Neither Do I Condemn You

Posted: August 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Faith, Personal | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

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.


For the Life of the World 12

Posted: November 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 12

This post continues my reaction to the third chapter of For the Life of the World. Here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast on chapter three if you’ve not already listened to it.

Before I really dive into this chapter on a Christian perspective of time, I want to comment on something that seems to be a pervasive misunderstanding within modern American Christianity. Deacon Hyatt speaks on it briefly in his podcast. I’ve heard Bishop N.T. Wright speak about it. And I’ve read and heard it from multiple sources. It’s never been a surprise to me, though, since I entered Christianity with a long-standing interest in the ancient Greco-Roman world. I knew the realities of that time, within which the Church initially lived and grew as soon it spread to the Gentiles.

The issue is the issue of Sabbath. I realized it was issue when a BSF class I once attended made the blanket statement that all ten commandments still apply and are still observed by Christians today, that they were somehow a universal “Law”. I immediately pointed out that Christians don’t keep Sabbath, so that’s at least one commandment of that ten which no longer holds for us. You would have thought I committed sacrilege from the reaction. Some just immediately responded that of course we do. Others, who knew a little bit more about the Holy Scriptures and about Sabbath acknowledged that we no longer kept it on the seventh day of the week (Saturday for us), but then went on to assert that we observe Sunday as Sabbath and so we simply shifted the commandment to a different day. (Never mind, I guess, that there’s nothing in Scripture to support such a shift.) One other person in my group understood my point and we spent a little bit more time explaining it, but realized it was a major issue for many in the class and dropped it. (And yes, the “official” BSF position on that question is one of many places they are simply historically and scripturally mistaken.)

Yes, Christians have always worshiped on the morning of the first day of the week. But that worship, in its origin, had nothing to do with Sabbath. Christians met and worshiped on that morning in order to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord. He rose on the first day, and we will discuss that some in this chapter. He rose in the morning. And he is also associated in scripture with the rising sun. (Which is also why churches traditionally are built facing east and the west is associated with the devil and evil.) That is all true.

However, the Jews who became Christians in the earliest centuries continued to observe their “lazy day” (which is what the Romans called the Sabbath) on the seventh day of the week. And Gentiles who converted? They didn’t get a “lazy day” like the Jews did, either before or after their conversion. Arguably the relatively few wealthy converts might have been able to get away with adding such an observance to their week if there had been a reason to do so, though that would have drawn attention to their conversion to an illegal religion. For the vast majority of Gentile converts — slaves and poor — there was no such choice at all. So throughout the first centuries, the Church met for worship very early on the morning of the first day of the week and then everyone went off to their full day of work, Jew and Gentile alike. (Actually, the worship of the first day actually began in the evening of the day before. Christianity inherited that sense of time from Judaism and you still see that pattern in liturgical churches. It was probably that feast in the evening that Paul was particularly chiding the Corinthians over rather than their first day morning gathering. But that’s just a guess on my part. I haven’t particularly studied it.)

That pattern continued at least until Constantine made Christianity legal. I would have to do some refresher research, but either Constantine instituted the idea of Sunday as a Christian Sabbath or it came sometime after him. If it came later, it probably coincided with the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the empire.

Now, I’m not saying the idea of Sabbath is not a good one. I believe it is a very good practice and discipline. I’m just saying that it is not a primary Christian belief or practice. Our focus is not on the rest of the seventh day, but the work of the new creation of the eighth day.  In the Gospel of John, which from his opening words is clearly (and daringly) a retelling of the creation narrative, the seventh “day” is the day Jesus rested in the tomb in death. Make of that what you will.

Well, I had intended to begin working through the book, but I’ve meandered down another rabbit trail. I’ll work my way into the book on my next post. I promise.


On the Incarnation of the Word 1 – Creation and Renewal

Posted: August 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

There are few works to which I return time and again as I do with Athanasius’ classic, On the Incarnation of the Word. I think sometimes Christians seem to forget just how strange a story the Incarnation actually is or how central it is to our faith. In this series I will reflect on each section of the work in turn. I will quote only segments of each section most weeks, so you might want to read the whole section first yourself in the opening link.

Today we begin with the Introduction. Athanasius is tying this work to his earlier one, Against the Heathen. I want to focus on this theme in particular.

It is, then, proper for us to begin the treatment of this subject by speaking of the creation of the universe, and of God its Artificer, that so it may be duly perceived that the renewal of creation has been the work of the self-same Word that made it at the beginning. For it will appear not inconsonant for the Father to have wrought its salvation in Him by Whose means He made it.

As it was through the Word that all things were created, it is through the Word that all things are made new. Thus Paul writes to Corinth:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

I’ve heard others describe the emphatic nature of Paul’s writing in Greek. Something like, “Anyone in Christ, new creation!” In Revelation, we see at the end the Alpha and Omega on the throne proclaiming, “Behold, I make all things new!” The Incarnation then begins as the story of the creator God entering his creation, becoming part of his creation, in order to save and renew it.

This is important. It sometimes seems to me that Christians often start with the Fall in Genesis 3, not with creation itself in Genesis 1 and 2. Yet the theological gospel of John opens with the declaration that this is a gospel of creation and recreation.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

The proclamation of Jesus begins with the proclamation of him not just as lord, but as creator. It is that eternal Word who became flesh and ‘pitched his tents’ (tabernacled) among us.