Thursday, 7/16, our Bible Study discussion topic is does God condemn? (And what does the Bible say about it?
 Join us, 7:30-8:30pm, on Zoom:  

This topic has been an ongoing thread through our last year or so of Bible study.  In a way back when we were reading the book of Job together, but definitely as we read the gospel of Luke, one person raised the question - does Jesus actually ever condemn someone in the gospel?  We picked that question back up at times, considered Jesus' encounters...  
So this Thursday we're making space to talk about this question directly - and broadly.  Does God condemn?  And how do we regard the scriptures that talk about this?
While our conversations at times dip into the intellectual/analytical side, I want to encourage you to be mindful as you read and as we discuss, that (like many of our other topics) if we engage this only intellectually we neglect the ways in which it has caused pain or been a very personal lived experience for some.  In other ways, it's one thing for me who has never believed or had this used against me, to talk theoretically about divine condemnation, it's another thing for someone to consider it who has believed it or borne the pain of someone's use of it.  (This is partly a note to myself - sometimes when I think - "oh, I don't believe that" it can be dismissive to people's experience who have lived with the very real ramifications of such a belief, and how hard it is to change.)
Ok - on to the topic at hand:

Let's take the second question first - what does the Bible say about condemnation?
(Scroll down if you want to just look at the questions to consider first.)
In a quick word study of the root word(s') use across scripture, I notice a couple things:

  • When we talk about condemning/condemnation in a religious sense, we tend to automatically think about final, divine condemnation - like at a "last judgment."  However much - even half(ish) - of the uses in scripture are about what I'll call "present" condemnation by which I mean/includes:
    • Human condemnation of humans in the present - basically amounts to renunciation - like "I condemn an action"
    • Human condemnation of humans that declares guilty and may inflict punishment - this includes all of the uses referring to Jesus who was "condemned to death."
    • Divine condemnation in the present.  This is one I think we largely overlook (and raises a lot of other problematic questions).  Present in both Testaments but probably more associated with the first, this is the idea that God condemns humans in the present and they suffer punishment/consequences as a result in this present life.
      • This gets into larger religious concepts like - the sins of the parent being visited on the children/descendants, which Jesus clearly teaches/works to counter as false.
  • Separately perhaps is the issue of final/eternal condemnation.  There are some challenging scriptures around this including: 
    • Jesus, Matthew 12:36-37: "I tell you, on the day of judgement you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’"
    • Jesus in Mark 12.40:  "They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."  What is the "greater" condemnation?  Are there levels?  Is this present or eternal?
    • Jesus in Mark 16:16: "The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned."
    • Jesus - another question whether he means present or eternal: Luke 6.37:  "‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;"
  • Scriptures that encourage not condemning or imply condemnation is not God's interest:
    • John 3.17:  ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."
    • Romans 2:1: "Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things."  - However, keep reading this chapter and it gets more complicated about God's judgment.
    • Romans 8:1 & 31-39 "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...  What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.* 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’  37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Does God condemn?

Here are some questions to consider:

  • If the same word is used for both human and present condemnation, does that mean that God's condemnation is not necessarily always final and eternal?
  • Can God condemn a behavior but not a person?  (Careful - this gets into "love the sinner, hate the sin" territory, which is dangerous, but maybe true when rightly construed?)
  • Does God's condemnation change through the story of scripture/the people of God?  (And related:)
  • Did/has God change(d) God's mind about condemnation?
  • What does condemnation mean as a theological concept especially in the Hebrew Scriptures if the people of Israel don't necessarily believe in eternal life (then condemnation isn't eternal but temporal)?
  • Can God both condemn and forgive/redeem us?  
  • How does Luther's writing about "bearing a real and not a fictitious sin - so that one might know a real and not a fictitious grace" (paraphrased) - is there a way in which understanding divine condemnation on some level is important to experience grace/forgiveness?  
  • OR do you find these questions irrelevant because condemnation is a specifically construed eternal divine judgment?  If so - then why does scripture use the concept so loosely and in many different ways?
  • Do you believe in present divine condemnation - or natural, human consequences? (Or both - or is God's condemnation building in some consequences - again, dangerous territory!)
  • Do you believe in eternal condemnation?