Sunday, May 28, 2006

Condemnation and Forgiveness

It was a hot dusty afternoon,
a woman stole quietly to draw water from the well in a small city in Samaria,
safe from the gossips and disdainful looks of other women in the city of Sychar.
A woman of Samaria who was just trying to survive, to have a roof over her head,
being driven from home after home erodes one’s pride slowly but surely.

It was a hot dusty afternoon,
an afternoon like any other afternoon, a man asked a woman of Samaria for a drink,
a Jew, whom she thought was teasing her, a lone woman at the well.
She looked at him and he offered her living water, water that will form a spring in those who drinks and they will never thirst again.
The woman considered the hours of backbreaking labour carrying water and this man who offered water so easily: another nutcase,
humouring him, she compared him to Jacob and asked for his living water.

It was a hot dusty afternoon,
the Jew looked at her and tells of her own secret social dilemma. A soft breeze stirred the hot dust.
This man is either a nutcase or a prophet; the woman thought and changed the topic,
where do we worship God, Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim, she asked the Jew.
One day, he said, we shall worship anywhere as long as we worship in spirit and in truth.
The woman blinked and again changed the topic,
we are waiting for a Messiah who will tell us of these things.

It was a hot dusty afternoon,
the Jew said to the woman of Samaria, “I am” the Messiah you are waiting for. A gentle breeze cooled the hot dust.
His followers came back and she ran away in fear. No harsh words were said, no condemnation.
She blinked as she ran, could it be true that he is the Messiah, this stranger who knew of my secret life. She ran to the people in the city to tell them of this strange Jewish man.

It was a hot dusty afternoon,
the world was never the same again.

We are all sinners. To sin means to turn away from God; from his words and teachings. We sin by commission and omission. Being human, we are naturally attracted to riches, honour and pride. By itself, these things are not sinful. They became sin when they displace God from being the centre of our lives. We sin by not doing what we know we need to do. All of us sin. Paul described it so well in Romans 7 when he wrote about the two natures in us. It’s like having two wolves living inside us, fighting for dominance. Sinning is normal. As Martin Luther said, we are redeemed sinners, yet sinners still. What is important is the way we deal with our sins and how we relate to God concerning our sins. Many of us think of God as a vengeful father, hiding in the shadows and jumping out to catch us when we sin. Gotcha, there he goes. Hah! I caught her doing that. To such a ‘God’, we would become evasive when we pray to him. Like the Samaritan woman, we would change the topic of discussion when it begins to touch on our inner lives.

Yes, there is a need for being aware of our capacity to sin, to confess our sins and ask for grace not to do it again. We must be aware that our God is a gracious God, willing to forgive us. Jesus said he came not to condemn but to save (Jn 3:17). He also said he came for the sick. Jesus is the doctor, we are the patients and our sickness is sin (Mk 2:17). Jesus does not condemn us when we fail. This is a refreshing lesson for me to learn. A problem with some of us is that we feel that we have a sin so big that Jesus cannot forgive. What is actually happening is that it is we who cannot forgive, not Jesus. It is we who condemn ourselves, not God. But by doing so we find ourselves distancing ourselves from God and also from his people, the community of faith. Ultimately we end up becoming angry at God and at other people. Hence instead of realising our own condemnation of ourselves, we feel others are condemning us. To react to this, we begin to find faults with others. There is nothing so comforting than to ‘prove’ other people are greater ‘sinners’ than we are!

We need a realistic awareness of our sinfulness and to appreciate the generosity of God in his forgiveness of our sins. Once our particular sins are forgiven, we should move on. Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Have no one condemned you?... neither will I, go now and sin no more” (Jn 8:3-11). In our spiritual journey, we are not expected to drag along our baggage filled with our forgiven sins. These should be left behind as we continue our walk with the Lord. It is always good to travel light.
Soli Deo Gloria

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Tang's observation that failure to forgive ourselves leads to anger with God is quite correct. The problem many of us have is that the shame we feel runs too deep (it seems) to be removed. And as long as we feel shame, we will never forgive ourselves. Mr. Tang, do you have advice on how to rid ourselves of shameful feelings, which are quite different from true guilt?

12:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Tang, pardon my ignorance in referring to you as Mr. Tang in my prior post!


1:26 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Jeff,

You are correct to differentiate shame from guilt. Shame comes out of our sense of self and of our cultural legacy while guilt comes from our moral sense or conscience.

Getting out of deep shame is not easy. It involves developing self-knowledge and self-awareness of our cultural legacy. It also involves an intentional choice not to be in bondage to this shame. Finally it involves healing that comes from a transformation that comes from the Holy Spirit.

9:09 PM  

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