Discernment without Judgment
It isn't unusual for us to judge who we are and how we have lived our lives in relation to what others have done. For example, parents may feel that they are unsuccessful because their children have failed in some important way. But if that were the measure of success, then God himself would be a failure. Few of his children, in fact none of them on their own, measure up to his expectations. That is why he sent his Son.
So we ought to cease judging, not only others but also ourselves. Jesus has commanded us to do so.
What Jesus means in the commandment not to judge is more clear in Luke than in Matthew: "Judge not and you will not be judged; condemn not and you will not be condemned; free others from your demands and you will be freed" (Lk. 6:37; my translation).
If I judge myself to be a failure as a parent because of what my children have done, or if I judge myself to have succeeded because of what they have done, I am not yet merciful (compassionate) as my Father in heaven is merciful (Lk. 6:36). So we are not to condemn others. We are not to act as if we can decide their worth or fate. And that applies equally well to ourselves. We should leave judgment to God.
But the refusal to judge ought to go beyond refraining from doing. It means more than finding an opportunity to condemn self or other but holding oneself back from doing so. It ought also to mean not seeing the world in terms of judgment at all.
If I refrain from judgment, I have already implicitly judged: this person is worthy of my judgment, but I won't do it. Better would be not to see the person as worthy of judgment in the first place. Refraining from sin is good, but it is better not to have seen the world as inviting one to sin.
That seems like an impossible demand, seeing the world as God sees it rather than as a fallen human being does. A revelation received through Joseph Smith in 1829 tells us what it requires:
O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day . . . . And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work. (D&C 4:2-5; emphasis added)
We can judge only because our eye is on something other than the glory of God, which LDS scripture defines as his work (Moses 1:39). We are qualified for God's work when that is what we have our eye on. And if we have our eye on that work, the work of bringing human beings back to the Father, then we will not see anyone, whether another or ourselves, as an object of possible judgment. We will see as God sees.
That doesn't mean that Christians are simply blind to things that go wrong or to evil. Paul says, "The spiritual person carefully examines everything" (1 Cor. 2:15; my translation).
Those reborn in Christ see the world differently. They can evaluate, and they do so honestly and accurately. In their careful examination of self and others, they may see that this or that did not work, that doing a particular thing was not just mistaken but wrong, that they have cause for repentance. But even in making those accurate assessments, they do not condemn; they see as a loving Parent sees.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.