Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On Not Judging Others

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." I am not called by God to stop doing this kind of thing. Every day we make hundreds of judgments ranging from moral judgments to "This cup of coffee is too weak." When Jesus says "Judge not" he is referring to judgmentalism, which is different from making judgments.
  • A "judgmental" person is one who weighs in on the hearts of other people and pronounces, like a trial judge, a verdict. Such as "guilty." Or: "That person is bad." A judgmental person places themself in the world court of law as both judge and jury over people. 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 will make their pronouncements without any evidence at all, or in the face of counter-evidence, or even on the basis of manifestly false evidence. When this happens judgmentalism becomes 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 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, many times, assessed the heart of another person incorrectly. I have ctually done this to my own children! When my assessment has been negative I have found myself building 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 into the deep waters of another person's heart. I can't at times even 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 even before others? And 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. This is not necessarily good. In the past few months I have become good friends with a metalhead who is covered with tattoos and piercings. I discovered that, beneath it all, there lies a very good heart. And then there's Susan Boyle, standing before judge Simon Cowell...
  • I personally think 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. Here's where the tabloid-media comes in and gets an entire nation of people judging what's going on in the heart of a Tiger Woods. 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 in the past spent too many hours trying to figure out just what the heck is going on in the brains of other people. Now, consciously, I am more and more giving this responsibility to God. What a relief! He calls me to love others, not judge them. I will do very well if I focus on that. Jesus says to me, "John, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." And in Matthew 7 Jesus adds: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"
    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 to him.