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How Ought We Respond to Condemnation?
We now live in the reality of the SCOTUS decision by the United States Supreme Court that legalized gay marriage, and social media has exploded. If it were not for the fact that I need Facebook to promote the PWTE website and my daily devotional blog, I might have canceled my account. I’ve seen this behavior before. A difficult decision is made, and the war of words begins.
We’re on emotional overload no matter which side of SCOTUS we fall. Social media outlets have become the place to let emotions fly regardless of the damage they do.
Many of these comments posted on social media sites fall into the category of being judgmental. The rightness or the wrongness of SCOTUS is not the topic of this blog, but being judgmental is. I have my opinion about SCOTUS, but at this point it would only add to the noise.
The reality is that people on both sides of SCOTUS accuse the other side of being judgmental. I would agree. We are judgmental, so let’s begin with what we mean when we use the word “judgmental.”
We make decisions everyday (duh!). These decisions involve judgments based on a set of criteria. I recently bought a 2000 Subaru Outback. I made judgments about what I wanted in a car before I made the decision to buy. That’s how we live.
There is a difference between judgments that lead to buying a car, and being judgmental. Being judgmental is synonymous with being condemning. When we’re judgmental we’re speaking in a way that not only condemns a position people take, but often condemns the people who hold that opinion.
Neither Christians nor non-Christians have monopoly on being condemning, but why are we humans condemning? Here’s some thoughts:
We humans have a need to feel righteous about our opinions. If we’re righteous in our opinions that means everyone who disagrees with us is unrighteous and we need to tell them that they’re unrighteous. What happens when someone feels condemned? They in turn feel the need to prove why they’re right and the other people are wrong, and soon it’s all out war.
This war of condemnation leaves casualties all over the battlefield. Friends unfriend each other, and not merely on Facebook. Christians scowl at each other across the sanctuary, go to different worship services, stop interacting with each other, and practice the art of character assassination.
Pride is at the heart of this need to be right. Pride delights in pointing its ugly finger of condemnation at those who disagree with me.
So how do we address this human problem of condemnation?
I’d like to suggest that we Christians have an amazing tool to combat our temptation to condemn each other, especially toward others in the Body of Christ. In the Christian community we relate to each other because of Jesus, through Jesus, and in Jesus.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes this argument in his book, Life Together. I’m rereading Bonhoeffer’s book as I prepare for an August podcast. He wrote this book for Christians to suggest how they ought to live in community with each other.
1) Bonhoeffer states that Christians need each other BECAUSE of Christ. “…the Christian is the man who no longer seeks his salvation, his deliverance, his justification in himself, but in Jesus Christ alone…The Christian no longer lives of himself, by his own claims and his own justification, but by God’s claims and God’s justification.” In other words, we Christians live by God’s Word that comes to us from the outside. It comes to us from Jesus’ cross that declares us not guilty of sin.
But what does this fact have to do with living in community? Since this Word is spoken to us from the outside we need another person who will speak to us what God has declared. “Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ.”
There is no room for condemning our sister or brother in Christ when we understand that we need each other because of Christ.
2) Bonhoeffer also states that Christians come to each other THROUGH Christ. “Without Christ we should not know God, we could not call upon Him, nor come to Him. But without Christ we also would not know our brother, nor could we come to him. The way is blocked by our own ego. Christ opened up the way to God and to our brother. Now Christians can live with one another in peace; they can love and serve one another; they can become one.”
Coming to each other through Christ means dealing with the log in our own eye before we attempt to remove the speck from someone else’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). Such behavior is the opposite of condemnation. Condemnation is more willing to see the plank in someone else’s eye while calling mine only a speck. It is through Christ that we know each other. It is through Christ that we bury our tendency to condemn each other.
3) Bonhoeffer states that IN “Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.” Through our baptism we have been clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27). We are in Christ. We have been chosen before the foundation of the world, we exist with Christ in this present moment, and we will be united with him for eternity. “We who live here in fellowship with him will one day be with him in eternal fellowship. He who looks upon his brother should know that he will be eternally united with him in Jesus Christ.”
When our pride seeks to condemn a brother or sister in Christ, we set aside our unity in Christ simply because we need to be right. Our condemnation belies the fact that we have been chosen together from eternity, struggle together in life, and will spend eternity with each other because of Christ.
I’m suggesting that in response to the SCOTUS decision we Christians make every effort to live at peace with each other as it is Jesus Christ who is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). We can’t control what other people say about us, nor the condemning finger they point at us, but we can control what we say about each other and how we treat each other in the community of those who are trying to follow Jesus.
Condemnation meets its end when the cross of Jesus stands at the heart of the Christian community.
Quotes taken from “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, HapperSanFrancisco, 1959