Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Mat. 7:16-20)
The Riverfront Times ran an article in December that was very sympathetic toward a St. Louis businessman who claimed to be helping troubled teens, Loren Copp. Copp, it turns out, has now been arrested on child abuse charges, and the evidence against him is said to be a video of him having sex with a 12-year-old girl, a girl that he had taken under his wing and was “caring for”. The RFT is now reporting that Copp’s supporters, including his attorney, have suddenly abandoned him, in light of the evidence that has led to his arrest.
And, of course, there have been lots of red flags over the years. A commenter at the RFT’s website notes …
This man has had numerous, I mean numerous, lawsuits and allegations, throughout Illinois and other places. He has ruined businesses, not to mention many people’s lives. He has been the source of divisiveness, while proclaiming that he is an agent for unity. Yet, he continues to want to paint himself as the picture of the compassionate martyr. In previous comments from other articles, someone stated that the truth will come out. Well guess what? The truth is coming out.
Comedy is about the truth coming out, about masking and unmasking, about our real Identities being revealed under the pretenses we put forth. That’s why comedy, in the literary sense (apart from mere laughter), is so satisfying.
Therefore what interests me about this story is that even in this age of phenomenalism we recognize Identity; we recognize a unity behind the scattered bits and pieces of evidence, an Actor behind the actions, a real face behind the false one. “Ye shall know them by their fruits” means that Identity precedes Act. We are not just people who do random things. Each of us has an Identity, and from that Identity we operate.
But it works both ways. What we do also changes who we are. I am thinking of one friend in particular who became more and more selfish the more selfish choices she made in her life, so that, over the years I knew her, a good person became a bad one, and a young woman who could have gone either way became a mature woman who had become untrustworthy; she was no longer a good or a mixed person doing occasionally bad things, she was a selfish and bad person who consistently acted according to her character.
For, eventually, Act and Identity become one – for better or worse. Worst case scenario: Smeagol becomes Gollum. Best case scenario: Francis becomes St. Francis. Our ultimate destinies, heaven or hell, then, are not so much rewards or punishments doled out to us by the Judge Judy in the Sky, but the final affirmations of who we are, the inevitable consequences of our free will and character, our Identities. If we are “thrown into the fire” it is not just because of our bad fruit, but because we are bad trees and can no longer bear good fruit – though, of course, He is the vine and we are the branches and it is His fruit that we bear when we live through Him.
So that when St. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20), he is saying, my Identity has changed. I am no longer condemned to be a bad tree bearing bad fruit. I have been grafted on to a living vine, and I no longer am who I once was.
This simple insight is resisted everywhere we look. We think that in order to be forgiving or forbearing we are obligated to accept what’s on the surface, to believe our neighbor’s mask, and not to recognize the hidden face underneath. We don’t want to see the trail of accusations, failed businesses and hurt people behind a Loren Copp; we don’t want to think that there’s a unity indicated by the scattered indicia all around us, a substance behind the possibly disconnected phenomena we observe.
Perhaps this is because we know our own jumbled souls, and we see how we can become either our best selves or our worst selves quite easily. And in God’s mercy, our Identities are never finally fixed in sin; we can always repent and be crucified, to live as New Creations, to bear His fruit.
But bad people do bad things. And bad things are usually done by bad people. That great and simple truth is one of the most unpopular in our world today.
The meaning of our lives is wedded to the mystery of who we are.