Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Difference Between Making Judgments and Judgmentalism

Downtown Monroe

Jesus tells us to stop judging other people. (Matthew 7:1) Here are some thoughts I have about this.
§  We can, and will, make “judgments” in life. This is unavoidable, and is not the thing Jesus warns us against doing. Consider this judgment: Killing people for fun is wrong. I judge that to be “true.”
Every day we make hundreds of judgments, ranging from moral judgments such as "Sex trafficking is wrong," to “This cup of coffee is too weak,” or "That color looks better on you." When Jesus says “Judge not” he is not referring to making moral judgments or aesthetic judgments or legal judgments or scientific judgments, but is referring to judgmentalism. Judgmentalism is different from making judgments.

§  A “judgmental” person weighs in on the hearts of other people and pronounces, like a trial judge, a verdict. (See James 4.) Like: “guilty.” Or: ”That person is bad.” Or: "You deserve punishment." A judgmental person sees themselves as both judge and jury over others. Judgmental people feast off making moral and spiritual judgments about the motives of other people. Judgmental people see the worst in others irregardless of evidence to the contrary. Judgmental people make pronouncements without evidence, without understanding and compassion, even in the face of counter-evidence, and even on the basis of manifestly false evidence. Judgmentalism is the bedfellow of gossip and slander.

§  Behaviors can and should be judged, but the human heart is difficult to assess. If someone steals from you it is not wrong to say, “They stole from me; stealing is wrong; therefore what this person has done is wrong.” But why did they steal from you? Here’s where caution is advised. Because you and I do not have access to the human heart. Judge the behavior; refrain from judging the person’s heart. How many times I have been either positively or negatively surprised when a person’s true heart becomes evident. Which leads me to say…

§  I have, at times, assessed the hearts of people incorrectly. When my assessment has been negative I’ve built a case against that person. That’s neither good nor helpful. It breeds bitterness. I have made mountains, not out of mole-hills, but out of no-hills. 
Consider Proverbs 20:5, which says that “the purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters.” You and I lack epistemic access to the deep waters of another person’s heart. I can’t at times figure my own heart out! How then can I expect to accurately read the hearts of other people? If you wonder why someone did something that affects you negatively, why not ask them rather than put them on trial in your own mind and before others?

§  If God reveals to you some negative aspect of another person’s heart it is only so that you can pray for them or, with permission, help them. God doesn’t entrust such privileged information to judgmental people.

§  In John 7, in one of his confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus asks them to “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” They have, again, misjudged Jesus. This is because what is seen with the eyes is not equivalent to what lies in the heart. It may “appear” to me that a person has just given me a nasty look. I should not conclude from this that they have a nasty heart. Maybe, maybe not.
Many years ago, when Linda and I were dating, one of her friends told Linda that it appeared I did not like this friend because of the look on my face. Linda assured the friend that I did like her, and by the way that’s how my face normally looks. You can’t judge a book by the cover.

§  Judgmental people are fearful people. Judgmentalism works as a barrier erected to ward off self-scrutiny. If I deflect attention away from my own sin and failure and get people to look at the surface-appearance of sin and failure in someone else, I can breathe easier. Instead of crying out “Search me O God, and know my heart,” the cry becomes “Judge them, O God, for I know their hearts.” Probably not.

§  It’s hard work being the judge of the world. I have spent too many hours trying to figure out what is going on in the brains of other people. Now I am more and more giving this responsibility to God. What a relief! He calls me to love others, not judge them. God is able to speak into the hearts of all the people I find myself wondering about. In the meantime I will do well to allow him to speak to my own heart, and leave the judging of others to him.

I am asking God for freedom from judging the hearts of others. I can make judgments about things without being judgmental towards people. But note this: one cannot make a reasonable judgment without first understanding. It is foolish to judge without understanding.

#1 – Understand.

#2 – Evaluate if needed.

Things get tricky when it comes to human heart.. We barely understand the complexities of our own heart. How can we think we have access to the inner workings of another person’s heart and mind? Yet this is precisely what the judgmental person claims. They say, “I know what you are thinking!” Or: “I know why you did that!” Which makes us want to respond by saying, “And just who are you – God?”
Strive to understand others and be understood by them. When understanding is achieved the door is open for judgmentalism to morph into compassion.
Time spent judging the hearts of other people is wasted time, for the following reasons. 
  1. Our judgments can be wrong, and are surely incomplete. 
  2. Judgmentalism has no redemptive value. The point of judging others’ hearts is simply: to judge others' hearts. There is an intrinsic vicious circularity to judgmentalism. 
  3. We can’t change peoples’ hearts anyway, so why waste time judging them? Years ago God spoke to me and I wrote these words in my journal: “John, why are you trying so hard to change other people when you can’t even change your own self?”
Spend time with God today. Ask God to search out your own heart.
If God reveals to you some truth about another person’s struggle, thank him that he has entrusted you with this knowledge, and begin praying for that person.

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SEE ALSO:

Judgmentalism Is a Form of Violence

Judgmentalism and Making Judgments

Judgment Grows In the Soil of Forgetfulness



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My new book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.