I wrote last week about not judging as a form of spiritual discipline. It occurs to me that part of our problem with not judging is that there’s a great deal of confusion regarding what is meant by not judging. So I thought I’d share a couple of thoughts regarding my understanding of it.
Primarily, not judging means being open to correction. My parents used to always say to me, “you think you’re always right”. Which was true. If I thought I was wrong, I would change my mind. Why would I knowingly hold onto a belief which I knew was wrong?
The truth is, we all work from the assumption that what we think is correct. That’s not the problem. The problem is that when we judge, we cut ourselves off from considering that we might be wrong. And we’re always wrong about something. Otherwise we’d be God.
We get into trouble when we fail to accept that our understanding of what is right is always going to be inadequate and flawed. Unfortunately, a lot of churches actively encourage us to judge by insisting that their teachings are indesputably correct. Adopt church teachings as your own, and you never have to face the limits of your own understanding. In fact, holding firm to your faith, they teach, requires that you refuse to be open to the possibility of correction.
Of course, this is simple idolotry and not faith. It is churches claiming for themselves authority which only God is able to hold. And contrary to what some Christians try to tell you, the church and God are not interchangeable.
If we want to follow God and learn his ways, we have to always, always, always be open to having our judgment corrected. Not judging, to me, doesn’t mean refraining from seeing what’s right in front of your face. It just means being open to having your understanding or judgment regarding what you see corrected.
If God cannot correct us because we are so certain of our own judgment that we will not allow it to be challenged, he will be forced to show us the error of our judgment, if we are to continue walking with him. Which is exactly what Jesus is talking about when he says, “do not judge lest you be judged.”
For my part, I can tell you that just about everything I’ve ever judged someone for, I have gotten to experience myself. Even though I’ve never been particularly judgmental, I deeply regret looking down on those situations and people. And I wish I would have been far less prone to judgment than I have been.
Of course, even the most laid back, accepting and nonjudgmental among us run into things which no one in their right mind can look at without saying firmly, “that is wrong.” It may be abuse or violence or a lack of love or, if your standards are really low, torturing kittens which makes you stand up and say, “that’s wrong!”
Not judging doesn’t mean pretending that what is clearly wrong is no big deal or innocent. Instead, not judging means that you do not define the person who does wrong by their actions. A person’s actions may be reprehensible, but my bible says that each human is made in God’s image. Which means that terrible behavior is a betrayal of who they really are. It may be necessary to stand against their behavior, but their humanity remains at the center of their personhood.
One of the things I teach my kids is that when they see someone doing something they disapprove of, they need to be able to come up with an explanation for why someone would behave that way. Because they are evil/stupid/deluded is not allowed as an answer. When we judge, ie write people off as evil or stupid or deluded, we are declaring that we have seen the reality of a person when in fact we have neither ability nor right to claim such a thing.
It can be challenging sometimes. But contrary to what cartoons would have you believe, very few people do things just to be evil. Nearly always, there are reasons people think and behave in the ways they do. And more often than we’d like to admit, we see other people as evil or stupidity because of our own lack of understanding.
Forcing yourself to consider what things look like from the perspective of someone whose behavior you disapprove us is probably the main way we allow ourselves to be corrected by God. Typically, when you really understand why people behave and think the way they do, you realize that your view of reality was simplistic and ill informed.
Other times, when someone is engaged in something that cannot be comprehended, like participating or enabling sexual or physical violence against children, I end up shuddering to think of what it will be like to be that person five minutes after they die. As I’ve explained before, I believe that at death, all our delusions and illusions are removed. We will know the reality of what we created with our lives clearly. Which means all of the pain and suffering such a person created, including the ripple effect their behavior had through generations, will come crashing down on them.
Alongside this revelation of what they created with their life, they will also see clearly that their true identity is image bearer. Which means every bit of pain they caused was a betrayal and a waste of something so much better than they ever imagined. It seems to me that the only possible response to such a revelation is a great wailing and gnashing of teeth.
My judgment isn’t required for that to happen. Nor does it aid the process. But what refusing to judge does do is open my heart to God’s heart. God’s heart is that all would come to repentance. And so, even in the face of indefensible evil, refusing to judge allows me to desire the same.