But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” (John 8:2-11 NIV)
I know a man who was married to a woman who was unfaithful to him. Eventually, she moved out and sought a divorce. I blame him. He shouldn’t have married her in the first place. The warning signs were there and he ignored them. He also knew deep down that God didn’t approve. Instead, he plowed headlong into a tumultuous marriage because he was lonely and thought he could somehow change the woman. He paid the price. He didn’t deserve the treatment he received, but I blame him because he was unwise and foolish. Had he avoided making such a bad choice, he wouldn’t have suffered so much.
That man is me.
Last week, I had a conversation with a student who told me of what he had learned in a class that day on sexual assault. He was appalled at how badly men often treated women on campus. When I mentioned that the vast majority of sexual assault cases on campus involve alcohol, he immediately accused me of blaming the victims. He is not alone.
We live in a culture where pointing out someone’s bad choices and the consequences from them is taboo. “Blaming the victim” is the catchphrase and it is applied liberally. When bad things happen to people, typically it is viewed as someone else’s fault. And if there ever was a victim in the Scriptures, it was the woman caught in adultery.
How was it that so many religious leaders knew of her sin? It seems to me it was some sort of set-up. Perhaps they knew of her affair and sought to exploit it in order to trap Jesus. Or maybe the man she was with feared being exposed and reported her. In those days, women had very few rights or protections. Regardless, given she was dragged before Jesus by a mob, we can naturally view her as a victim regardless of her sin. And, if reading this story for the first time, we would naturally expect Jesus to end his comments to her with “Then neither do I condemn you.” Instead, He went further. In today’s parlance, He blamed her. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” She was the victim of this “lynch mob,” but Jesus held her responsible for her poor choices. He forgave her, but He didn’t excuse her.
This is crucial to understand because the Scriptures never give us an excuse for sin regardless of our reasons or the consequences we suffer. We cannot blame poverty, a poor home life, genetics, or anything else the culture says is responsible for behavior considered wrong by God. And we can't consider ourselves blameless for our choices just because the consequences were severe. We are without excuse, but our tendency is to blame God or others. In the case of sexual assault on campus, few are willing to acknowledge the role drunkenness plays and that choices were made which were unwise and even foolish. In my case, I could easily blame my ex-wife because I was the victim of her infidelity. But the truth is, I put myself in a vulnerable position in the first place because of my own sinful desires. I blame the victim and Jesus did as well. He held me accountable and I asked for His forgiveness. But just as the adulterous woman was not condemned for her sin, neither was I.
This is the important distinction we need to make. While we are responsible for our choices and the consequences that may flow from them, the Lord does not condemn us. Therefore, His mercy allows us the possibility for redemption, but only if we stop blaming everyone but ourselves.
Today, if you are the victim of your own sin, then put the blame where it belongs. Confess and repent. The Lord does not condemn you for what you’ve done, but He does command you to learn from your mistakes and make better choices in the future.
© Jim Musser 2016