I have written in the past about God looking at us and seeing only a "bad boy" or "bad girl." About God looking down from heaven and seeing no one worthy of love or acceptance as he shakes his head in disappointment.
I was thinking about this again recently, and remembered an account in the New Testament that is especially interesting in this regard. It's about the woman caught in adultery, recorded in John's gospel (8:1-11).
There are so many ways to look at this that passage that one short blog post could never cover them all. But two are more interesting to me.
The first was the setting. Jesus was in the Temple, and there was a crowd gathered around, listening to him teach. If you have been in countries or cultures that don't have the western idea of "personal space," you know an amazing number of people can fit in a small area.
Then, the Pharisees and scribes make their dramatic entrance, with the unfortunate woman. They had caught her in the act. They had caught her having sex with a man not her husband. Beside the shame and the terror of her imminent death by stoning, she was probably not dressed for a public appearance. It's hard to imagine a more humiliating situation.
And they had her cold. There was no escape, and according to the law, she had to die.
But did you notice something? The only men in this lynch mob were her accusers. Can someone commit adultery alone? It's one of those crimes that takes an accomplice. So where's the man?
Through scripture, perhaps the fastest way to raise God's blood pressure is to oppress the marginalized and helpless members of society. To promote injustice at the expense of someone who is without defense.
So these guys had no interest in justice or the law, but only in trapping Jesus. The woman was nothing more than a prop in their little drama.
Despite the dishonest motive, it seems like there was a real expectation that Jesus would be forced to concur in her killing. After all, the law is the law, and they caught her in the act. And that was their intent, to trap Jesus.
I read recently where this story has been told to groups of women (and men) in countries where the culture and sense of justice resembled the one in New Testament Israel, in places where to be a woman was to live a life devoid of respect or justice.
When the story teller told the audience what Jesus did, that he freed the woman and refused to condemn her, the men were not pleased.
The women laughed and cheered. They were delighted to hear, often for the first time in their lives, that someone loves women, forgives them their sins, and treats them with gentleness and respect.
I do not understand the women who attack Christianity, blaming Jesus for all the problems and mistreatment women face in many parts of the world. They clearly never read the Bible.
Jesus was a friend of women. Read Luke's gospel. Read this account in John. Jesus was a friend of women. Especially women who were sinners.
Of course, that means Jesus was the friend of all women, because like all men, all women are sinners. All men and women - all people - do bad things and fall short of the standard of goodness.
But then, when every one of us is without hope, there is grace. There is nothing we can claim in ourselves that is good. Nothing.
But when we are in a place of despair, there is Jesus. When there is nothing we can do to help or save ourselves, there is Jesus.
And when we long for forgiveness, meaning in life, and a deep inner joy, there is Jesus.
Jesus and grace. Hard to imagine a real life without them.