Resist Being Judgmental

Resist Being Judgmental March 6, 2023

Ricky Leong: Judgmental / flickr

We are not to judge others; the way we judge others will come back to haunt us, as we will find our own sins, our own failings will be judged just as harsh as we judge others (cf. Matt. 7:1-5). We are meant to care for and love everyone, which is exactly what we are not doing if and when we go out looking for something to judge and condemn everyone? For that is what being judgmental is about. We judge others to undermine them, for then, once we have done that, we feel we can justify ourselves and any abusive behavior we have toward them.  And so, as James said, Christians are to turn themselves into judges, because all we do is show a judgmental attitude that has no care or concern for others:

Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.  There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor? (Jas. 4:11-12 RSV).

So many point out that it is the kind of judgment which matters. We are not to judge someone’s fate, that is, their soul. And while this true, it is true because it represents the worst kind of judgment which we can give. But that is not the only kind of judgment we must reject. We should not hold ourselves aloft from others and treat them poorly due to the judgments we make of them. Now, to be clear, we do need to make practical judgments, and sometimes that means, how we interact with others will be based upon what they have done But what it does not mean is that we should go from dealing with practical judgments, when truly necessary, to going beyond such practicality and becoming busybodies. We are not to prop ourselves up as if we were called to impose our will upon others, using our judgments to undermine and destroy those who do not do as we wish. Yes, there will be given authority to act as judges for the sake of the common good, but it is wrong to use their role in society as a way to justify ourselves when we become judgmental, just as the existence of surgeons does not make it fine for us to act like one and cut people up saying we do so for their own good. People in positions of authority need to make sound, just, but also merciful judgments. They have been granted limited authority to do so. Everyone else needs to mind their own business. Of course, even when we realize this, it is often not easy for us to stop ourselves from becoming judgmental We often try to justify ourselves by saying we are trying to correct someone out of love. But in reality that is not the case. It is more that we want to control others, and we say that as an excuse.

If we take on the role of judge for ourselves, and end up trying to judge everyone, we will find no peace within. Everyone will disturb us and make us angry for some reason or another. Love and humility, not a spirit of judgment, is what brings peace and joy, while the spirit of judgment will only bring in agitation, like a stone thrown into a lake, which is why St Isaac the Syrian said:

Be peaceable and humble, so that you might find compassion for everyone. Outward circumstances appear in various lights, corresponding to the activity of the heart, whether it <be directed> towards what is good, or towards temptations. Do not be a reprover or corrector of anyone, and do not be zealous and agitated in your soul. In the case of a person whose mind is continually in a state of zeal and agitation at <his fellow> human beings, it is not possible for him to be held worthy of that spiritual peace in which insights concerning God’s kindness towards <both> worlds are set in motion. Zeal occurs in a person as a result of the mind’s wandering, in that it has been allowed to wander about <looking at> everyone’s action – like a ship without a helmsman. [1]

Indeed, St. Isaac warned us that a judgmental person not only runs far astray, they sin as a result of their judgmental attitude, and it is not some sort of minor sin, but a grave one, indeed, so grave, that he said it would be better to be a fornicator than one who continuously acts in such a fashion:

See to it that you do not get caught up by the passion of those who are sick with the desire to  set others right, as it were, of their own ability; they want to become reprovers, wanting to set aright all the faults of <their fellow> human beings. This is a serious  passion, and it is recognizable in those who have been abandoned by the Lord’s care. This is especially the case if you are not the superior or head, but one of those in a subordinate role, and there are others like you. This is the role of superiors, and if you say you are doing this out of love, you are not <really> seeking for this love. In truth it would be better for you to be found having fallen into some act of fornication, rather than into this illness. [2]

And so, St Isaac says:

Take care of your thoughts, and do not think of anyone or look at anyone as being bad: on another occasion you may see in quite a different light this person who now seems to you to be bad. Accordingly, do not follow up thoughts that show you whatever they like. But if there is love, it will also cover up the faults <of others>, whereas an absence of love comes from darkness of soul. [3]

Love is not judgmental. Love provides mercy and grace as it covers up offenses, not exposes them and uses them to judge and condemn others. The more we seek to judge others, the more we will find excuses to judge and condemn them, and so the more abusive we will become. Even the saints will be hit by our judgments. And then what? We will lose everything, for our judgmental spirit will have us angry and envious of others, always looking for a way to push them down, hoping that by doing so, we can lift ourselves up into a position of power and control.  But all we will do is create the condition for our own fall, and so, the condition for our own condemnation. “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things” (Rom. 2:1 RSV).

We must not judge. Yes, sometimes, we might find ourselves in a position which requires a practical judgment, but for the most part, that is not a situation we find ourselves in. When we do, we should engage it with great concern, making sure we do not step out of bounds in our judgment; we should always look to embrace mercy and grace, even as we make sure that we keep the common good in mind. While we might find ourselves in such a position, we should not seek it out, nor use it to justify a judgmental spirit. And, when we find ourselves in a situation where such practical judgment is necessary, we should not use it merely for our self-gain but rather, we should look for how we can best promote the common good. Sadly, judgmental people don’t do that. They are not interested in the common good, but their own private good, and so their actions truly are worse off for it.

[1] St. Isaac of Nineveh, Headings on Spiritual Knowledge (The Second Part, Chapters 1-3). Trans. Sebastian Brock (Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2022), 54 [Chapter 1].

[2] St. Isaac of Nineveh, Headings on Spiritual Knowledge, 110 [Chapter 3; Second Discourse].

[3] St. Isaac of Nineveh, Headings on Spiritual Knowledge, 53 [Chapter1 ].


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