man in surgical mask from shoulders up

Why Does God Allow Suffering? / Spiritual Meditations

In our confusion this question is frequently formed in our minds, if not on our lips, in these crippling times.  Religious commentator, Father Jonathan Morris offers the following brief, but complete, answer in his book The Way of Serenity.

Praying deeply for serenity to except the things I cannot change is nearly impossible if at some level I am still blaming God for not changing these things for me. The temptation to just trust, blame, or resent God’s ways is wholly human. If I were God, I would do things differently. I think I would eliminate hunger, and floods, and earthquakes. I would have thought twice before creating some people who have made so many others suffer. Certainly, mosquitoes would disappear without anybody really missing them. I would change a few things about myself too, airbrushing out a few needless moral and physical blemishes.

Most of us have a good idea about how the world could be made into a better place. So why doesn’t God do it? How to improve things seems so very clear to us. Doesn’t He get it? Doesn’t he care as much as we do about little children who suffer? About poor people who go to bed hungry at night? About people with no jobs?

I have to believe that He does care. In fact, I believe that He cares much, much more than I do. At the same time, He cares so much about us that He is willing to allow our free will to have real consequences. We live in a fallen world because our first parents rejected God and His order for creation in the garden of Eden. They wanted it their way, and God respected their wish. We want it our way, and God respects that too.

Imagine, on the contrary, if every time we try to do evil, God were to intervene and protect us and others from all harm. Would we be glorified robots?

Free will exercised without consequences is fiction.

God was willing to risk the presence of all the evil in this world for the chance of entering into a relationship of love with us. For God, every act of human love is that precious.

God‘s love for us goes even further. Although we have sinned and chosen to do things our way, God makes a promise to us that out of every instance of suffering and sin in this world, He will bring out of it a good even greater than the good that has been lost and that we now mourn. We see the fulfillment of this promise most perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ, who gave up his life so that we might live with him forever in eternity, and where every tear will be wiped away.

For this reason, we can have confidence that God knows what He is doing. If He doesn’t do things my way, I am the one with poor, shortsighted vision, not Him. Someday we will all find out how everything had a purpose and came together in a wonderful symphony of God‘s goodness. Some people would call this a pie-in-the-sky optimism, or a Pollyanna-ish, fairytale faith. I don’t think that’s what it is. My confidence that God knows what He is doing, is not only from the history of Gods dealings with His people, as we read in the Bible, but also from my own experience with God‘s goodness in my life.

When we don’t understand why things are going the way they are, there is good reason to give God the benefit of the doubt.

There are many mysteries in life, and there is perhaps none as troubling as the mystery of evil. In his last published book before his death, Memory and Identity, Pope John Paul II devoted the first six chapters to what he called the Mysterium iniquitatis – The Mystery of Evil. It [evil] has been a stumbling block for philosophers and common people alike since the beginning of time. It is so hard to understand how a God who is all good and all powerful allows bad things to happen in the world. Some of it can be explained as simply Gods respect for human freedom (since much suffering results from people’s bad choices), but much of it cannot be explained this way. What about earthquakes and floods? Little children with horrible birth defects? Terrible diseases and calamities?

There can be only one satisfying explanation for all this. Somehow God must be able to turn evil on its head and bring good out of it. Somehow God must be able to take even the most horrible of tragedies and bring them to a happy ending. In John Paul’s book, what begins as a philosophical study of evil incarnate in history, merges into a broader theological reflection on the roots of evil itself and the victory of redemption. In the mind of this pope, evil has never been total or absolute. It is always, he says, circumscribed by good. “If redemption marks the divine limit placed upon evil,“ he writes, “it is for this reason only: because thereby evil is radically overcome by good, hate by love, death by resurrection.“ Saint Augustine had a great way of expressing this too: “for God judged it better to bring good out of evil then not to permit any evil to exist.“

I often think that this is the great revelation of Good Friday. This yearly commemoration marks the greatest evil in human history: the day we put God to death. It signifies humanity’s rejection of love, purity, innocence, and goodness when we strung up God and nailed Him to a wooden cross. And yet, from the pinnacle of human evil God wrought the greatest good: our redemption. As Joseph Ratzinger once wrote, “In the abyss of human failure is revealed the still more inexhaustible abyss of divine love.” God took evil and exploded it from within, turning it’s venom to nectar and it’s sting into a healing balm.

If God is able to bring forth this immense good from the evil of Good Friday, He can surely turn all the lesser evils of our lives into surprise packages of unexpected grace.

Prayer

Jesus, I don’t know why certain things have happened to me or why people who I love have to suffer so much, but today I reaffirm my faith that you do know why. Lord, I promise to move forward with the assurance that you will bring forth a greater good out of every instance of evil and suffering in my life and in this world. I love you, Jesus.

Relevant Scripture

 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!”  So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying,  ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.  So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Gen 50:15-21)

sketch of Jesus and Samaritan woman at well

Are We Smart Enough to Judge Others?/Spiritual Meditations

Many of us live in a society drowning in shallow judgments based on a people’s appearance, vocabulary, dialect, education, fashion, sexual preference, ethnic group, where they live, where they’re from, are they interracially married and other characteristics that are meaningless to God. We even judge ourselves based on how well we think we measure up to such standards. Often those standards are hoisted upon us during our developmental years by parents, teachers and peers, and now our mind accepts them.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Of course, we know there are more important issues in life; loving others, humility, gratitude, patience, generosity and all the guidance we find in the ten commandments and the sermon on the mount among other texts. How do we prevent ourselves from criticizing those who have a speck in their eye?

In order to swim out of the riptide of biases, we need to focus on that which is meaningful to God; a person’s heart, their soul, their Inner Being. But are we so wise and discerning that we can see that deeply into a person? Do we know and understand all the pieces of their life that have come together to make them who they are? Their behavior may not be what God would wish for them, but is it up to us, with our limited knowledge, to correct them? Let’s explore.

Generally, Don’t Judge Others

It is easy to quote the Bible verses that support our position on any issue, but if we look at all the verses regarding judging others, we find that the list is more heavily weighted against it.

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at 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,’ and behold, the log is 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. (Matthew 7:1-5)

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God…. Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (Rom 14:10-13)

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. (John 12:46-48)

For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” (Heb 10:30)

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:37-38)

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. (Rom 14:1-13)

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. (Rom 12:16)

Judgment pollutes our heart as we often intend malice, while slandering another person (Mark 7:20-23). It also makes us vulnerable to hatred as we plant seeds of unforgiveness and condemnation that take root in our hearts and minds (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Judge With Understanding

In John 7:7 Jesus told his disciples that the world hates him “because I testify about it that its works are evil.” He also repeatedly criticized the Pharisees. So, he couldn’t have meant that we’re all supposed to just throw up our hands and say, “Hey, to each his own. Who am I to judge?”

We are blessed to have words of guidance and direction from Jesus. Unfortunately, we do not have his inspired understanding of a person as he demonstrated in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. After speaking with Jesus, she announced to her neighbors “see a man who told me all the things that I have done”

When Jesus told us the harsh truth about our sin, he brought us close. He made us his friends, even as sinners.

The ultimate goal of confronting a person, with the way they are separating themselves from God, is to bring repentance. We are called to judge sin—always with the goal of repentance and reconciliation.

The following two verses support judgment, but in a spirit of teaching.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:24-26)

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. (Gal 6:1-6)

John 7:24 says “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” which speaks to the necessity of being wise enough and discerning enough to know what ‘right judgment’ is. Who can make this claim?

Proverbs 31:9 comes right out and says it “Open your mouth, judge righteously” but then goes on to qualify what we should be judging “defend the rights of the poor and needy. “

The Apostle Paul, however, came up against gross immorality in one of his fledgling churches. Not only did he point out the offending individual, but he identified the characteristics of persons that the church should shun. Although there certainly was/is merit in eliminating bad influences within the church, influences that could hinder spiritual growth in others, it is difficult to apply first century descriptions to twenty-first century society. If one covets the car of his rich neighbor or idolizes a celebrity should they be shunned? What we consider to be immoral today is also significantly different than 2000 years ago; just compare the typical attire of a first-century middle eastern woman with the norm of today. Yes, we should use these verses as guidelines, but we must be very careful in how we apply them, keeping in mind that Christians already have a reputation for being ‘judgmental’. Here’s what Paul said:

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you…. that someone has his father’s wife…. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present….Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?  Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened….But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:1-11)

When are You Being Judgmental?

  • When you are more enraged at someone else’s sin than you are embarrassed by your own.
  • When you gossip. What makes gossip so dangerous is that you are judging someone without giving them the chance to change. At least if you judged someone to their face, they could do something about it.
  • When you refuse to forgive – To refuse to forgive someone is to be almost entirely ignorant of the enormity of what God has forgiven you.
  • When you think the other person is hopeless and assume they won’t change and won’t listen to your fully considered guidance. You’re consigning them to their sin without ever giving them the chance to receive grace.
  • When you “cut off” those who disagree with you. This is the essence of judging.

Being Judgmental Says Something About You

We usually judge others in the areas where we feel the weakest. We expose our own insecurities when we criticize someone else.

Although it is an admirable goal, I don’t think that it’s possible to live a life where we never judge anyone, ever. So, I’d like to offer a practice that may help.

Stay out of judgment and be in curiosity.

Judgment shuts us down and keeps us from understanding the full situation. If we’re being honest, most judgments about people are based on incomplete information.

Curiosity, on the other hand, keeps us open to the possibility that there is something about the situation that we don’t fully understand.

Conclusion

John tells us in I John 4:20 “If a man says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar. for if he doesn’t love his brother, who he can see, how can he love God , who he can’t see”.

We must realize the balance between grace and truth. Don’t judge others by withholding the truth. But don’t judge them by speaking the truth without grace. Instead, give them the grace and truth of the gospel. Truth without grace is judgmental fundamentalism; grace without truth is liberal sentimentality. The gospel combines both.  But if there is any question in your mind as to whether you should criticize someone, don’t.

References

Shola at “The Positivity Solution”

“Judging Others” by All About God

“7 Signs that You are Judging Others” by J.D. Greear

 

 

2 small boys, one has caused the 2nd to cry, ball solic background

Are You Creating Your Own Guilt? / Spiritual Meditations

I’m still regretting a couple of things I said / did while in high school. I’m sure you can think of a couple as well. It is surprising how often we have feelings of guilt. Some say that the moments of guilt add up to about 5 hours a week. With our constant striving for perfection, whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslin, Buddhist, or Hindu, it is no wonder we don’t always live up to our own standards and moral codes. The guilt can be beneficial or unhealthy depending on the situation.

Just to be clear on what’s being discussed here, let me point out the difference between guilt and shame. They are frequently used interchangeably, but there is a difference.

How are Guilt and Shame Different?

Shame involves feelings about yourself, generally reflecting early psychological damage that impedes positive personality growth. It could be your feelings about who you are or who you aren’t, projected by society, which can become ingrained into your own self-evaluation, whether they are legitimate or not.

Guilt is a common feeling of emotional distress that tells us when our actions or inactions have caused, might cause or we imagine will cause harm to another person—physical, emotional, or otherwise. Because guilt hinges on empathy for others, the capacity to feel guilt could be seen as emotional progress.

When is Guilt a Good Thing?

Healthy feelings of guilt motivate you to live according to your authentic values, which, in turn, can improve your relationships with others, since you are more likely to treat them with respect and do your fair share. Guilt protects our relationships.

In small doses, guilt can benefit us. But when it runs free, it can cause havoc.

When is Guilt Harmful?

Unnecessary or excessive feelings of guilt, even mild guilt, can be a psychological burden that interferes with your emotions and quality of life.

If you feel guilty too easily your guilt alarm goes off when it shouldn’t. As a result, you end up feeling guilty about impacting others adversely, when you haven’t. This is no minor issue; by over-interpreting people’s disapproval when it’s not there, you’re exposing yourself to constant and unnecessary stress and impacting your own quality of life.

On the more serious end of the spectrum, excessive or inappropriate guilt can be a symptom of clinical depression, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Unwarranted guilt has also been associated with a history of childhood trauma with critical, neglecting, or abusive parents. These feelings of guilt can instill a sense of unworthiness and can result in self-punishment.

Unresolved guilt is like having a snooze alarm in your head that won’t shut off. Your attention is constantly monopolized by bursts of guilty feelings which compete for your attention to work, school, and life in general. Guilt usually wins. Studies have found that concentration, productivity, creativity, and efficiency are all significantly lower when you’re feeling actively guilty.

What are Some Causes of Guilt?

Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D. suggests that guilt may occur when “a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a universal moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation.” This would include stealing, lying or cheating and much more.

Yet much of the unhappiness we experience is due to our own irrational thoughts about situations. We know that our memory of past events is highly unreliable. It’s possible for you to have done nothing wrong at all but misremember and think that you did, particularly when there are highly charged feelings involved.

One typical mental source of guilt is the magical belief that you can jinx people by thinking about them in a negative or hurtful way. Perhaps you’ve wished that a romantic rival would experience some evil twist of fate. Should that evil twist of fate happen, you may, at some level, believe that it was due to your own vengeful wish.  At some level you “know” that you’re being illogical, but it’s hard to rid yourself completely of this belief.

Then there are the accidental social blunders. Perhaps you didn’t realize how much you hurt your friend’s feelings with what you thought was a humorous remark. You wonder how many other people you have offended unintentionally. Beware; it is possible to unwittingly make matters worse by distancing yourself from the person who is the focus of your guilt.

People with eating disorders often feel excessive guilt about eating, putting on weight, or not exercising enough. This guilt often co-exists with a distorted, negative body image.

Women, in particular, are prone to feeling guilty, according to research. A 2009 study by Etxebarria, published in the Spanish Journal of Psychology, surveyed women and men from three age groups (156 teenagers, 96 young adults, and 108 older adults) about which situations most often caused them to feel guilt. The researchers found that habitual guilt was higher for women than men in all three age groups, with the biggest gap in the 40 to 50 year-old range. This age corresponds to the “sandwich generation” years, in which many people juggle taking care of teenagers as well as aging parents.

Especially during those stressful years, you may feel you haven’t done enough to help someone. You’ve given hours of your free time to them, but now you have other obligations or are getting burnt out. You feel guilty because you are pursuing your own life when they are suffering, dysfunctional, or need a lot of emotional care. Adding to the overall emotional drain of the situation, your guilt overlaid on the fatigue, ultimately makes you a less effective helper.

Another study found that women report more guilt than men, overall, when they take work calls or answer work emails in the evening. Finally, research shows that millennial women—and millennials in general—feel guilty about taking vacations.

A more deeply disturbing experience is that of survivor guilt which is addressed by professionals who work with combat veterans who outlive their fellow troops. Survivor guilt also occurs when people who lose families, friends, or neighbors in disasters while remaining untouched, or at least alive, themselves.

Additionally, this kind of guilt characterizes those who make a better life for themselves than do their family or friends. First-generation college students, for example, may feel guilty that they are getting opportunities that their parents or siblings did not. To “protect” their family members, they might engage in self-destructive behaviors that ensure they won’t make it in school.  Logic would dictate that the family truly wants the student to succeed (and thus bring honor to the family), but this logic is lost on the student.

How do I Deal With My Guilt?

Before you start accusing yourself of wrongdoing, make sure that the wrongdoing took place. If you’re distorting your recollection of events to make yourself seem more at fault than you are, it’s time for a reality check. “We assume that others place far more importance on our thoughts and actions than they actually do”, Dr. Whitbourne adds

In the case of excessive guilt, it is important to realize that everyone errs and that occasionally behaving in a hurtful way doesn’t make someone a bad person; it just makes them human.

But if truly at fault, some people may attempt to stave off guilt by rationalizing or minimizing the harmful effect that their actions had on others. More helpful, however, is an acknowledgment of the offense, accompanied by an apology if appropriate.

In the case of survivor’s guilt, or a person who tends to blame themselves for circumstances that are beyond their control, help often involves the person letting go of a false sense of responsibility for what happened, refraining from negative self-talk, and developing greater self-compassion. If you change your thoughts, you can change your emotions

When guilt surfaces because you are doing better than those around you, remind yourself of how proud, glad, and invested those who care for you are. As hard as it might be, your own failure will not make others who love you feel better about themselves. You need to gain your inspiration from the knowledge that your efforts are a tribute to them. And don’t get down on yourself if you can’t reach your loftiest goals (or the ones they have or had for you) but at least know that you’re giving yourself the shot at success that they would want you to have.

If you are prone to feeling the unhealthy kind of guilt—in which you are always beating yourself up for not doing enough—use the tips and tools below, develop by Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D., to set yourself free. It takes a lot of practice and deliberate re-thinking to change an entrenched pattern of guilt, so be patient.

    1. Look for the evidence.

If you feel guilty because you’re “not doing enough” for your kids, partner, or family, list all the things that you regularly do for them. Then, keep the list in your purse or wallet to pull out when guilt rears its head.

    1. Be direct and get more information.

Ask the people you think you’re neglecting whether they feel neglected. Consider whether they have a tendency to expect too much and not take enough responsibility for themselves (e.g., teenagers who expect you to pick up after them). Then, think about how an outside observer would view the situation. If you conclude that you really aren’t doing enough, then come up with some solutions or compromises that balance everybody’s needs.

    1. Appreciate yourself and all that you do.

Write a “self-gratitude” diary at the end of every day, noting at least three things you did that day that furthered your goals or helped someone you care about. At the end of the week, read what you’ve written. Guilt and perfectionism have a negative bias. They make you pay attention to what you’re not doing right. By writing down what you did, you can overcome this bias and force yourself to focus on your accomplishments.

    1. Think how you would see things if the roles were reversed.

Would you think your friend or partner wasn’t doing enough, given all they had going on? We often find it easy to be compassionate and understanding with others but are too harsh on ourselves. By deliberately taking the other person’s perspective, you’ll likely see your situation in a more objective light

    1. Curb the “black and white” thinking.

Are you thinking about the situation in all-or-nothing terms? Do you think that if you’re not the perfect partner (or daughter, or parent) you must be the worst one on the planet? Try to find the gray amid all that black and white. Consider other ways of seeing the situation. Try to judge your efforts in context, rather than always expecting perfection.

    1. Look for the emotions underneath the guilt.

Might the guilt be masking other feelings like anger, intimidation, or resentment? If you’re in a relationship with a very needy person or a narcissist, you or your partner may convince you that you’re being selfish by setting limits and saying no. Over time, your guilt and inner conflict may be masking resentment.

    1. Decide how much you’re willing and able to do.

If you honestly feel that you haven’t done enough for your partner or family member, then make an authentic commitment to take specific caring or helpful actions going forward. If you can’t do all the housework in the evening, decide which pieces you can commit to doing. Then, communicate this willingness to your partner in a proactive way.

    1. Realize it’s okay to take care of your own needs.

Some of us were the family peacemakers who took care of others all the time. Perhaps you had an alcoholic parent who was incapable of properly taking care of you. As an adult, you may still silence your own needs or feel they are less valid than those of your partner, child, or friend. But you don’t have to let this reaction to past trauma shape your relationships in the present.

Guilt is a useless emotion—useless because we don’t need to feel bad about ourselves to take corrective actions. Guilt is useless for three basic reasons:

  1. You can’t change the past, no matter how long or how often you practice feeling guilty.
  2. Rehashing guilt-arousing thoughts in your mind keeps you locked in the past, rather than focused on the present.
  3. Feeling guilty does not help you correct troubling behavior because you expend your mental energies putting yourself down rather than learning to change your behavior.

In cases where guilt is driven by a mental health issue, it is important to seek professional help. Sometimes treating the underlying concern can alleviate strong feelings of guilt or shame.

The Spiritual Person Attempts a Greater Goal

Each person is at a different place in their spiritual journey and this can be seen in how seriously they attempt to fulfill the teachings of Jesus or their spiritual mentor.

The Ten Commandments alone are a challenge. How often do we hear someone exclaim “Oh my God”, or work on Sunday or wish we had a house as nice as so-and-so?

Additionally Jesus asked much more of us; to be humble, generous and merciful, to love our enemies and not resist insult, to not worry ourselves or judge others, and much more – traits we should strive for and the basis for the thinking that we are all sinners. But only Christ and spiritual icons can surpass this threshold.

So these values increase the number of things to possibly feel guilty about. Fortunately, with the help of the Holy Spirit (and possibly some of the helpful hints above) we can reduce our offenses and be forgiven for those for which we feel regret or remorse.

What Did Jesus Say About Guilt?

 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.  Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. (Mat 5:23-25)

Here Jesus shifts from the external meaning of the law against murder (6th commandments) to the inner attitude of the heart. Hatred and insult toward another are as serious violations of God’s will as the act of murder. It is God’s intention that people become reconciled. To support this, he introduces a parable indicating the wisdom of ingratiating oneself with one’s accuser while they are on their way to court. This could also be a metaphor suggesting how much more a follower should be reconciled with others before their time of judgement.

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.  The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”  They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.  But 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.”  Again, He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.  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 sin no more.” (John 8:1-11)

In this passage the Pharisees are attempting to trap Jesus into putting himself in conflict with either the Romans (who said only they could carry out a death sentence) or the Jews (because the law of Moses required stoning in this situation). Jesus’ answer avoids the trap by turning the question into a moral challenge to those who are willing to play politics with this woman’s sin and misery.

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, not to condemn them but to offer God’s forgiveness and acceptance. The story certainly does not mean that Jesus condoned sin. His clemency and compassion indicated his concern for the motives of the woman’s accusers.

Conclusion

We can imagine ourselves in the role of the woman and in the role of the Pharisees. As the woman we have received forgiveness but are told to “sin no more”. As the Pharisees we are reminded that we are no more perfect than the woman and should treat others as we would wish to be treated.

References:

Guy Winch in Psychology Today

Adapted from The Stress-Proof Brain: Master Your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity by Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D.

“The Definitive Guide to Guilt” Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Psychology Today

Understanding the New Testament by F.F. Bruce