My heart breaks with sadness and frustration over the Ashley Madison hack these last few days.
Relationships broken, marriages on the brink, kids affected, lust and sexual openness celebrated, scandal exposed and now public leaders and private in nearly every arena of life are being caught red-handed. Now, as in the wake of all of these public scandals and privacy hacks, comes the time for people to react.
Me: Self-Righteous Anger vs. Humble Empathy
For me personally, the temptation is tout my own self-righteous anger towards AM’s guilty “victims” (“shame on you people, how could you?”) and AM itself for even conjuring up a horrible site like this. But then I’m reminded of my own brokenness inside and my own propensity towards giving in to temptations of various kinds of sin. I know my heart. I know too well the heart of all mankind is to be led astray towards the alluring lies of lust and desire. So, instead of self-righteous anger and hypocritical condemning, I can only feel a deep sense of sadness for these people, their reputations, their families and marriages, their kids. And I feel a deep sense of humble relief: wow, it could have been me. My email could be on that list. Whew, how close was I to being dragged away and enticed by the sirens of destructive desire.
Sin lures us all into the dark to come and play in secret. No one will see. No one will tell. And if someone does, who cares. This is fun. The truth though is that all that is done in darkness will come into the light one day and our bad choices DO affect other people. They always do.
Jesus and the Woman caught in adultery
How would Jesus respond? That’s always a dangerous question right? All I know to do is look at how Jesus DID respond. My memory immediately goes to my most favorite all-time Jesus interaction: the story of Jesus and the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11). That’s essentially what’s going on here right? Men and women (public figures and private individuals) were publicly caught in the act of adultery. A woman is “caught in the very act of adultery”. Really? Caught? Almost sounds like a setup to me. Regardless, she is brought in probably near naked and thrown at the feet of these religious leaders in Jesus’ presence. I think to both shame the woman, using her as an unfair example and trapping Jesus hoping to test him. To see if Jesus would condemn her and uphold the law of Moses which traditionally said to stone such a woman OR if Jesus would release her thereby (in their minds) dishonoring the law of Moses and therefore blaspheming the name of God.
In normal Jesus fashion, he does neither. He kneels down, writes in the sand quietly ignoring the yelling crowd with tempers raging and stones ready to fly. He does this twice. Some commentators guess he may be writing out the law of Moses or possibly writing “whoever looks at a woman to lust after her HAS ALREADY committed adultery with her in his heart.” Then Jesus stands up and says, “whoever has no sin can be the first to throw a stone at her.” Bam! They weren’t expecting that. He flips it on its head and blows their minds. And one by one, starting with the oldest, the crowd disappeared. Jesus was left alone with the woman; which would have been a risky and potentially dangerous situation. He looks at her and asks what is to me the most important Gospel question in all of scripture, “Woman, where are your accusers?” Wow! Let that sink in. It’s a rhetorical question of course. The answer is “nowhere, they are all gone.” Not only did Jesus manage to clear the room with His powerful response but he presented a new law of grace and forgiveness and spared this woman’s life.
She responds, “None Lord.” I imagine she spoke this with tears of joy and gratitude. Still shaking from shame, embarrassment, fear, guilt and now such gratitude and awe.
His next phrase is equally as stunning: “Then neither do I condemn you.” What? No condemning? But she sinned. She broke the law of Moses. She was unfaithful to her husband. She gave in to lust and committed adultery. How could Jesus, the Son of God, not condemn her? Because, Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost. Jesus came to forgive and make righteous those who were sinners. Jesus offers her His saving grace and forgives her.
His final phrase is a fitting end that often boggles the mind of those who are quick to write off Jesus’ call to righteous living or repentance. Jesus said, “Therefore, go and stop sinning.” Jesus is basically saying, don’t sin anymore. Don’t make a habit of living in sin, but stop. It’s important to notice that Jesus first forgives her then charges her to stop sinning. He wants her (and us) to know that it’s His radical grace that empowers us and motivates us to have the power to fight and say “no” to sin.
What an amazing encounter!
The Church’s Response & Posture: Stones or Love?
The question then is how will we respond?
How will the church respond? Casting stones and accusing or courageous love? Self-righteous judgment or humble empathy?
Sure let’s get upset at Ashley Madison and all the cheating/adultery and porn industry does to destroy our culture’s foundation of sexuality and relationship. But let’s also love people, invite them into our homes and churches, pray for them to be healed, have conversations, listen to their struggles and desires and link arms to help them say “no” to the rotting, putrid promises of the low-hanging fruit of sin and “yes” to the eternally satisfying, glorious promises of the good God gives us.
The church often swings its pendulum of grace and truth to one extreme or the other. Jesus captures the perfect balance in the story above. Often we Christians want to scream loud truth of “this is wrong, repent”! Okay, but not at the expense of the gentle whisper of grace which is “I see your struggle, I struggle too, I forgive you let me help.” It’s both truth and grace. Speaking the truth in love.
The Church’s Posture: Standing Over or Sitting With?
There were two clearly opposed postures present in the story. One of the crowd standing over the woman in judgment, ready to accuse and throw their stones of self-righteousness and hypocrisy. For many of them, I’m sure, were guilty of the same sin either outwardly or inwardly (lustful desires). But in public they presented themselves as holy, blameless, righteous, pure and upstanding.
Then there was the second posture of Jesus kneeling then standing with the woman. This would have been culturally and religiously scandalous to do. Shameful for a religious teacher, let alone a man, to speak to a woman much less befriend her; especially a known sinner. But Jesus willingly does so to show His love and reveal the self-righteousness and therefore lack of true righteousness of the crowd.
I could’ve been that woman caught in adultery. I could’ve been the one stoned. I could’ve had my email exposed. I could’ve been the one chasing the lie that promises so much fun and pleasure. By the grace of God, I said “no” this time. Whew, I barely made it.
Will we cast stones or build bricks? Will we judge harshly and unfairly or will we help the fellow broken? Will be help them rebuild their lives on the truth and grace that Jesus offers or knock them while they are down?
Tough questions for a tough reality.
Let’s enter these conversations now church. It’s better late than never.