Part One of Two
It was 7:00 p.m. on a Halloween night. Amidst a flurry 6 year old Frozen princesses and 13 year old Walking Dead, our perpetually late letter carrier showed up. My first thought was to drop a candy bar in his bag and say, “Well, don’t you just look like a real mailman in your in little costume!”
But I didn’t. I bit my tongue. Because one of the most disturbing things I’ve experienced in life is the judgment of others, so God forbid I should do it myself. But I was tempted, oh, was I tempted. Why? Because we’re wired to make judgments. We do it every day. We judge whether to go to the market or wait till the rain lets up. Whether to open our front door to the guy in the Metallica t-shirt who says he’s “from the gas company.”
And yet, how many times have you heard someone say, “You’re judging me!” as if it were a universally bad thing? Or said it yourself, for that matter? Where did it come from, this ban on something we so naturally, and frequently need, to do?
He’s the one who put the negative spin on the whole judgment thing. It was Jesus who said (in Matthew 7:1), “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Resulting in untold numbers of conversations like:
A: You need to stop playing video games 16 hours a day and get a job!
B: There are people who make a living at this. Stop judging me!
A: I saw you taking that new laptop from the company mail room!
B: Hey, it’s expected. Do you know how little they pay me? Stop judging me!
Without further insight into what Jesus meant, many are quick to turn him into a roll-me-a-doobie savant whose message is, “Hey, just do your own thing, man, and don’t tell anybody else what’s right or wrong!”
But Jesus did explain what he meant. In the very next verse, he says: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and the same measure you use on them will be used on you.” And then he illustrates his point with this intentionally sarcastic metaphor: “Why do you focus on the speck in your brother’s eye and ignore the log in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me pull the speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own? You hypocrite! First pull the log out of your own eye, and then you’ll be able to see clearly to pull the speck out of your brother’s.”
His point? It’s not judging that’s the issue, it’s why we judge. In fact, elsewhere he commands us to “judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). But judging in the Matthew 7:1 sense is judging with wrong judgment. Its intention isn’t correction, but condemnation. And God’s in the correction business, so if you’re in the condemnation business, you’re not in business with God.
Condemnation doesn’t fix anything, it merely vents, making the accuser feel superior, and in dong so, harms both. “I’m better than you” is the small print Jesus exposes when he says, “Why do you focus on the speck in your brother’s eye and ignore the log in your own?”
Three different words are used for judge in the Old Testament. The first, shaphat, means to “guide” or “govern,” and is used of the Judges who ruled ancient Israel. The second, yakakh, means to “correct” or “help.” Both of these are meant to make things better.
But the third word, duwn, signifies “final judgment” or condemnation, and is used exclusively of God as the judge of humankind—with one ominous exception: Genesis 4:16 prophesies that a descendent of the tribe of Dan “will judge (duwn) like a serpent.” Because of this verse, Saint Irrenaeus concluded that the Antichrist would come from the tribe of Dan! In other words, when a human judges like this, the result is pure evil. Jesus uses the equivalent term when he warns, “Anyone who says ‘you fool’ (i.e. who judges another’s character) is in danger of hellfire” (Matthew 5:22)!
I once produced a short film entitled The Limited. At the start of the story a “good man” dies and finds himself boarding a train en route to The Judge. On board, he ends up seated across from a hungry, unpleasant woman. He avoids conversing with her or offering her the crackers in his shirt pocket. When the train arrives, he climbs a long set of stairs and finally meets his Judge…
The woman from the train.
To read Part Two, click here.