Not exactly the most pleasant of topics this, but it was milling around my mind this morning.
God commanded in the Old Testament that people be stoned to death for various sins. Stoning is an incredibly brutal way to die, and it seems rather crazy that God should ask people be stoned — sometimes for some pretty unusual things.
Atheists love to harp on this point. It comes up in almost every heated conversation I have with an atheist. However, I think they (and for a long time me too) fail to see what God is doing here.
Stoning requires a community of people to throw stones at someone, meaning that they all agree the person is guilty and they all condemn the person. Over and above that, they all have to carry out the sentence, together.
The person’s blood is on them all. So, if the person was innocent or the situation was a complex one, everyone in the community is guilty of that person’s death. God can hold them all accountable, not just a judge or even a jury.
Jesus highlights this fact in John 8, where the Jewish scribes and Pharisees drag out a woman caught in adultery and ask Jesus if she should be stoned. (Well, it’s more like they insist that she should, and they want to force Jesus into doing it.)
They missed the point. They wanted to carry out the sentence for the sake of the law, rather than trying to get at the heart of the law and carrying out the sentence based on its heart. It was all just words to them, like a mathematics formula (woman caught in adultery = stone), rather than a heart issue (we all have to condemn her here. Where are the facts? What were the reasons? Where is the man for goodness sake, there is only a woman here).
So Jesus drives it home for them — “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
And no one responds. They all walk away.