Wednesday, December 21, 2016

No Condemnation II

by Henk Hart

"The Way," by Henk Hart

In our stormy times little seems as important for all people, all faiths, all cultures, especially all leaders as finding a way forward. So I stay with last week’s picture of a visible way in a distant darkness.
My explosive experience of love’s unfathomable depths ten years ago, my subsequent puzzling discovery that in the Christian tradition there is a measure of hesitation about love’s centrality in the universe, followed by my coming to understand Scripture as embracing the unbounded fullness of love, resulted in many notes in my archives. Is the way of the Spirit clear? Is my understanding of it Biblical? Today I continue exploring where the spirit leads. Does the way ahead hold promise?
In Jesus we see the triumph of love over condemnation as the direction in which rule pointed but did not make manifest. Jesus, says the opening of John's gospel, embodies the grace and truth that stayed covered in the law of Moses as his glory. In Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:16 and 17), we see God’s ultimate intent made unambiguously clear: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever trusts in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” No wonder that in this gospel, 8:11, we find Jesus saying to the woman about to be stoned for adultery according to Moses: “I do not condemn you.” With his finger, the way God had written the commandments, he wrote the new commandment in the sand. Then he said: “sin no more.” Meaning?

A crucial place in the New Testament echoes Jesus’ refusal to condemn the woman. Romans 8 verse 1 says: “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus....” We are encouraged to trust not only that in Christ we are not condemned, but also that we do not condemn. Verses 33 and 34: “Who will lay charges, who will condemn?” Instead we are invited to become children of God, to say Abba to God, to become like Jesus, the first child who does not condemn. In the New Testament the parent-child relation becomes the preferred metaphor for God’s relationship to us, setting the tone for the ruler-subject relation. God’s love finds a way to deal with broken rules. The son-of-David walks redemptively with David’s rule-breaking subjects. And we enter into that child-parent relation, not surprisingly, through suffering. Read 16 and 17: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Jesus’ “no condemnation" is God’s new way: we bear the transgressions of others as followers of the suffering servant, to make visible that God in Christ does not condemn when we, in the way of Christ, enter into the space of the cross.

For many Christians this is hard to believe. If we are called to sin no more, how can we, so it seems, allow people to sin and get away with it? But being heirs with Christ doesn’t mean we ignore sin. Not to condemn is not an invitation to condone. We deal with sin in the way of Christ, trusting the no condemnation. Gal. 6:1-2 calls us to bear one another’s transgression as our burden. Burden bearing is cross bearing. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Fulfilling the law of Christ is fulfilling the law of love which demands that we give our life for the other. The Noachite covenant: if you take a life, yours will be taken also, moves beyond that rule to give deeper expression to its direction. The rule’s direction was God’s affirmation of life. In Christ this becomes: if someone has gotten lost in abusing God’s gift of life, we are invited to give ourselves as burden bearers. Our neighbor's burden is light, because we bear with and for our neighbor. We bear our neighbour’s cross, we tolerate. This is not a toleration of indifferent letting be. The toleration of Jesus is the space of “qui tolle peccata mundi,” who bears the sins of the world. Telling people to “sin no more,” as the way to read Jesus not condemning the woman, misses the point. Rather, we experience the “no condemnation” when, in the community of faith, we enter into that space to experience God’s way of dealing with sin. In that space we find the power to sin no more.

The new Jerusalem at the end of Revelation gets its light from a source other than the created lights. “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” We will reflect the glory-light of the Lamb when we share in his sufferings, that is, if we bear with him. From here on in the only rule we know is the rule of the Lamb, the only power we know the power of suffering love.

“Sin no more” does not mean: stop breaking rules. We can’t do that, as God observed after the flood. God found another way for us to live: no condemnation, no more flood, only the light that shines from the Lamb. That empowers us to seek life in the direction of no condemnation by trusting that life will emerge in that direction. The life of faith is turned into a different direction, not away from but toward the God who does not condemn when we break the rules. That allows us who do break the rules to turn in God's direction and thus to sin no more. To repent from sin becomes: turn to trust God’s “no condemnation.” To sin no more is to live in faith, to trust that though we continue to break the rules, there is no condemnation. Condemned rule-breakers will continue to seek life away from or against the rules. But if God has a way of life that can’t harm us even if we miss, we’ll want to seek that way. Rules that have lost their power to condemn now can indeed direct us to life. This, in truth, is Advent’s grace.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.


  1. Thank you Henk for this piece and indeed the whole series to this point. They make for wonderful advent reflections. What you are speaking of here, the counterintuitive move from "an eye for an eye" to "no condemnation" is not just about you and me and our individual conduct and orientation in life. This also has societal impact. "We" do not listen to our social scientists and anti-poverty activists when they show us that "safe injection sites" reduce crime in so many ways and reduce costs to the social safety net (although the current opioid crisis may be changing that). Nor do we listen when they tell us that providing the homeless homes is the most cost effective way to deal with this sector of the population. It is not that we are deaf to the numbers but we do not believe in just handing people a home or using public money to provide sites where addicts can "give in to their addiction" on the public purse. We do condemn. Not to do so does not feel right and so we hear but do not hear that "no condemnation" also makes societal sense as the healthier way to live with one another in a very hard headed dollars and cents way of reckoning. The lesson I draw from this is that the counter intuitive character of the Gospel; and oddly enough its demonstrable social efficacy illustrate both the wisdom and "folly" of the love ethos you speak of with such warmth and allure. As for me, I will hold your intuitive "folly" to be the counter-intuitive heart of wisdom.

    1. Thank you Bob. Yes, of course yes. For those who have ears the "no condemnation" by its very nature spills over into our social conscience. Incarnation can mean no less. So my deep hope is that if within the body of Christ the "no condemnation" becomes second nature without exceptions, the road of forgiveness can become more widely recognized as actually making sense. To put it in the language of our culture: salvation saves money.