Two Types of Judgement



I've come across two meanings for 'Judging' in the Bible.  There might be more, but I'm not yet aware of them. So it can mean to discern a choice, or it can mean to decide between what is right and what is wrong. Sometimes both are at play at once. 
We might discern a choice based on an idea of it being right or wrong; good or bad. This is not what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 7:1-5. Jesus starts out talking about judging in general, but moves right away to the idea of judging people. We all know it: Sometimes we discern whether or not a person (not just an idea) is right or wrong; good or bad based on their choices or behaviors. It's even built into the language we use in arguing with other people: "You are wrong, I am right".  We also use it in a religious context: "I am good, you are bad".


That statement "you are ..." is powerful. If we say to someone "you are bad",  it has the potential to completely warp how you see that person, and how they see themselves. I've met children who are convinced that they are bad kids, because so many adults in their lives have told them they are bad. To make a biblical metaphor out of it, these poor kids are being told they start off in Genesis 3 (bad ugly sinners), instead of in Genesis 1 (very good, loved creations of God).
This is the deep water Jesus is wading us into; not whether black socks or green socks are best, or discerning if you should become a musician or a gas fitter. Those are choices one may undoubtedly make at some point in life, but Jesus is talking about something more fundamental to the human condition: how we think about and act toward other people.
When we discern regarding other people, we are putting all of the wisdom we can find together with a prayerful approach to decision making which we hope will lead us to judge a situation according to God’s will. But we need to be very, very careful when we make decisions about right and wrong, because what tends to happen is that the baseline we use is often a comparison of ourselves to the other person. This is a dangerous game. If, as Jesus says, that the measure we use will be used against us, and the measure we used was to compare ourselves to everyone else and then look down on those who didn't measure up - we're in a lot of trouble! Who can 'measure up' to God?!
Comparing ourselves to others is ultimately selfish anyhow. It relies on us and our opinions, thoughts, attitudes, preconceptions and limited views of the world using our knowledge, our intelligence, our morals, our understanding of Scripture, and our derived values to make judgements on other people which aren’t based on how God sees them. Comparing 'us and them' is always based on how we see them. This may come as a surprise, but having a biblical view of humanity makes it impossible to compare ourselves to others. We are all sinners. Everyone blows it. We are all precious to God. God's love for each person on the planet is immeasurable. We are all invited into salvation by God's grace; equally.
Judgement is therefore worthless when made apart from this broad view of God's love and genuine care and concern for people. If I judge what someone does, I must not fail to show them the respect, dignity, worth and value they deserve as God's image bearers (all people bear the image of God).
Which of course, leads to the question: "What do you do with Donald Trump?" 
When Jesus tells us not to judge others (judge not lest ye be judged …), we need to understand that this means we are called to avoid getting our life and worth from judging others by comparing ourselves to them. The comparison game is one we will not and cannot win. We need to get our life from Jesus. Are there times where making a judgment call is appropriate? Yes, but we need to stick to judging ideas rather than people. People are not their logic, manners, attitudes etc. People can change. But it would be a travesty to not launch pointed arguments against hateful ideas that seem to so easily catch on, especially in churches and in politics.
So that’s judgement in a nutshell – let us not take on God's role of being the arbiters of other people's ultimate worth and value. God has already told us how he thinks of all people, because Jesus died for all people. All people, then, have unsurpassed worth and value to God. As a result, I think it’s pertinent for Christians to start standing up against attitudes and ideas that threaten the image of God in others: bigotry, racism, homophobia, sexism, class-ism and other ‘isms’ and phobias that threaten the very foundation of a peaceful society. 
Matters of judgement need to be approached with careful wisdom and love. What modern people need the most is not to be judged, but to be shown the proper seat of their ultimate worth. It's not in the things we own, what we do for a living, how big our house is, or how much (or little!) money we have in the bank. Our ulimate worth comes most fundamentally from Jesus. This is just as true for religious people as it is for non-religious people, all of whom are on an unending search for freedom. Only Jesus provides us with freedom worth having.
To be sure, sometimes people need to be shown that what they’re doing is harmful, degrading to others and not pleasing to God. But even in this sense, judgement like this should be restorative in nature - because the person is invaluable to God. This means that as Christians, we need to be extremely careful about how we speak and interact with others – especially anyone who views themselves as being on ‘the outside of faith’. We should err on the side of love as much as possible, so that the Kingdom of God might be advanced within and among people by the Church’s display of love, which comes through the Church from Jesus himself.
In the book of acts, the details of punishment aren't given when the gospel is preached. I’ve always found that interesting. It’s as if people already knew the bad news. Does preaching the gospel of "give the bad news first so that people can embrace the good news" create a false sense of what the gospel really is? It just might.
But even still – there have been times in my own life where I’ve needed to accept the reality that if I kept going on the path I was on, it would lead to some form of destruction. So, there is that.
In other words, it’s complicated! And that’s OK.
Until next time ....
Grace & Peace,
R

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