“Mama, I’ve been meaning to tell you something. I don’t believe in God anymore.” My eleven year old son told me with a matter of fact chirp how he is thinking differently about God these days as he hears more on the playground, in Sunday school and around town.
“Tell me why you don’t believe in God anymore, ” I asked. He rattled off a litany of things about how he has never seen God with his own two eyes or heard the sound of God’s voice, and how can God be real when people still die, still fight, still go hungry. “And how can I believe in someone like Jesus who throws stones at people?” he asked with all the indignation a fifth-grader could muster.
This got my attention because it was so obviously a misunderstanding about the woman caught in adultery, a story he no doubt learned in Sunday school. “Do you want to hear me tell the story?” I asked. He agreed to listen.
I explained that a man and woman were caught having sex together – he understood right away because our previous conversation was ‘the talk’ and so the details were quite fresh in his youthful mind. I told him how the woman was taken away to stand before a group of men and answer for her actions. “Mama, what happened to the man? Wasn’t he adultery-ing too?” he quickly asked. “Yes, they both made the same poor choice, but this story is about the woman. We don’t find out about the consequences for the man in this story.” Both of us were curious about the fate of the man, but I pushed forward.
The woman stood before a group of men. She probably was not fully dressed and probably felt a good amount of shame already. Then someone asked Jesus if they should stone her to death like the law demanded. (My son had a handful of questions about God writing such a mean law, but again, I told him that would be a conversation for another time.)
Men holding stones in their hands, at the ready to punish her, surrounded the woman. Jesus addressed them with this instruction, “Let the person here who has not made a poor choice throw the first stone.” One man, I imagined, remembered that he lied to his business partner earlier in the week. Another yelled with anger at his kids that very morning. Still another would have recalled his own adultery, the very same sin for which the woman stood and shivered accused, and how close he was to being in her shoes. Each dropped their stone and walked away.
“Mama! Mama!” my boy interjected, “Jesus is the only one who didn’t ever make a poor choice! He is the one who can throw the first stone!” And then I told him what Jesus did. I told my son that Jesus forgave the woman for her poor choice, that he told her to not repeat it, and he let her leave in peace. “Jesus didn’t throw stones, son. And Jesus shows is what God looks like, what God sounds like and how God behaves in the world.”
“So… God doesn’t throw stones, Mama?” I assured him that when we look at Jesus, we see a God who does not throw stones at the woman caught in adultery or at us when we are caught in our own mistakes. “And I wouldn’t believe in a God who threw stones, either. You were right to know something about that kind of God wasn’t true, wasn’t worthy of your faith.”
Soon after we had another long conversation, just the two of us. He wanted me to tell him about Holy Week. So for over an hour we traced the steps of Jesus, Peter, Judas, Mary and others through the final days of his life on earth. And when Jesus was on the cross, forgiving his killers, I reminded my son that here again we see The God Who Doesn’t Throw Stones. Again at the beach, over breakfast with Peter, we see Jesus again not throwing stones at his friend who denied him.
We imagined together that if Judas were sitting next to Peter that morning, Jesus wouldn’t have thrown stones at him either. Our God overflows with forgiveness, even under the most extreme circumstances. We are learning together that the God we believe in isn’t the stone-throwing kind.