How Can I Help You? vs. How Dare You!

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Expressing God, Relationships

Instead of thinking or saying, "How dare you!," why not respond with, "How can I help you?"

This was the line of reasoning that came to me one day as I thought about the Bible story of the woman caught in the act of adultery by the scribes (teachers of the law) and Pharisees, who then take her to Jesus (John 8).

Often, those who are in the right – those who align themselves with the virtuous, moral qualities – can be very self-righteous and adopt an "I'm better than you" attitude. Such an attitude repulses the very people who need help finding their moral compass: it makes them feel judged and can put them on the defensive.

How do we help people heal and reform, change bad habits to good ones, make good choices? We love the individuals. We judge the action. There's a huge difference. So often we judge people rather than their actions. We condemn them, rather than separate them from the bad acts, which elevates and transforms them. We limit people, pigeon hole them, and even think that getting rid of them or condemning them will solve the problem – instead of helping them.

To show the difference, let's turn to Jesus and the Pharisees. Both of them were technically on the same side of the issue. Neither of them advocated committing adultery. But their approach was radically different.

The Pharisees and scribes didn't really care about the woman. They just wanted to use her situation to trap Jesus – to cause him to make a mistake so they could invalidate and ruin him. Well, that motive is self-defeating. They tell Jesus, very self-righteously, "In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" (John 8:5 NIV).

They were basically saying, "How dare she! She violated a law of Moses. She should be stoned." There's not much room for repentance and new-birth there. There's no room for a realization in her heart that she was doing the wrong thing. There's no room for a transformation of character. Instead, there's only judgment, condemnation – let's wipe the person off the face of the earth because the person is evil.

No. The person is not evil, but the act is wrong. That is the difference. Jesus didn't take the bait. He paused: "Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger" (John 8:6 NIV). Who knows what he wrote, but it gave him time to think. He didn't respond with judgmental comments. Even though he directed the first part of his response to the accusers, he essentially responded to the woman with, "How can I help you? Let me help you. I'll show you how." He replied:

"… let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!" Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, "Where are your accusers? Didn't even one of them condemn you?" "No, Lord," she said. And Jesus said, "Neither do I. Go and sin no more." (John 8:7-11 NLT)

He gave them all a way out. He gave the scribes and Pharisees a way out of their self-righteous indignation. Rather than make them swallow their words, he provided an exit strategy. He essentially required them to examine their own lives and ask themselves, "Am I without sin? Can I kill her when I myself have sinned?" Since none of the accusers was without sin, none could throw a stone at her or else he would have to throw a stone at himself.

More significantly, Jesus gave the woman a way out of her poor life-style choice. He didn't condemn her. He had compassion on her. Jesus didn't tell the woman she could go back and keep sinning. He told her to stop sinning and start life over. He gave her the right to forgive her accusers, to forgive the man with whom she had committed adultery, and to forgive herself.

It was Jesus' genuine desire to help and to heal, his deep love for the woman, his conviction that God made her pure and good that transformed her view of herself, and thus, transformed her life. She could now start over with a strong, moral, sure foundation. Such desire in our hearts can bring morality, liberation, health, and wholeness to a world in desperate need – not of condemnation, but of transformation.