I have a list of things I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time. It seems like everytime I try and stick to my schedule, something new gets thrown in my path. Is it a coincidence? Is there something greater at work? I’ll let you decide. Out of respect, I’m going to keep some parts of this writing intentionally vague. If you know, you know. If you don’t, you don’t need to. Still, you’ll be able to follow along, and hopefully glean some insight that will benefit you.
Earlier this week I heard from a friend of mine. They haven’t been doing well lately because of events in their life. Most of the woes they are dealing with are of their own doing, but that makes them nonetheless hard to hear. Most people who know me know that I tend to be very blunt about my opinions. I’ve often said, ‘If you’re looking for someone to hold your hand, look elsewhere.’ When I was first approached about what my friend was going through, I had no problem pointing out that they were an idiot. I can say that because, for one, it’s true. Also, I have no problem saying it to them. I’m honest like that. After I got the pleasantries out of my system, some thoughts came to mind.
I would start by pointing out how unfortunate it is that people, much less people of the church, can be very judgemental. When I was told some of the things people have been saying about this given situation, I was overcome with a deep sense of disappointment. Not only in the things my friend has done. (Again; idiot.) But, also, in the way other people have been behaving, and the comments that have been said.
My goto scripture for when speaking with people about judgmentalism is from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter seven verses one and two, as spoken by Jesus Himself;
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
People tend to overlook the fact that when they condemn others, they also condemn themselves. As I would point out, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) There is no hierarchy of sin. None is better or worse than another. And, God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:11) This idea was espoused by Paul in the beginning of chapter two of his letter to the Romans.
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
What does that mean for us? It means not one person is fit to stand on a pedestal and criticize the wrongdoings of another. And, by none means, is anyone fit to assume they know who is hellbound and who isn’t. If you’re going to start spouting things like that, you’re venturing too close to blasphemy for what I’m comfortable with. If think you are in a position to announce who is condemned or not, I think you want to be too much like God. And, I would point out that didn’t work out well for Eve. Food for thought. (See what I did there?)
As we look back in chapter seven of Matthew, Jesus addresses the hypocritical nature of those passing judgement;
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
To summarize, stop judging people.
Back to the issue at hand. As I listened to the issues plaguing my friend, and I wanted to find a way to help them through their current tribulation, the story of the adulterous woman was the first story that popped into my head. From the Gospel of John chapter eight, verses one through eleven;
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. And early in the morning He came again into the temple area, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began teaching them. Now the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery, and after placing her in the center of the courtyard, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” Now they were saying this to test Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. When they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Now when they heard this, they began leaving, one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman where she was, in the center of the courtyard. And straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on do not sin any longer.”
There are several things in this passage worth noting. Firstly, I would point out Jesus’ response when the Pharisees initially approached Him. He seemed to care so little of their plight that he ignored them and bent down to write in the dirt. Only after they continued asking Him did He respond. At this time she had violated the Law of Moses, and with that, her punishment was to be stoned to death. By telling them that whoever is without sin should be the first to throw a stone at her, he left them in a predicament. If they were going to hold her accountable for violating the law and punish her, they would also have to do the same to themselves. This was later reiterated by James in his namesake book, chapter two verses eight through thirteen;
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Realizing that they were unfit to pass judgement, they all left. When no one is left to condemn her, Jesus says the he also will not condemn her. There is an important distinction her that I’ve seen some people gloss over. Jesus didn’t say the woman did nothing wrong, only that he wouldn’t condemn her to be stoned to death. He was the only person without sin, and the only person fit to pass such judgement on anyone. But, He didn’t. He told her to leave, and sin no more. In that moment, he showed her mercy. The same mercy all sinners are shown today.
There are some who point to this story and use it to demonstrate Jesus’ forgiving attitude towards people. This is what I thought when dealing with my friend. This is a wonderful example of how we should treat others we deal with in today’s world. How great, I thought, if only people could show others such mercy and compassion; if only others could act this way. Then, and I have no better way to describe this, a realization hit me like a brick in the face. As I was recounting the story of the adulterous woman, the image of Joseph appeared in my head, and Matthew chapter one, verse nineteen, echoed in my head;
And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
When Mary was betrothed to Joseph, she was found to be with child. A child that wasn’t his. Joseph, in keeping with the Law of Moses, could have gone to the religious leaders of his time and had Mary stoned to death under the same law as the adulterous woman. In that moment, he showed her mercy. This is a parallel I had never drawn before. He could have condemned a woman to death, but he chose not to. Thirty-three years later, his earthly Son would do he same.
As they say, to err is human, to forgive is divine.
So, my friend, where does this leave us? I can recount stories all day and beat you over the head with a sign that says ‘Jesus loves you,’ but that won’t always help the way we want it to. It’s easy, in theory, to tell yourself that no one is fit to judge you. In practice, it can be hard to remember when you’re face to face with people doing just that. All I can tell you is that your hardships are nothing new, or exclusive to you. Judgmentalism within the church has been a problem as long as there has been a church. Everyone has things in their past they aren’t found of, most people just able to keep their indiscretions private. Still, we all have issues. I’ve had a very Roman life, and I can recount things that I’m not fond of. And, I’ve heard the whispers of other people’s previous lives from within the church. I just don’t say anything. Largely because I can not abide idle gossip. But, also, I just don’t care. The things people have done in their old lives are of no consequence to me. I’m concerned with moving forward and, hopefully, helping others do the same.
Here’s my final piece of wisdom I can pass on to you. What you’re dealing with is hard, regardless of how much of it is your fault. At some point you’re going to have to start moving forward. No, it won’t be easy. Yes, people will continue to say and do things, that’s how people are. You have no control over that. All you can control is what you do from this point forward. You can either wallow in pity and feel bad for yourself, or you can allow the hand of God to pull you out of the miry clay and set your feet upon a rock. (Yes, Tony, I’m stealing from you now.)
Someday I’m going to make time to write about the millennial exodus, and all of the things that caused it. I’m not going to go into it right now, but I will say, going back to church wasn’t easy for me. And, there are still times when I see shadows of why I left in the first place. I try not to get hung up on earthly matters these days, though. My sights are set higher. From experience I will tell you, walking through the door is the hardest part.
When you’re ready, you know where to find me.
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