For the Bride: Living in a Dungeon

Early Christians believed that being judgmental put them in the lowest level of spirituality, so they went to (what seems to us today) extraordinary means to avoid it.

An old monk named Nau told his community what to do: “If someone commits a sin in your presence, do not judge him, but consider yourself a worse sinner than he.”

The amazing thing about this is that there is no disagreement about the fact that the person has sinned.  In fact, Nau couched the saying in the context of the sin being committed in the presence of others–a no-doubt-about-it sin.  But even then, the early Christians were taught not to judge.

What we find here is a response pattern which is the exact opposite of what usually happens.  We see someone else’s sin, and our mind immediately goes to them, with a focus on the sin and what the offender should be required to do in order to be forgiven.  The moment is focused on the “other.”

Nau taught instead that the moment is one given to us by God to think of ourselves and our sinfulness.  It is the false self (egotism, the original sin) that shifts the moment to the “other”; it is the true self (the self under the control of the Spirit–Galatians 5:23) that keeps the moment focused on our sin. 

This is not selfishness or being unconcerned about the reality or destructiveness of sin.  It is trusting God to deal with the person, and inviting God to work in us in the moment that the awareness of sin arises.  The early Christians transformed a moment to be judgmental into one to practice self-examination (e.g. Psalm 139:23-24).

The early Christians believed this so much that Abba Euprepius laid down the principle that the experience of God in the soul could only occur if one “did not judge others.”  Compared to our contemporary tendencies to name the sins of others (complete with our prescribed repentances), this ancient way leaves us speechless.  And that is exactly where God wants us to be.  Our problem is that we have said too much already.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 43 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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1 Response to For the Bride: Living in a Dungeon

  1. Many thanks, Steve, for the wisdom you are sharing in your blog.

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