Neither Do I Condemn You

From the day I first read the Gospel of John, I’ve been haunted by the Jesus in it. Even as young as I was, I had read the Bhagavad Gita. I had read the Tao Te Ching. I had read the Life of Prince Siddhartha. I had studied tarot, palmistry, numerology, and astrology. My childhood was deeply and thoroughly pluralistic. When I started reading John, it felt comfortable, but as I read it began to turn things upside down. John’s Gospel, as much as anything else, drew me to Christian churches, where I discovered something very odd. Most Christians are uncomfortable with John. It’s not something you notice immediately. After all, John 3:16 seems to be one of the most popular verses in the world. But pay attention. Many Christians shy away from John except for a few select verses or passages. John challenges. John turns the way we want to view the world on its head. John gives no easy answers or safe directions.

Neither do I condemn you.

Those are the words in what we call chapter 8. They captured me. My whole life, I’ve known what it means to be loved. And I’ve known what is to be condemned — even sometimes by those I thought loved me. That truth was driven home at a very young age when two of my three closest friends held me at school while the third punched me in the stomach. I was hurt, but even more I was bewildered. I remember to this day the high school girl who took the time to comfort me when she stumbled across me.

Neither do I condemn you.

People try to qualify or dismiss those words in John 8. Unfortunately, that’s the message Jesus repeats again and again in John. In the prologue, we read that grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John introduces him as the one who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus tells Nicodemus that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. Jesus sits and speaks with a Samaritan, a woman, and one who has had multiple husbands and he does not condemn — someone that everyone else condemned. He warns that those who dehumanize themselves by doing evil face condemnation — but it’s not an external condemnation. He feeds people and tells them that he is giving them his body to eat and his blood to drink. God is providing himself as their food. And then a woman caught in adultery is thrown at his feet. And in the context of all that has happened in John, he tells her the sweetest words ever spoken by God and ever heard by man.

Neither do I condemn you.

I grew older and became a teen parent in a story I’ve told elsewhere. I faced condemnation everywhere, from Christians and non-Christians alike. But the condemnation of Christians hurt the worst — for I had read John. I tried to walk away and dismiss Christianity. I honestly wanted nothing more to do with it. Ever. But —

Neither do I condemn you.

And then one day I met a Christian pastor who, to my astonishment, did not condemn me. Indeed, he did what he could to help my family. And I was undone. I had tried to block those words from my mind, but they came flooding back.

Neither do I condemn you.

Last night I read a post by Young Mom. My heart ached, but I couldn’t think of any words of comfort to write. I still can’t think of any words of my own. But I know the words that matter.

Neither do I condemn you.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted August 26, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    As an addendum (it didn’t fit in the flow of the post), I wanted to add a link to Hieromonk Irenei Steenberg’s lectures on Orthodoxy and Mysticism. I can’t remember in which one (I’ve listened to them all multiple times), but in one of them he talks our problem judging. We judge all the time. We judge everything and everyone. We need to learn to stop. In response to some good questions, he adds some excellent clarifying thoughts in the q&a following that lecture. The series of recordings are here. I highly recommend them.

    http://ancientfaith.com/specials/eastern_orthodoxy_and_mysticism

  2. Posted September 1, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Thanks Scott. I loved your comment over at A Deeper Story too. I’m still fighting to re-program my own approach to judgement and relationship, after a lifetime of judging everyone, its actually been helpful for me to experience it myself.

  3. Posted September 3, 2011 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    I was a very young mom and very condemned by my church home. Was not a fun experience. Thank you for this post.

  4. Posted September 3, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    I read Young Mom’s post as well, and found myself very moved, and convicted. I’m still puzzling what to write on that topic, because I know there’s something I’m supposed to write. It’s so easy to see ourselves as Christians and be complacent in the status, never recognizing the ways in which we’re living hypocrisy. I’m really good at recognizing others’ hypocrisy. But then I have to wonder what I’m missing myself. And how do we stand up for truth without condemning? There’s a fine line there, and I don’t know where it is.

  5. Posted September 3, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Heather, you should also read the post on Deeper Story linked to by Young Mom’s post if you haven’t already. Yes, I know very well that particular condemnation, even though I wasn’t particularly or uniquely raised within a Christian context. At the time I had my oldest daughter, I was enough to get to experience that particular shape of it.

    I’m not convinced there’s a line, Kathleen. We need to learn to stop making constant judgments (condemnations really) of everything and everyone around us. It’s not a Christian problem, per se. It’s a human one. We all do it all the time. It’s just that Christians are supposed to be learning how to stop. The section I reference in the three lectures linked in my comment above (sorry I don’t remember in which one it is — though I think it might be the second one) has two parts. In the q&a following it, he’s asked several questions about teaching right and wrong and what to do in the face of evil done toward another. And he expands on his earlier thought wonderfully. Teaching and standing or acting to protect another are pastoral questions. One central question to ask? Are we truly acting out of love (actively willing the good) of the other? And that’s a very hard question to answer honestly.

    Young Mom, we have a capacity to learn from all experiences, even the most painful. So it can be helpful, but that doesn’t make it good. Peace.

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