The Blaming Game

Fourth Sunday in the Midst of Lent (Year B)

TEXT: John 3:14-21

“God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

Condemnation seems to be a speciality of ours—we human beings, I mean. We are always trying to apportion blame—or shift it. It’s a nasty game, but most of us learn to play it very well. We see it operating in a raw way among children. We see it at work in much of what appears in the popular press. Right now, we are seeing it played out in the political arena on both sides of the Canada-US border.

I regret to say that amongst the people I know best, the condemnation game has become almost an obsession. In some groups I know, perhaps 70% of the conversation is condemnation of this and that—a litany of complaints about what others have done (or look like they’ve been doing).

Why is it so? Maybe—when we condemn others—what we are doing is trying to build up our own self-esteem by tearing others down. Maybe it is a crazy game in which we try to make ourselves feel superior and better. We say: “I know I have my faults, but that is really disgusting.”

Or, “When we were young we got into some mischief, but nothing like this. I don’t know what young people today are doing. Haven’t they got any morals? Haven’t they got any brains?”

If condemnation was a disease, we’d call it an epidemic. It infects every area of our lives, and it damages everyone it touches—because fault-finding is always self-defeating. A burst of condemnation may give us momentary relief. But the relief does not last. Our anxiety about our own worth soon surfaces again.

What’s more, if we regularly condemn others—and accept it as the norm—then we put ourselves in the position of living on the edge, forever suspicious that others may be similarly critical of us. “What are they saying about me?”

But you know—in spite of what much popular religion would have us believe—God refuses to play the “blaming game.” Condemnation is our thing—but it is not God’s thing!

The gospel—the “good news”—is about healing and rescue. That is what salvation really means: it’s about salvage! God is in the salvage business. Salvation is about the rescue and healing of humanity. It’s about saving us from the hell we’re already in.

Jesus did not come to add a heavier burden of condemnation. No. He came with a remarkable openness to us—and tremendous compassion. Certainly, he noticed the flaws of ordinary people, but he did not focus on them. His focus was on mercy, on forgiveness, on reconciliation.

Now, I’m not saying that God-love is sappy—or sweetly sentimental. God is no marshmallow. There is steel in God’s love. The love of God can be expressed in rebuke, in challenge, in protest and in discipline—just as we see demonstrated over and over again in the Bible. Nothing that can ruin God’s children will go unchallenged. Nobody is regarded as worthless. No one is disposable.

There is a judgement factor in God’s love. Now, when you hear that word judgement, some of you may immediately think of a lofty, stern figure handing down a sentence. But it ain’t necessarily so. For example, in order to help a patient, a physician must make a judgement. Healing often involves painfully honest diagnosis, maybe some unpalatable medicine, and sometimes painful physiotherapy or major surgery. Yet the end result is not destruction, but cure.

Jesus is the physician who uncovers what’s really wrong. His loving presence exposes evil. He points it out. He warns us about it. But he does not judge us for it—even though our religious training and cultural conditioning might tell us otherwise. And I think most of us have been trained to think that way. It’s so much a part of our worldview that it’s almost automatic.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the scripture, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). For much of my life, I heard that statement as a threat—if you’re bad, God will get you! It wasn’t until I became a parent that I understood what that verse really means; it’s not a threat—it’s a well-intentioned warning. It’s what you mean when you tell your three-year-old not to touch the hot stove, or when you caution your teenager about drugs. It’s urgent advice from God, who loves you: “The wages of sin is death! Be careful, my child, be wise.”

It’s the warning, not the judgment—and it certainly isn’t the punishment. No. Those things we do to ourselves. If we touch the hot stove, we get burned. The judgement is self-imposed. Our response to the warning makes our judgment good or bad. Whether we accept what is given to us to protect us—that is what makes our judgment good or bad. Our response to Jesus is the judgement. As Jesus himself said in today’s gospel lesson:

“This is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

If we choose to live in darkness, we will slowly lose our sight; we will become blind. That is the judgement we would bring on ourselves. If we prefer the darkness of evil to the light of God, we lose our sensitivity to truth—and we become spiritually blind. This is the inescapable judgement. We judge ourselves by our goals, our values, our decisions, our actions.

The world judged itself when it rejected God’s true Son. For John, the cross is a sign of ultimate judgement—and yet it is also the ultimate sign of God’s glory. For God is willing and able to rescue and heal and reconcile even those who have done the most wicked of deeds. In Christ, God heals the blind and the half-blind. God can save even those who seem irrevocably lost. God offers us his redeeming love—not condemnation!

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

What God does for us, we are also to do for one another. We are to love others sufficiently to forgive, uplift, heal and restore. We are called to be merciful even as God is merciful. We can break the vicious cycle of condemnation that is spinning out of control in the world around us.

How? By forgiving each other. We can bring hope even into lives beleaguered by frustration and mired in despair. In fact, often we are called to be the mediators of not just our own mercy, but of God’s mercy. As the only “body of Christ” visible now on earth, the church (and that’s all of us) is called to the ministry of reconciliation—called to make forgiveness and restoration real to those who need it.

What an awesome responsibility! And at the same time, what an amazing privilege! Love, love, love … and yet more love—that is our mission. This does not mean, however, that we are to be like soft, sweet mush. Sometimes love has to be hard and sharp. We are to love others enough to expose evil in whatever form it takes. This, also, is part of our ministry in the name of Christ.

But we must never slip over the line into condemnation. Far too often in its history, the church has debased the name of its Lord by doing exactly that. During this Lenten season, let’s resolve to break condemnation’s chain—beginning with our own. May God richly bless us, and guide us, and faithfully uphold us as we labour for his Kingdom. Amen.

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