Withholding Judgment

Nobody, even Tina Fey, wears judgment well.

Nobody, even Tina Fey, wears judgment well.

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” (Mt 7:1-2)

“Do not speak evil of one another, brothers. Whoever speaks evil of a brother or judges his brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is to save or to destroy. Who then are you to judge your neighbor?” (Jas 4:11-12)

“Therefore, you are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment. For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things.” (Rom 2:1)

Passages such as these are easy to come by in the New Testament and secular culture alike. Find me a person who has never quoted, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” or “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” or “He who has not sinned cast the first stone.” It’s nearly impossible. The admonition against judging others is so pervasive in the New Testament that its practice would seem to be intrinsic to Christianity, and thus, the Western world.

And yet, I find myself judging others on a regular basis. I don’t believe that I am alone in this. As Christians, we are a people with high ideals regarding justice, morality, and faith. We believe that we should act a certain way, and that others should act a certain way toward us.  We believe that we hold the Truth, and that God is on our side. This may in fact be the case. Unfortunately, it does not resolve the issue at hand: what do we do when the world around us, or even the world within us, does not match the world we are hoping for?

I think that we are called to get to know the world.

The problem with judging others isn’t that we are incapable of knowing the Truth. While we may not know everything that is true, God has revealed to us at least some of it, and there are at least basic things that we can assert. The problem with judgment is that it is often done without true discernment, and it unnecessarily creates divisions in the human family. When we are quick to judge, we build resentment and ruin relationships.

The fact of the matter is that each and every one of us brings to every situation a lifetime of unique experiences that has formed our conclusions about the world. Undoubtedly, some of these conclusions will be misguided and distorted. But there is a difference between condemning our neighbor outright for a wrong conclusion and entering into a discussion to understand what may have led them there and in what ways they may actual bear the Truth in a light different from our own. To believe that we or anyone else is ever COMPLETELY right or wrong, that we are without sin or blemish, is preposterous. In this way, there is a true sense that if we are ever going to grasp what is the Truth, it is going to be something we do together, open to understanding even the most condemnable people around us.

Which brings me to a resolution I have for this year.  Recognizing the resentment and condemnation I build up in myself because of failed ideals, my goal for the year is to withhold judgment of my brothers and sisters, to live comfortably in the tension between asserting the Truth I have found and being open to my understanding of that Truth changing. I wish withhold judgment as long as possible, and even when I have come to certain conclusions, I wish to remain open to God’s grace in a new way. The Bible is filled with stories of unexpected people (dumb, lame, dirty, foreign, etc.) bearing the Truth for a whole people to hear, and yet I still find myself judging people prematurely, writing them off before I am able to know them, and ultimately cutting myself off from the grace God has worked through them. I guess in the end, I hope to withhold judgment from my brothers and sisters because I’m ever thankful that God has chosen to do the same for me. If I’m still growing, learning, and failing, it seems only fitting that I be able to recognize that in my neighbor.

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