The opening verses of Matthew 7 have caused hand-wringing and consternation within the Christian faith for centuries. In them Jesus cautions us against hypocrisy in the form of judging our neighbors:
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
The obvious question: Can’t we judge anything? How do we know how to act if we don’t judge?
Right at the top we need to admit that judgment is a concession to a broken world. If life were perfect, the way it was originally intended, we wouldn’t have to judge. When there’s no wrong, there’s no need to discern between right and wrong. The need to judge stems from imperfection. Judgment—even correct judgment—isn’t perfect, isn’t a good unto itself, and certainly isn’t the reason we were put on this earth.
Too many people place superior judgment at the pinnacle of their faith life. How many church teachings boil down to, “Know the difference between right and wrong; do what’s right”? Not only is that impossible in a world blinded by sin—half the time we don’t even know what’s right--the process is wedded to the concept of wrongness. Without a clear wrong, clear judgment can’t be exercised. If faith depends on judgment and judgment actually succeeds in eradicating sin, “faithful” people will lose their purpose. There will be nothing to judge!
To keep this from happening, people who hold correct judgment as the ultimate expression of faith end up creating more wrong around them, the better to judge it. They go through life looking for the bad instead of celebrating and growing the good. This is not God’s intention for us.
As a pastor I’ve had the privilege of walking with many families through their struggles. I’ve noticed that whenever their troubles center around a “black sheep” member, a curious pattern emerges. The family—especially the lead member responsible for guidance and clear judgment—will rail against Black Sheep behavior, deriving their identity from the crusade. As long as the transgression persists, the family has order and purpose. But if the Black Sheep actually manages to reform the behavior in question, the family (and especially the guider-judge) is at a loss. They’ll celebrate initially, but ultimately they don’t know how to relate to a Black Sheep that isn’t black! Sometimes they find another objectionable quality to judge in their Black Sheep member. Often they’ll treat the Black Sheep like an offender—labeling them as foolish or disruptive—even though they’re not offending anymore and are, in fact, trying to make amends.
When people derive comfort from their internal ability to judge rather than any external relationship with each other, they reduce people objects to judge rather than exploring who they actually are. This is the key problem with judgment, and one of the main reasons we’re warned against it.
Next Time: Exploring the proper role of judgment in our lives.