What Should I Do When Others Sin?

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What Should I Do When Others Sin?

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Today as I was walking through the pasture behind my barn, I was trying to come up with an answer to a problem I’ve been debating for a long time: How I am supposed to act when someone else sins? I know that the Bible says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” but that always ended up sounding like you’re saying, “If you let other people get away with stuff, God will let you get away with stuff.” I found that particular verse didn’t click with me as the entire answer, especially since God also tells us to discern wrong and right. I know I’m not supposed to be ambivalent about wrong and right, but I know I’m also not supposed to condemn others for their actions. Well, then, what am I supposed to do when others sin?

As I was walking, I suddenly got a flash of when I was little and the oldest of three children, and my dad saying, “Don’t worry about your brother and sister, you just worry about Meredith.” I remember that when my siblings did things I thought were wrong, I was burning inside for them to “get theirs.” I would promptly report their transgressions to my parents and then sit back like Jonah and wait for the fire of parental discipline to rain down as I thought it should. Like Jonah, I was frequently disappointed by the result. If my view of justice didn’t match my parents’ view of justice, I would argue the point and generally end up in trouble myself. “Don’t you worry about your brother and sister, you just worry about Meredith.” It was infuriating.

I am now grown, wed and the mother of three, and I hear myself saying the same things to my kids. For some reason, while I can see my parents’ view of why they meted out justice the way they did, I still get that burning inside when I see people doing things that are wrong and not getting the comeuppance that I think they deserve. I guess I never made the connection between the way I was supposed to act toward my brother and sister and the way I am supposed to act towards other adults. It is easy to hear and say “children of God” and “brothers and sisters in Christ,” but it is a whole other thing to internalize it.

If my relationship with my blood siblings is supposed to be a template for my relationships with my spiritual siblings, then what ought I have done as a child? Well, Mom and Dad didn’t want me to be wishy-washy about what was right and wrong. If my sister snuck into something or committed some other act of mayhem, I was supposed to recognize that it was wrong and not join in. I was even justified in telling Mom and Dad about it (though this step is rather pointless as an adult, as there aren’t many things I could tattle to God about that He isn’t already aware of). Something else I could, or perhaps should have done would have been to gently remind my errant sibling of the rule and entreat reconsideration of her actions. For some reason that never occurred to me when I was 10.

In the end though, it was not my business how, or even if, my brother or sister was punished, because as a child I did not have the wisdom to mete out proper punishment. My version of justice was more akin to vengeance. I couldn’t see the big picture and how each incident fit into our training and raising. Perhaps even though I am an adult now, I am still not mature enough to mete out proper punishment to my “brothers and sisters.” Something tells me that when I am 90 I still won’t have that maturity and, thusly, that right. I can see the big picture in child raising, but the big picture of training a soul to take its place in God’s plan is beyond the scope of any mortal mind.

Perhaps I am still not mature enough to mete out proper punishment to my “brothers and sisters.”
Perhaps I am supposed to deal with others’ sins by encouraging them to a wiser course (this hasn’t gotten any easier than when I was 10). Then, if they choose to go their own way, content myself in the knowledge that God will deal with it. He may not do it the way I think He ought, but that is because, like my parents, He disciplines not exact payment, but to teach a better way. If I argue the point or try to take matters into my own hands, I remember what a spanking from my Dad felt like; I don’t think I want to get one from God!

I found the whole train of thought to be rather humbling. It’s easy to feel superior to those younger or less religiously informed. But it knocks you back down to size when you realize that in the end we’re all still kids and will continue to be, no matter how old we get. Perhaps that is what Christ meant when He told us to be like the little children. I am responsible to act in accordance with the degree of instruction I’ve been given, be it little or great. In the end, however, I shouldn’t worry about my brothers and sisters—worrying about Meredith is a job in and of itself.

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