Good Versus Judgmental Judgements

Good Versus Judgmental Judgements September 21, 2022

Emery Way: Angry and Judgmental / Wikimedia Commons

We are not to be judgmental, looking for reasons to condemn others. We are meant to be merciful, sharing with others the love and mercy which we have received. If we don’t, we risk facing the condemnation which we give for ourselves:

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;  give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back (Lk. 6:37-38 RSV).

What we do in the world, how we treat others, will come back to us. If we judge without mercy, it is because we have cut ourselves off from mercy, and so we will not be able to receive that mercy for ourselves. If, on the other hand, we stand with mercy, and the grace and love from which it comes, then, by sharing it with others, we will continue to receive it for ourselves. “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jas. 2:13 RSV).

Rejecting a judgmental spirit does not mean we reject the notion and value of judgment. The thing is, all  judgment must be done, not only with justice and mercy, but by those who have been given the authority to render it. We are not called to make judgments upon everyone we meet. Those who go around judging and condemning everyone forget that they do not have the authority to render such judgment upon others, which means, their judgments are rashly made. They do not look for justice as the foundation of their judgment, but rather their own personal desires, which usually include a desire to feel superior to others. To continue to hold themselves up as being great, they must knock everyone else down. Sadly, all they do is knock themselves down as they will experience the judgment which they desire to give; the harder they struggle,  the more they try to look for reasons to condemn others, the less love and mercy they have within, the less they shall experience that love and mercy for themselves as they experience   blowback for their assessment. Those, however, who are called to judge for the sake of the community, should do so out of a sense of duty and desire for what is good and just; that way they prove there are not assuming such authority for themselves, but that it has been granted to them and they understand, with all humility, the limitations of their authority. Then, when they make a determination, it will hopefully be for the sake of the common good instead of their own personal benefit. This is what differentiates their judgments from those who are being judgmental. If they do their job well, they will be doing what the Psalmist suggests, “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute “(Ps. 82:3 RSV).

Saint Macarius of Egypt, therefore, told St. Pachomius that he is authorized to judge as an abbot, that is, those under his authority in the monastery, but not anyone else:

Abba Macarius went one day to Abba Pachomius of Tabennisi. Pachomius asked him, ‘When brothers do not submit to the rule, is it right to correct them?’ Abba Macarius said to him, ‘Correct and judge justly those who are subject to you, but judge no-one else. For truly it is written: “Is it not those inside the church you are to judge? God judges those outside”’ (1 Cor. 5:12 – 13).[1]

Vengeance belongs to God, not us. This, sadly is what judgmental people do not appreciate, and so they try take over for God in the world. They act, not on behalf of God, but for themselves, and so they risk becoming idolatrous as they risk confusing their own will, their own desires, with the will of God.

Those who have positions of authority are expected to act for the sake of their community; if they are faithful to what has been given unto them, they would know the limitations of their authority, even as they will understand their authority is not theirs by right but as a privilege. Thus, Macarius told Pachomius, he could and should correct those monks who, under his authority, violate the community and its standards; everyone else, even if they were a monk, should be left up to God and God’s devices for them. We, likewise, should understand that if we have been  given authority to judge in some situation, that doesn’t mean we have universal authority to pronounce judgment and condemnation upon others; we must accept the limits of our authority, understanding, likewise, our authority rests on our shoulders, not for our own sake, not for our own glory, but for the sake of the community and its needs. If we don’t remember this, it can be removed from us and given to someone else, even as if we don’t have that authority, then, clearly, we should not be judging others as if we did. For we, by our actions, would be violating the common good, and if we do so, without mercy or grace, why should we expect such mercy and grace to be given to us our community finds the need to correct us?

It is best to understand that the greatest authority we have is over ourselves, and so we are to judge and correct ourselves instead of looking to others to correct them, which is why Jesus, in telling us not to judge others, tells us to consider instead the log in our eye, that is, our own defects which need to be fixed:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matt. 7:1-5 RSV).

So long as we are focused on others, looking for something to condemn them for, we will not be able to look after ourselves and our own needs. We must do what we can to correct ourselves first. When we do so, we will understand even more the need to be merciful to others, for we will understand it is mercy and grace which gave us the opportunity to change and become better. Then, if we are called to judge, we can do so with justice, a justice which knows and recognizes the need for mercy and grace in every judgment which is made.

[1] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 152 (Saying of Abba Macarius of Alexandria #2).


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