What would happen if we all stopped judging each other tomorrow? Would everyone start sassing the boss, not realizing they could be fired? Would families start roasting each other for dinner, knowing no one would judge them for it? Is judging properly the only thing that’s standing between us and a world of complete chaos (as opposed to the one we currently inhabit!)?
Or to put the question another way – what effect do we think we are having when we observe for others what is right, wrong, correct, mistaken, etc? I’m going to go way out on a limb here and guess the actual effect doesn’t exactly line up with our desires. Somehow people rarely react to being told what they are doing wrong by saying, “gosh – thank you so much for telling me. I’m going to get right on fixing that now and devote the rest of my life to making up for all the pain I’ve caused you.”
The reality is that being right is no big thing – anyone can do it. The kids I met in juvi knew the difference between right and wrong. But it’s really hard is to actually do what Jesus tells us to do: “don’t judge.” Now I know I just lost a bunch of y’all there. The last time I said we should take his instructions not to judge more seriously, if not literally, the comments had a good number of “but Jesus said judgmental things” and “we have to judge – it’s judging in a way that condemns another human that we can’t do.” All arguments I have made myself in the past. Only I actually tested the not judging thing. And found out that in order to judge properly, we need first need to learn how not to judge.
Frankly, I don’t even remember how it all got going, but it culminated with me praying, “God, please help me not to say things that don’t need to be said.” It was like a month before I spoke again. Some days I still have next to nothing to say. See, my brain keeps whirring away, but there’s this little hitch every time I go to say something that makes me realize when I’m about to say something that the world doesn’t need to hear. It turns out that the world needs to hear far less from me than I had previously assumed.
And you know what gets stopped more than anything else? Words that convey judgment, of course. Most of the time the problem isn’t that I’m wrong – my judgment can be 100% correct and it still happens. What I have realized is that words of judgment aren’t OK to say simply because they are true. I mean, we all know that it’s not OK to tell someone that they look like a rhino around the face even if it’s true. But when someone is selfish or rude or dumb, we think that the true-ness of our judgment not only makes it OK to say something – it require it. We tell ourselves, “well, you can’t do much about looking like a rhino, but you can change being a twit, so they need to be told that they’re a twit.” Only like I said earlier, it doesn’t actually work that way. Words of judgment almost never effective in bringing about change. But they are highly effective ways to create division and pain.
Now, this is where I must stop and be clear that I am not claiming to have become a perfectly accepting, peaceful person who never says anything judgmental. If my husband actually read my writing, he’d be quite happy to pipe up to confirm that. I still say things thoughtlessly or out of anger that can be judgmental. Often I don’t even realize I’ve said something judging until my husband pushes back. And he can confirm along with all the rest of humanity that when I say things that are judgmental, it doesn’t change his thinking. It only creates division and pain. (Like most of us, he has a pretty highly tuned “I’m being judged” detection system in place. Which keeps me honest anyways. )
Like I said, my brain keeps whirring away. In my own mind, I have days where I rant and rave away. I just keep it mostly to myself. But it’s more interesting than that. Instead of making my case and starting an argument with another person, I have three choices. I can ruminate on what’s got my goat, building my case in my head until my heart is so taken up by self-righteous anger and scorn that I lose it. Or I can just play “la-di-da – I live in a world with pink grass and unicorns. Everything’s always OK!” Or I can take it to God.
For a long time, I brought my judgments to God with an apology – “I know that it’s probably not my right and I don’t have a full understanding of what’s going on, but damnit – does he really have to act like that?” Funny thing, though – it’s hard to be harsh, callous and angry about another person with the one who created them. It’s hard to get away with making the best argument instead of making an argument that’s true when you’re dealing with the writer of the rules of the universe. When you bring your judgment to God, he knows the hurt or good intentions that are usually behind another’s behavior. He’s not just going to go along whatever your assessment of the situation is.
In just the last 4 months or so, something odd has been happening. Instead of bringing my judgments to God with an apology, sometimes I find myself saying, “I have carefully considered this and here’s my judgement. Please correct me if I’m wrong.” And sometimes he’s said, “you’re right. But you need to leave it alone.” Sometimes I’m corrected and then I’m glad for it because the more I’m corrected, the better my understanding becomes. And every once in a while, I even feel confident enough to carefully, very, very carefully speak some judgment out loud. With great care and love and lots of, “I only know this because I realized that I’ve done the same thing to you.”
You see, when I stopped judging and took it straight to God instead, I made room for him to actually teach me how to judge properly. Or at least more properly. When I let God teach me, I no longer have the heart for judging with anything other than great compassion - first towards myself for my own hurts and failings. And towards another human who is sharing those very same hurts and failings with me.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
When ever this subject comes up, there’s a strong tendency for us to delve into our brains and come up with an understanding that makes sense to us. Sometimes I think that the reason that Jesus’ most famous statement as turned out to be “don’t judge” is because we didn’t get it the first time. Maybe if we have it repeated back to us a zillion times, we’ll start to catch on. But mostly we don’t because we’re leaning on our own understanding rather than trusting that Jesus may have a reason for this strange instruction. One of those “Abram, leave your home and go to a place I will show you” sort of deals. It’s not going to make sense until we do it.
It turns out that there’s a good reason that Jesus told us not to judge. The reality is that we don’t know how to judge. We’ve learned from each other, but scriptures tell us in many places, “Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God.” Well, guess what? That any man isn’t just the people who judge me wrongly – it’s me and you to. We’re any man. Judgment belongs to God. We can only learn it from him – not from our own reckonings or other people. There’s nothing worse than trying to teach a student who thinks they already know all the answers. Jesus is telling us to stop being that sort of student. Just stop judging and let God teach you. Unless you’re afraid that if you stop marking off right and wrong for the world to see, no one will have any idea how to act properly anymore?