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Why Christians Should Not Rub Others’ Noses In It

Meet Penny. My wife and I recently received her. She’s a young dog. No more than a year and a half, the vet said.

We like her. But like any dog, she’s going to take some work. We actually believe our house may be the first house she’s lived in. So there’s one big learning curve for the dog. Think of any dog activities that are preferred outside rather than inside, and the first one that comes to mind is the sort of mess we are dealing with.

I will start by admitting some of my mistakes. When I find a spot on the carpet that maybe occurred a half hour earlier, I yell, run straight to the dog and read her miranda rights as I shove her nose in it. Of course I’ve heard not to do this because it will not stop them but instead cause them to hide it. Stupid hippie-dippie nonsense! I think as I walk away from the scene. That’s the way you do it! Show her it’s wrong! Life has consequences. You pee inside and you get a spanking!

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t working. These consequences weren’t nearly as effective as hoped, I realized while on my knees scrubbing and shampooing. She was having drastically more accidents with in my company than my wife’s, who was employing a much gentler response. Funny, since I considered it too lenient and even teetering on lazy, meanwhile it was completely on the mark. Um, no pun intended.

A Clanging Cymbal

I don’t believe dogs are too different from humans in this response. Tell a person not to do something and they might not do it around you, but they’ll keep doing it.

We respond similarly to humans, too. That’s why news stories pop up daily of my brothers and sisters in Christ still rubbing others’ noses in it. Someone has to tell them! They say. They need to know there are consequences!

That’s a clanging cymbal if I ever heard one. And the gap is only further widening between the two sides as a result, with countless people not wanting to even be associated with such a spiteful people group.

So here’s another confession: I used to think those things, too. Someone has to tell them! I thought. Christians were the noble people group, but were grossly misunderstood. We were only trying to help. Tough love, I considered it.

In John 8 is the story of the Pharisees taking a woman to Jesus who had broken adultery laws. Old Testament law stated that anyone committing this crime would be stoned to death. The passage also states they were trying to trick Jesus, so they didn’t have real, true motives in place, though maybe they seemed to. “People need to know, so she needs to be the example!” they likely said to him that day in the temple courts.

But Jesus saw past their motives. He drew in the sand and asked anyone who had not sinned to throw the first stone. No one did, so all of them left until Jesus was alone with the woman.

This is the moment many of us Christians want so badly. We successfully stand up for a person and therefore have their full attention to address the elephant in the room. When I read this passage a big part of me wanted Jesus to really give it to her, or to rub her nose in it. “Tell her to not sleep with men outside the confines of marriage, it’ll leave a hole in her heart!” I yelled at my bible like a senior citizen yelling at an episode of ‘Matlock.’ “Or address the guilt she must be feeling for being a homewrecker.”

But when I look for those quotes I just don’t find them. Instead, he says “Neither do I condemn you.” And then he takes it even further. “Go now and leave your life of sin,” he says. This is the key move since he leaves it between her and God to discern the “life of sin” in order to leave it behind. If he simply said “do not commit adultery” then she’d have her marching orders and no relationship would be necessary.

Honesty is the Best Policy

I always like to think I’m different than the Pharisees. But when I’m rubbing Penny’s nose in it, I’m not being honest with myself. I’m not doing it to teach her right from wrong, but because she’s defying me and I’m frustrated. Or I’m tired of being interrupted and getting on my knees to scrub. Or because it was a stressful day at work. And so on.

But I tell myself and God that I’m only trying to help. So I’m essentially trying to trick Jesus, too, just like these Pharisees. So in the end I’m no better than them. And that’s dangerous territory.

We must learn to be honest with ourselves and allow others to learn from God, not us, how to leave their life of sin behind.

  • Tiffany

    Wow, Matt. I think this is your best metaphor yet. This line speaks clearly to me: “This is the key move since he leaves it between her and God to discern the “life of sin” in order to leave it behind. If he simply said “do not commit adultery” then she’d have her marching orders and no relationship would be necessary.” I have never considered that and have always heard it preached as Jesus addressing her sin directly, so that’s what we should do too.

    • Matthew Rennels

      That interpretation has stayed with me and this blog message has been rattling around in me for a while. Here’s to hoping we can all gain better understanding of Jesus and his patience. Thanks Tiffany!

  • http://babybearbubbles.blogspot.com/2014/06/ainsley-jo-phillips.html Ainsley Jo Phillips

    You’re definitely spot-on here! I think one just has to handle how to witness from one person to another with prayer and trust that God will direct you to the best approach. Penny’s adorable, btw…