Unringing the Bell of Condemnation

One of the common misconceptions of God is that God is the constant condemner, a cosmic cop longing to punish us for our spiritual infractions. It’s not just people outside the church who believe this, either. Even those who have spent years in the church can adopt such a disheartening picture. I once sat with an elderly gentleman who told me that whenever he would step out of line, his father would wag his finger and declare “God will get you for that.” He heard this phrase so often that it stuck with him, becoming the very basis of his picture of God.

It’s sad to think about how this gentleman lived his entire life under the belief that God was displeased with him. Worse yet, whenever he found himself deep in the messiness of life, he felt it was the befalling of divine judgement. Despite his years in the church, the countless sermons he listened to, and the hours spent in prayer and ministry, he couldn’t unhear a message of condemnation. It was like a bell that could not be un-rung.

Have you ever experienced this? Have you ever traveled that endless cycle of self-condemnation? I know I have. I have often convinced myself that the scales of God’s affection are eternally balanced against me. Even good works do not seem to tip the balance. Thirty minutes in prayer simply highlights the time that should have been spent reading the Bible. Yet time spent reading the Bible speaks only to my lack of prayer! It is a vicious cycle of self-condemnation of which it is hard to break free.

Yet what if we could break free? What if we could un-ring that bell? What if we could unhear that message of condemnation?

This cycle of condemnation is a lie. It betrays the very truth of the Bible and the reality of God in our lives. The fact is, the grand narrative of scripture is singular in its focus; God is love, and out of that love, God acts. God’s definitive response to human sin is not an act of condemnation, but the powerful confirmation of love. The Bible is clear: “God sent his son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Jesus enters our lives as the embodiment of God’s eternal love

To unhear condemnation, try repeating the verse above. I would suggest, however, that you make one simple change. What might it look like to read yourself into that verse? Instead of the world, try inserting your own name. “God sent his son to Derek, not to condemn Derek, but so that Derek might be saved through him.” This is the heavenly proclamation; this is the gospel. This is the truth of your life.

Jesus doesn’t stand removed from the messiness of our lives. Jesus isn’t going to “get us” every time we wander from perfection. The very promise of forgiveness is predicated on our need for forgiveness. This means that Jesus is there for us when we need him; it is within the messiness of life that we find the bestowal of his grace, mercy, and forgiveness. The love of Jesus can be experienced every day of our lives.

Any picture of God, or reading of the Bible, that focuses solely on God’s judgement of the wicked is a truncated picture of God and a flawed reading of scripture. God turns to us, not away from us. God embraces us, not push us away. The God revealed in scripture, and in the person of Jesus, is one who goes to the extremes to show the constant availability of grace.

You are not condemned.  You are not cast off. You are loved.  Dare to believe it.

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