Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On Judging Others

I’m in a quandary. From friends and acquaintances on many sides, I get this message:  Do Not Judge.  Don’t judge anyone. Don’t assess other people’s behaviors or decisions. It’s not your place. The Bible says not to judge. If you judge others, you’re putting yourself in God’s place. It’s unkind and breaks up the Body of Christ when Christians judge each other. Only kind and gentle words, please.

Sound familiar?

But my mind tells me this: (Oh, that’s a dangerous way to begin!) Be Wise! Be discerning. Evaluate everything and everyone around you. Assess everything through God’s Word. Be a critical thinker. How can you live righteously if you don’t examine the people and world around you and determine whether they are holy? And although you must always sprinkle your words with the salt of gentleness, you must not shy away from addressing evil or wrong-thinking. Christians are called to test the spirits, to be wise as serpents.

Am I making a mountain of a mole-hill? Can you refrain from judging others in any way, and simultaneously use critical thinking regarding your world? I don’t know how to do it. I usually err on the side of being the critical thinker and assessor, trying to do so objectively and never hatefully. But I get plenty of flak for it. (Just looked up that spelling for “flak.” The word means “strong criticism.” When other people criticize me for criticizing others, is that a double standard?)

I toyed with waxing eloquent about several links I’ve read lately that pertain to this judging theme, but I think I’ll just link to them and leave the reading to you. I agree with many parts of them. Here they are:
Cheetos for Breakfast - a Letter to Young Mothers, very refreshing
Troc, Broc, and Recup - a Pause in Lent, "Fast from judging others"
Holy Experience - The Command that could Resurrect the Church

My bottom line is this: We must have the freedom to assess. We should never be cruel, thoughtless, or malicious in our criticism. But we must be able to look around at people’s parenting, public behaviors, opinions and writings, and think, “That is right,” or “That is wrong.” We may need to voice this also, for our good or someone else's. And we’d better be able to support our views, not being arbitrary or flippant. I agree with Voskamp that unity and love in the Body of Christ should remain a paramount concern. But that unity is preserved both by the assessor being thoughtful and careful, and by the ‘assessee’ accepting in a godly way the criticism that comes. He must work out how to accept such criticism gracefully. For every time I’ve seen a person do criticism badly, I’ve also seen a person accept wise criticism badly. Both sides must learn how the game is played properly, especially among Christians. The metaphor of the body is apt. We do not sever a body part with cruel words. Neither do we shy away from correct care of a body part in trouble, when correction is required. Such care can be painful for a wounded or dysfunctional part, but it must be done. The medicine that hurts, also heals.

  This isn’t easy. I’m no expert! But we do the Body of Christ a grave disservice when we preach loudly, “No Criticism Allowed!” We should examine our terms carefully. To Judge means to sit oneself upon the bench as a judge over others, i.e., to determine whether they are guilty or innocent and to dole out punishment accordingly. To judge spiritual matters additionally means to decide eternal guilt and dole out eternal punishment. None should aspire to judge in this way. But that is entirely different from critical thinking and critical assessment. I’ve spoken out of turn before. I’ve also held my tongue when a word would have been useful. Both are wrong. Real wisdom is knowing when the word is needed, is helpful. Lord, help us all to know!


  1. MK, it's a difficult subject and yet I judge all the time. I judge when to not associate with people I feel are bad company. I live in a small community and there are some folks with whom I just refuse to be more than speaking acquaintances. To do more is to be painted with the same brush and I cannot afford it.
    Christ was seen with all sorts of sinners; He gave them a chance to accept Him and, if they refused, He moved on. Likewise, do I.
    Since Dave died, there have been half dozen, or so, folks who have seen the need to judge me in public, on my blog. I feel that's unnecessary; it's like being a guest in someone's home and being rude and crude. Yet, these people, (I don't think any claim to be Christians) seem to feel it's their due and right. When I've called them on it, they respond with, "It's okay if I disagree, that's my right." When I say, "Yes but you cannot disagree rudely", they get offended.
    It's sticky; I want to show Christ but...but...there is no but. Christ would turn the other cheek which I've not done but I have been civil. Surely that counts?

  2. I do think it's a hard call, Sandra. And what makes it really hard is that Christians on both sides on this issue can argue well for their position. Did Jesus say to turn the other cheek? Yes. Can we think of times when he aggressively verbally criticized people? Yes. Clearly then, there must be some way to do as He did, and be holy. I think I'll be learning how to do this (and not do it!) the rest of my life.

  3. I knew you'd work this through- well!

  4. I read your post the other day and then had to wait to read the links that you shared.
    I think you make a right distinction about not judging to mete punishment or infer damnation. Semantics are hard to parse sometimes, one person's discernment is perhaps another's judgement, but for those of us who do believe that there is a great chasm between good and evil,we of course have to see things by the light we have. Not that we can see in any ultimate terms, or see into the very heart of people or even their circumstances, but hopefully we aren't blind. What we then do with our awareness and concerns, to what we degree we can be vessels, is each time a unique opportunity. Sometimes, many times, most of what I know for sure to do is to watch and pray, but other times there is an apple of gold that can be picked and offered.

    Another aspect of judgement that is good for us to study is fear of judgement from others...and how that can mis-shape us.

    I think an underlying issue, which is a cross opportunists, but readily visible in the parenting realm, is not so much rooted in "judgement" but rather thrives in comparisons ( Scripture advises we not compare ourselves one to another) criticism (it does not have the heart of judgement for the sake of the Lord) and competition ( lack of contentment and connectedness to one's estate in the Lord's hands) all these "c's lead to another...conflict.

  5. Jeannette, those are all excellent points. I agree very much that the real poison in parenting is the comparing to others. It produces a sense of inferiority and fear. And yes -- the fear of judgment! I hadn't really thought of that, but I think that's what I mean when I say that some people do not know how to receive criticism well, but it's VERY hard to say that out loud, because (of course) it's yet another criticism (sigh) and will wound them. This was brought home to me recently when a sweet woman I love tried to do something generous for me, and I (taken aback) refused the offer. She gently, sweetly, reprimanded me, and told me lately she had been likewise reprimanded when she was in error, by a Christian friend. Sometimes we need to be brought (kindly) up short, and told when we are wrong. I needed her to tell me. Perhaps it's more in the manner we speak, than what we say. Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. As I read your response the image that came to mind was one of us wandering off the path and another yahooing a what's over there, or where are you? or...even just a Swiiss Alp echoing Hallooooo which may then draw the wandering steps closer back toward the path.

    The other thing is that love seeks no reward...and if something is truly spoken in love we have to accept if energy comes against us.

    Generally waiting for an invitation - permission to "speak into" anyone else's life avoid s many problems.


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