a Catholic doctrine—in this case, the sinlessness of St Mary.
On the other hand, what the heck were you trying to say, Mark Driscoll?
I’ve got a theory. Driscoll catapulted his Mary-related thoughts into the Twitter ether this past Mother’s Day, so it’s safe to assume he was seeking to comfort Christian women at a time they’re often weighed down with guilt. That’s both the regular kind of mommy guilt—“Have I fed my kids enough veggies?”—and the Christian mommy kind: “Have I fed them enough episodes of Veggie Tales?”
For Some, This Could Just Be Misinterpretation
It’s also possible, in fact it’s likely, that Driscoll’s tweet was inspired by Luke’s account of Mary losing Jesus in Jerusalem and not understanding that she’d find him in his Father’s house. If that’s what was on his mind, his point was rather clear. He was essentially saying, “Ladies, the greatest mother ever once lost her son for three days, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you couldn’t find your toddler for an hour in JC Penney’s or couldn’t answer your seven-year-old’s question about whether we’ll still burp in heaven.”
Granted, Twitter’s 140 (or 280 for the elect few) character limits can make such nuance difficult to grasp. Likewise, this is the dawning of the age of Ragequarius, so it’s not surprising that some Catholics assumed the worst since it was surely more fun to get mad at the former megachurch pastor for saying, “Ladies, if you scream at your kid for wanting a hug while you play Candy Crush and drink Moscato, remember that St. Mary was no saint either.”
But in all likelihood, the more charitable reading of his tweet is the most accurate one. I’m sure Driscoll rejects the Roman Catholic notion that Mary received a special dispensation from God that prevented her from inheriting original sin and committing actual sins. But that doesn’t mean he was accusing Mary of sinning in her vocation as a mother.
Mary Wasn’t a Perfect Mom. She Just Had a Perfect Son
If Catholics still want to get all froth-mouthed, as is the style these days, there are two things about Driscoll’s tweet worth criticizing.
The first is the implication that what caused Jesus to turn out “okay” was Mary’s parenting, imperfect as he thinks it may have been. What caused Christ to turn out “okay,” or to put it a bit more biblically, what caused Christ to be the sinless, spotless Lamb of God worthy to die for the sins of the world, was not the number of hugs and kisses his mother gave him. It was his sinless human nature and perfect obedience to his Father’s will, enabled by his divine nature.
The Bible teaches that everyone conceived in a natural union inherits a sinful nature, which causes him to transgress God’s law and makes him worthy of condemnation and death. For Christ to be free of this sinful nature, it was necessary for him to be conceived supernaturally—that is, by the Holy Spirit.
While the Bible teaches that the virgin birth was necessary for Christ to be perfect, it doesn’t teach that the virgin herself had to free of sin to preserve Jesus’ holiness. Roman doctrine, of course, insists otherwise, asserting that Mary’s immaculate conception played a necessary role in Christ’s redemptive work. Yet herein lies the irony of the Catholic anger aimed at Driscoll. By saying that Mary’s failings weren’t enough to derail her son’s development, Driscoll has, perhaps unwittingly, accepted the Catholic premise that Christ’s work was dependent on Mary’s moral state, rather than on his nature alone. Despite the Roman faithful (playfully) raging in his direction, Driscoll articulated the most Catholic view of Mary to be found in all of Evangelicaland.
This Is Actually No Comfort to Moms
The second reason it’s worth tossing a couple argle-bargles in Driscoll’s direction is that his tweet doesn’t actually give the women he’s seeking to comfort anything of real value. A doctor is faithfully carrying out his vocation if he tells a guilt-ridden mother, “So you accidentally banged your kid’s head on the car door. He’ll be fine.” But a pastor’s job is never to tell you, as Driscoll did, “No biggie.” It’s to tell you, “Be at peace because of Christ, whose love, mercy, and salvation can’t be derailed by your sins and imperfections.”
When a mother is worried that she has sinned against her children, that she’s failed to love and cherish them as she should have, it won’t do her any good to hear, “Ah, don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re doing the best you can.” Her guilt will not dissipate until she hears the words of Christ: “Take heart; your sins are forgiven.” She won’t have any true comfort until she knows that Christ doesn’t need her holiness to save her. The only holiness he needed was his own.
Likewise, “Mary messed up too, and Jesus still turned out fine” won’t give a woman any peace when she fears that she hasn’t done what’s necessary to keep her children in the Christian faith. After all, she knows she’s messed up more than Mary, and she knows that her children aren’t as temptation-resistant as Christ. What a woman in that state needs to hear is that Christ’s worthiness to die for her children, his ability to keep them from temptation, and his promise to seek and find his lost sheep—all of these things depend on Christ’s righteousness alone and not the righteousness of anyone else.
Or, to put it in a perfectly tweetable 136 characters “Dear imperfect mom, Christ didn’t need Mary to be a perfect mother to save her. He doesn’t need you to be perfect to save your children.” Had Mark Driscoll tweeted that, it wouldn’t have made Catholic Twitter any happier. But it might have given some peace to those guilt-ridden Christian mothers he was trying to comfort.