Sunday, July 12, 2020

No Condemnation

Devotion for Being Apart -
July 12

This summer, I will share new devotions from time to time,
and invite you to browse through devotions that have been posted at this blog.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the living reality of connection and life through Christ has set you free from the way of fear, disconnection and deadness.  For God has done what an ethical framework for a good life, weakened by our division and selfishness, could not do.  By sending Jesus, God-with-us, to share humanity with us to deal with our brokenness and division, God condemned this disconnection from God and each other, so that we might actually live in right relationship with God and each other.  We live not led by disconnection, fear and self-centeredness, but guided by our deep and secure belonging to God and each other.

For those who live in the way of fear are consumed with pursuits that bring disconnection from God and each other, but those who live guided God’s Spirit focus on the things that reflect our belonging to God and each other. To live in the way of Fear is to live as though dead and toward death, but to live in the way of God is to be truly alive and to participate in life and peace.  For this reason, the mind that is set on selfish pursuit and discord is hostile to God – it does not submit to God’s reality – indeed, it cannot, and those who are living toward disconnection and selfishness cannot please God.

But you are not in the way of fear, disconnection and deadness, you are in the living reality of connection and life through Christ, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyone who does not live in this way of life guided by Christ’s Spirit does not experience this reality. But if Christ is in you, though death and discord still affect you, your deepest reality is your aliveness and unshakeable connection with God and each other.  If the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead inhabits your life, God—who brings life from death—will bring life to all the places of deadness in you, by the Holy Spirit who is in you.
(paraphrased by Kara Root)

I wonder what Paul would think of our culture today.  When he says, “There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” I think, Sure, Paul, but have you seen us?  We are condemnation experts, condemnation ninjas—fast and skillful, stealthy and lethal with our condemnation talents.  We’re experienced professionals at condemning each other; and sheer geniuses at condemning ourselves. We dole out condemnation for what we do wrong, what we forget to do, and for what we do right if it’s for the wrong reasons. 

We can even time-travel our condemnation – we condemn people for things they said or did years ago, or for not coming clean in the present about things they said or did years ago, and we condemn ourselves for not knowing then what we know now, or even not knowing yetwhat we may know eventually
We actually wake up and go into the world ready to condemn. From the mildly irritating in our own homes to truly evil in our country, there are disagreeable people everywhere doing appalling things, and we are primed to notice and ready to condemn them.  
And we even help each other practice!  Social media is filled with videos of people behaving badly that some helpful agent of condemnation recorded and shared online so the rest of us can condemn this person too.  

We’d probably have to sit Paul down and explain it to him. Paul, dear, modern people believe it’s our right, in fact, our duty, to “call out” others.  And those who have done something especially offensive to us or awful to others should be rigorously condemned, which we today call, “canceled.” It’s like saying life really would be better if this person didn’t even exist.  

This puts a lot of pressure on us.  Judgment is a problem for us, we’d tell Paul.  Our culture says “Don’t judge,” because to judge is to condemn, isn’t it? We can’t imagine that it would be otherwise. So we all live a bit terrified of being judged by others because their judgment has some kind of power to erase us or dehumanize us somehow.  We’d explain that if he were going to live here with us, he’d have to strive to be “non-judgmental,” while also being quick to condemn religion or ideology that seems judgmental, and simultaneously not hesitate to immediately judge and roundly condemn those who judge and condemn others, while insisting he’s not judgmental. 

But here’s our problem: we are wired for judgment. We need good judgment to make good decisions. We have to be able to size up situations and immediately make judgments about danger or safety, about whether something is trustworthy or untrue, about the best way to respond to someone in need or react to someone’s request. Human beings need judgment. In fact, those with poor judgment or no judgment don’t often live very long.   

So we can’t really escape judgment, nor, apparently, should we. But clearly, where there is judgment, there is condemnation. And here we are, participating in the whole cycle. Just trying not to live in self-condemnation won’t keep that from happening, and it’s impossible to try not to judge each other.  Especially when so many people around us are complete morons.

We are stuck. Paul told us last week, there’s nothing we can do to get unstuck. Just knowing what’s right doesn’t mean we’ll do it, and besides, getting all caught up on doing it right is another way of being stuck.  We keep living in ways we don’t want to live, and not living how we do want to live.
And then he tells us, There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 

In Christ Jesus, God becomes a person, just like us, with us.  God affirms personhood by taking on personhood.  The One who made human beings in God’s own image enters in and shares our place as a person, and so in this way God makes personhood the place of holy encounter with the Divine.  Every time we condemn others or ourselves, we violate the fundamental belonging to God and each other that defines us as people.

The law, a strong ethical framework, cannot save us – it is so weakened by our division and selfishness. The law makes us better at condemnation.  But by sending Jesus to share our humanity, to enter into our brokenness and division, God exercised the power to condemn, and what God condemns is not you or me, not vast groups of people, or people who do certain things or don't believe certain things. God does not condemn people at all; God affirms people.  What God condemns is our division, our broken relationship with God and each other. God condemns the things that take away our personhood.

And so, Paul can say with confidence, and so can we, that there is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  No condemnation. Not of myself, not of others. Dehumanizing others and dismissing them as worthless, overlooking those in need, calling out and labeling people as monsters, idiots or enemies - that will not stand. That has been put to death in Christ.  That is sin, which God condemns. That is ignoring their personhood, their humanity, when those people belong to God and to us.  And that way of being doesn’t control us any more; we’ve been set free.  When we are in Christ Jesus, Jesus’ connection to God and each other is now ours.  God makes it possible for us to live in our complete belonging that cannot be shaken.

So there is no condemnation for us, or in us, or through us, because condemnation has been condemned, and we have been made alive to belonging.

This achieves a remarkable thing—it separates condemnation from judgment.  It redeems the purpose of judgment. It restores something to the law and makes it a means of grace.  The judgment of God comes in grace – it comes to us as persons and calls us back to our personhood.  God’s judgment reveals the places of death in us or between us so that God’s Spirit can make us alive.  We can receive judgment instead of fear it – it uncovers our failures, our jealousy, pride or self-hatred.  We can even judge ourselves with God’s judgment, without condemnation.  This judgment comes with grace that meets us in our stuckness with the possibility of healing and transformation.  

You and I can walk into a situation and use judgment to see what is hurtful and what is good, what sows division and what affirms connection, because we see people as people.  We must judge, so we can celebrate the things that affirm life, so we can join the things that bring peace, so we can live in our true connection to God and each other.  But we must remember that in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation, except the condemnation of our disconnection from God and one another.  So we live free from condemnation, and reserve condemnation for the things that strip people of their personhood.  We are free to notice and judge when our own behavior is dehumanizing to others, so we can change it. We are free not to participate in a tragic culture of condemnation. We live in a different reality; we practice our belonging. 

What an invitation, then!  Whenever we feel the urge to condemn—whenever we feel judgment lead us toward the temptation to see anyone as less than a beloved child of God, less than our sibling in this life—we are reminded that not only is condemnation not a right, it’s a violation of personhood, ours and theirs. We are in Christ Jesus, and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 

Instead, the Holy Spirit makes us able to look at each person with compassion and curiosity, to look again until we can see their personhood, to look until we can recognize the humanity underneath, and say here is a person who shares my humanity. Here is one of God’s beloved, with the same feelings and needs that I have—someone who gets lonely, sad, or desperate, someone with loved ones and dreams and hopes, someone who has suffered, perhaps someone whose behavior at the moment is what NVC calls a “the tragic expression of unmet needs,” or makes southerners say, “bless their heart.” We are not permitted to dehumanize anyone, to dismiss or strip humanity away from anyone, not even ourselves.  We are those who are set free to live into our belonging, bound in Christ to live into the belonging of God.  For us there is now therefore no condemnation.


No comments:

Waking Us Up

 Matthew 21:23-32 Friday afternoon Maisy and I were standing in line at the doctor’s office waiting to check in for our flu and covid vaccin...