I’d heard the story of the woman caught in adultery tons of times, but it never hit me like it did a few days ago when I was listening to an audio Bible in my car. I’ve started thinking more in pictures when it comes to God, and I’ll never forget this vision of the adulterous woman and her persecutors that came to mind as I was driving home from work.
Maybe it was because I hadn’t heard the story read aloud in a while or because I’ve been my own worst critic as of late, but as the verses from John 8 played through my speakers, I envisioned the accusers “slipping away one by one” until it was just Jesus and the woman as the Scripture said, only where the woman would have been, I imagined myself.
I know that the accusers were likely a mix of men and women, but what I saw when I envisioned all those bodies leaving the scene, heads hung in shame about the battle they had lost, I saw various versions of myself. Picture you as the adulterous woman with a bunch of your clones crowded around, mocking you and shaming you, and that was what I envisioned with myself.
Angels must have been protecting my car as I drove because I don’t recall how I made it home; that’s how preoccupied I was imagining myself in the scene as the story was told through the speakers. I want you to picture yourself in this interaction as I did while I drove along, teary-eyed:
Jesus stood up again and said to (your name)
“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” (your name) said.
And Jesus said to (your name,) “Neither do I. Go, and sin no more.”
For the woman in this story who was caught in the act of adultery, she had to face the people who lived among her. For many of us, the person who shames us the most when we mess up is our own self. As I envisioned myself as the adulterous woman, crouched at the feet of Jesus with my arms wrapped around myself in fear, I saw a dozen more clones of myself pointing, laughing, shouting and spitting. It perfectly encapsulated the self-induced shame cycle that always tries to dismantle me. There’s the onset of not feeling good enough then compounded by the shame of knowing you shouldn’t feel bad about not being good enough, and on and on it goes.
“Where are your accusers?” Jesus said, and I pictured all those nasty versions of myself, the ones who weren’t really me, leaving the scene. “Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
When Satan sneaks into our psyche and makes us slave to what can feel like the prison of our frantic thoughts, we self-condemn. We even experience the physical ramifications of what’s going on inside our heads. Sleepiness, lack of appetite, binge eating, racing heart, fainting spells, all of these symptoms can usually be traced back to one foul thought planted by the devil that grows and grows. It often gets so big and is rooted so deeply that we feel utterly hopeless toward the thought of ever eradicating the cycle it has created. As much shame as we may experience because of ourselves, nobody can truly condemn us.
The adulterous woman could not be condemned, and neither can we, because “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
We can speculate as to whether the woman in the story was truly an adulterer or if she was merely set up, but that part doesn’t seem so important to me because we can feel the same shame she experienced whether we have truly sinned or not.
“Neither do I condemn you.” When these words fell on my ears, I was moved not by the idea that Christ has saved us from all of our sins, although that is the Good News I cherish. Rather, I thought about it in present times. Jesus did not condemn us then, and He does not condemn us now. He is not disappointed by our shame cycles and self-sabotage because He already paid the price for our freedom. I firmly believe that His loving kindness and lack of condemnation is what can set us free. Anyone who struggles with self-esteem, self-loathing or depressive thoughts know what it is like to feel bad for feeling bad.
Christ did not die for our perfection. He was crucified because of our flaws. Yes, He tells us to go and sin no more and to live a life worthy of the calling we have received, but I think many of us have taken hold of those commands and used it as fodder to condemn ourselves and others when we inevitably slip up.
But this is wrong.
If Christ on high does not condemn me, how can I condemn myself? Jesus wants us to pull us away from the crowd of voices clamoring about our follies and unworthiness to gently move us back onto His path of peace.
When I pictured all those clones of myself withdrawing from the crowd as the woman’s accusers did, it set me free from the fear that I will keep myself trapped or stuck or in shame.
They cannot condemn you; you cannot condemn you; Christ does not condemn you. I am thankful for the freedom to not only make mistakes and be okay, but to be welcomed back with a grace I will never fully understand each time I forget that there is forgiveness for the unforgiveness I have for myself.