Mailbag: On Judging

Mailbag: On Judging May 3, 2018

A reader writes:

I hope you are doing well, and that this past Lent and Easter have brought you and yours closer to Our Lord.

Yes.  Thank you!

Ok, so I have a question that has been on my mind quite a bit of late.  What exactly did Jesus mean in Luke 6:37 when He said, “Stop judging, and you will not be judged”?  I mean, I think I understand what He meant when He said “Stop condemning, and you will not be condemned.”  I think He meant that if we stop condemning someone as destined for Hell no matter if they repent or not, then we will not suffer the very condemnation we are projecting onto our victim.

That’s about it.

But what did He mean by “Stop judging, and you will not be judged”?  Did He mean stop judging actions as good or evil?  I don’t think that’s what He meant… is it?

No.  In fact, he tells us to make such moral judgments: “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?”  (Lk 12:57).

That’s why he tells us:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. (Mt 7:15–20).

So it is evident that we are supposed to make common sense moral decisions about our conduct and we are supposed to exercise the sense God gave geese so that we are not taken in by con men.

But we are not to appoint ourselves the Judge of somebody’s eternal destiny, for the simple reason we can’t know it.  We can judge their words and deeds and, with sufficient evidence, know if they are lying about something.  But ultimately, we cannot know their culpability for their actions.

Juries have to do this all the time.  We can know reasonably well, given sufficient evidence, that John shot Mary to death, that he was of sound mind and body, and so forth.  And we can and must therefore choose to punish him for what he did.  That’s not sin.  That’s how you run a society.  But we cannot say with definitive certitude what his guilt in the eyes of God is, nor can we know that he will never repent his sin and be therefore damned. We are to pray and hope for the redemption of all, not savor the thought that they will burn in hell.

  I mean, it seems on its face silly to think that.  But ok, so He didn’t mean “don’t judge actions as right or wrong” (I don’t know; maybe He did mean it that way, in a certain sense?  I’m so unsure about this).

No.  You are right.  If it were sin to judge actions as right and wrong, nobody would ever be able to make a moral judgment about anything ever again.

Did He mean the same thing as “Stop condemning”?  If He was saying the same thing in two different ways, why did He say “Stop judging”?  Did He say it twice so as to be understood by those who understood “judging” and “condemning” differently?  Or is “judging” different from “condemning”?

I think they are equivalent ideas.

I would think the two things are distinct, but I am really uncertain as to what I should “stop” doing when it comes to judging.  I think I have successfully stopped condemning (at least for the most part – I mean, I can at least look back at prior conduct in a given day and see where I’ve fallen into the sin of condemning others).  But as to judging, I am quite unsure now.

I think it comes down to “Judge the action, word or idea, not the person.”  And “do not judge the person” comes down to not willing their condemnation by God.  We have to judge actions.  “Should I rescue this child from the hands of the man trying to molest him?” has a self-evident answer about the act.  “Should I trust that man to babysit my child?” has a self-evident answer about the character of the person who did the act.  “Should that person be handed over to the law and jailed?” also has a self-evident answer.  But “Is that person going to hell?” does not have a self-evident answer.

This question has really been nagging at me of late.  If you have any time to address it, I would greatly appreciate it.

Hope that helped!

Thanks as always, Mark, for your time and consideration.  And keep up the good fight!  I do believe the tide is turning!  As always, you remain in my prayers and those of my family.

Thank you so much for your kind prayers!

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