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August 18, 2014

Neither

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Written by: Duane Covrig
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“My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.” 1 John 2:1 NLT

This passage, with its sister reference a few verses earlier in 1:9, combined with John 8 and 9, and a deep understanding of Micah 7:9 have become a stronghold for me in understanding God’s redemptive work in and through judgment. I love God’s Judgment.

Most Christians and theologians fail to synthesize God’s work of creation, redemption, resurrection, and mediation INTO His final work of judgment. Judgment is seen as a necessary end-point of the process of God determining who belongs to Him and who doesn’t (Matthew 25), but we miss the heart-depth of God’s love toward us in that process. Too few celebrate the complex beauty of His redemptive work in and through judgment (with the exception of Adventist theologians and a few outside our church like Hamilton).

God thoroughly positions Himself in the judgment to show his support of the human experiment.

To borrow Daniel’s (Daniel 12) term, in Judgment Jesus stands up for His people. To state that in different terms so the meaning is not lost, Jesus jumps up in judgment to thoroughly defend His people in ALL his vindicating power. Judgment is His full force relational response to the human race. To mix metaphors, it is a “full court press” by a “full-on” God in the “complete court” authority of His judgment.

In this small verse of 1 John 2:1 we have a referencing of the two great acts in Judgment. First, the phrase, “that we sin not” captures a subtle beauty often missed in God’s vindicating work of judgment: God’s affirmation of His creation. In the judgment the original purpose of humans is thoroughly celebrated. God did not make a mistake in creating humans. There will remains no doubt about the great experiment He has championed. Set backs, yet, but He will show it has been a smashing success. Why shouldn’t God affirm His creation in judgment? It was His idea. It is good that he celebrate, especially what has remained un-blighted in the world and in humans. As an act of perspective making—the whole point of judgment— He affirms the beauty of holiness still at work, not only in Him and His creation, but also in humans. This is the affirmation part of judgment.

Second, God’s judgment, both in our understanding of it and our experience of it, has to deal with sin. The blight of sin has to be dealt with. This is the intricate and complex aspect of judgment. God seeks to declare righteous those who have sinned and condemn those who have also seen but refused His work of redemption. This is the more complicated task of judgment which we spend most of our time processing. It is in judgment that His full work of restoration is clarified in how marvelous and systematic and effective He has been to take care of the tenacious presence of deep evil that hounds and mocks all of us. “If we sin…” requires a creative advocacy (see Micah 7:9) unheard of in the history of wrong doing. God has got to wiggle through the most complicated of layers of guilt and use the most complicated extrication process to save sinners who repent and not save those who do not repent. It is a messy task that only a savior could engage in. It is also the work of judgment. It is the second part or advocate part of judgment which this passage celebrates.

Affirmation and advocacy. These two aspects of the judgment come through in this short verse.

They are both nuanced and mirrored well in John 8 and 9. While both show up each chapter, I believe John 8 shows more the advocacy work of judgment as Jesus shows how He can show that the woman caught in “neither” condemned by Him. The “if we sin…” aspect of judgment comes strong.

However, John 9 especially shows the affirmation work of judgment that we often miss.

Jesus is walking through Jerusalem—arguably the most religious place on earth. Religion is essentially a complex sociological and theological response to the sin problem. It is built around how to deal with the guilt we know exists. It seems an appropriate place for another act of God—the celebration of creation.

Jesus walks by a blind man. I image he is purposely appearing to be unaware or maybe even indifferent to this blind man. I think Jesus was doing that to elicit from His disciples what all religions have helped to elicit from people. The search for blame and guilt.

By now, His disciples have seen that Jesus notices everyone, especially those in need. They should have realized Jesus was up to something.

They didn’t. They played into his plan. They read into the situation their own distorted religious worldview of God’s disposition to His creation. “Hey, Jesus. This blind man. Did He sin or his parents?”

Ironically, in “seeing” the blind man, they sadly immediately retreat into their own blindness. Their first response was to isolate blame and sin. The disposition of humans is to search for someone to blame for all that is blighted. It is the nature of religions to make this even more a detailed journey. Sadly, religion is often mainly about developing complex socio-theological ways of managing blame, isolating the details of blame, nuancing ways to get out of blame, developing structures to deal with it….etc….blame, blame, blame.

Jesus is about to dismiss that focus.

In one word: “neither.” “Neither this man nor his parents!!!!”

“Neither” is hardly a strong and direct word…. Yet here it is. It implies another conversation other than the one we are engaged in is needed. It is a re-routing word.

Jesus is rescuing them and us and the whole world of religion from our trapped thinking of either/or blame games.

The default thinking is so deep that even when people here me talk about judgment, they immediately think I am wanting to talk about blame. That is why judgment is hard to get excited about. When I tell people I love the judgment teaching of the SDA church, they think I am crazy. (That might be true as I am crazy in love with the God who can judge the way He judges in scripture and get away with it!!!!)

When people hear “judgment” they typically hear “judgmentalness.” They don’t see the affirmation or advocacy part of judgment. They are in the conversation with the disciples…. sniffing out blame.

“Neither” is the crashing judgment of Jesus on their conversation.

And by now, they should have recognized this word for its deep meaning.

It is the main word in the previous passage of John 8. When the woman is all caught-up in sin, and the evil men are ready for some swift action, in the judgment day court of Jesus, He re-sets the whole conversation. He changes the furniture and restructures the whole court scene, and then states his final decision… “Neither do I condemn you.”

So Neither has already proven to be an outstanding word for judgment and Jesus uses it again, this time to dismiss a couple of thousand years of bad thinking, bad religious thinking.

This predisposition to find “blame” dates to Satan and the Fall of Adam and Eve. It has plagued the human race long enough. It is time for judgment to take it away.

The disciples gut level, snap judgment response, in all its flippant, pointy finger sense of self-righteous IS NOT JUDGMENT. It is  judgmentalness.

Only Jesus could dismiss this entrenched conversation. Jerusalem, that ultra-religious town, with all its ultra-religious temple laden rituals, and all its hierarchical structures of complicated categorizations of evil, and extensive sacrificial system of dealing with evil, is about to get “neithered” by Jesus.

In fact, unlike John 8, where there is some mention on Jesus’ part about to the woman to “go and sin no more,” here in John 9, no hint of sin is mentioned about this man by Jesus. Jesus seems to be totally focused on something else….affirming the man.

God comes in judgment to celebrate His creation and show the glory of God.

Jesus is done with the blame game.

Jesus’ “neither” is so strong that the whole fate of this man is determined by Jesus repeated acts.

I will leave the reader to read the rest of this passage. Jesus is moving past all the blame games—the society did it to them, they chose poorly, their family messed them up….

Yes, that can be true, but more true and more basic to all of  God’s interaction with Humans is His desire to affirm.

Forget about the blame, focus on the solution. Jesus does. Why can’t we?

Why is our advanced sin detection systems in religion so hyperactive? What has made us so hard on ourselves and each other that we can’t hear His deep affirmation of our humanity?

Yes, that it is. The sophisticated judgment of God in a back-handed, subtle word “neither.”

Neither do I condemn you. Neither this man nor his parents are going to be blamed today.

Let’s move on.

Let’s celebrate the light that now shines in this man’s eyes, and what is dawning in the mind of the disciples.

Judgment is about God’s ability to bring to light and show his love for the human race.

There is no need to fixate on blame. Instead, be ready for deliverance.

And that is what the rest of John 9 is about.

That is the affirmation of God on His creation. He takes on himself the solutions and wants us to return to the light.

Unless of course, as John 9 ends, you want to stay in your blame game. Then your blindness remains.

Oh God, deliver us from evil. Deliver us from even the evil of having to find evil in others.

We need your judgment. Speak your word. Bring us to your light.



About the Author

Duane Covrig
I teach leadership and ethics at Andrews University. I am a Seventh-day Adventist eager for the Second Coming of Christ and positive about His judgment hour work (Rev 14:6-12). I use that reality to understand morality and ethics.




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