I’ve been thinking about grace a lot lately. Those of us who work in this space – dealing with the massive porn addiction crisis, especially in the Christian Church – are constantly confronted with the ancient tension that exists between how we understand God’s nature and how we understand human nature.
A couple months ago we featured a collection of blogs from Steven Luff, Craig Gross, and myself that roused that not-so-sleeping dog once more. And in the wake of those blogs came the predictable debates between those who say the truth of Jesus means “all things are permissible” and those who say this same truth demands that we “go and sin no more.” It’s very complex and when the debates begin, it sometimes feels like one more tired performance of West Side Story – a fake fight with rubber knives and predictable dance steps – and nothing really ever changes.
In this blog, I wanted to make a simple but important point. The job of the human race is to do theology. All of us, all the time, are doing theology. And theology is at its core the work of understanding the nature of God and man, and the relationship between the two. A friend of mine says it’s always about trying to discover who God is and what God is like.
Everyone on this planet has a belief about this – or a theology. Some of these theologies can be articulated consciously, but most of them are held unconsciously and can only be understood through observation of those who hold the opinion. We understand the stories we are living and forming these theologies by using tools given to us, and the most prominent of these tools is the Bible.
But here’s where the importance of this conversation around porn and grace comes in. There’s a story in the Bible about a woman caught in adultery – she is trapped by the religious leaders in Jerusalem so they can bring her before Jesus and see if they can get him to contradict the law – a crime with a severe punishment attached to it. So Jesus decides to do some theology. He first draws in the sand for a bit, then calls out the accusers: he announces, “You who is without sin cast the first stone.” There it is: a simple truth about human nature. We all have “missed the mark” (the literal translation of the word “sin.”) – (Tweet This!)
Then comes the part about the nature of God. The religious leaders one by one drop their stones and walk away – they didn’t have a computer to hide behind and they knew that if they were to claim some sort of holiness in front of all of these people, they would be seen for the fools they feared they were. The woman, no doubt in pain and feeling deeply ashamed, sits on the ground until Jesus says, “Woman, where are your accusers?”
“There are none,” she replies.
“Neither do I accuse you,” Jesus says. “Go and sin no more.”
There it is. God’s nature. God does not accuse us. (Tweet This!) God has a desire and hope for our lives that is full of life, not accusation or sin – the hallmarks of the suffering that marks human existence. This woman was dealt a hand of cards she didn’t ask for and had been playing them the best she could since her birth. And here was the Son of God stooping down and essentially saying, “I see you.”
Now, I’ve just articulated a definitive theology: the way I interpret that story according to what I have come to believe, through living my story, about who God is and what God is like. But there is more than one way to read that story. There are those who read the phrase, “Go and sin no more,” and for very complex reasons determine that this is the phrase that speaks to God’s nature in this story. The nature of that God requires something of us – what is often termed “obedience.” And the part about Jesus not accusing the woman kind of becomes a passive backdrop to the greater story we now hold: we better not sin anymore, or else.
And this is my real point about these theologies we are all trying to articulate: how we read the story is inevitably subject to our story.
If you read that story differently from me, I know I’m probably not going to change your mind with a blog post. But my hope is that those of you who paint everyone with the “go and sin no more” brush would perhaps turn to the woman on the ground and realize that she is you. And me. And all of us. Is it possible that a God that requires perfection of us is a God you’ve created in the image of an imperfect humanity because some part of you needs that God?
The greatest hope for humanity is that there is one God that has a nature that IS LOVE and because of that, all people everywhere would be able to come to a story that can handle the burdens and stories we’ve all lived. And that’s grace.
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