“Do not judge, and you will not be judged…. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? ….No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit….the good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” – Luke 6: 37-45
Do you ever feel torn between the goal of being “non-judgmental” and the desire to practice “good judgment”? When Jesus says, “Do not judge!” he is talking especially about making final judgments about others; about self-righteous slander and unjust criticism. When we presume to make final judgments about others, it is because we have taken it upon ourselves to sit in God’s judgment seat. And where does this lead us? As Karl Barth wrote, “it leads us to the place where we pronounce ourselves innocent…and we pronounce others guilty” (CD, IV/1, 59.2, 233).
I’ve walked the streets of the Roman Forum, where there were several judgment seats in the great basilicas, the colonnaded porches where a person would stand before the tribunal. The scene of one standing before this awesome judgment seat was familiar to every Roman citizen. Yet Jesus reminds us there is only one Judge to whom all must answer and give an account. Who is this Judge? “The LORD…will judge the world with righteousness and all the nations with his truth.” (Psalm 96). Before we open our mouths to speak a word of criticism or correction, however well intended, this knowledge will temper our words; and transform arrogance into humbleness.
Of course, there are times when good judgment is needed. Notice that the command not to judge is followed in Luke’s Gospel by a warning about good and bad fruit. In Luke 6:43 Jesus implies that the good and evil in us and others is revealed by the fruit that our lives and our mouths produce. Such distinctions surely require discernment and good judgment.
When you stop to think, it is impossible to be completely non-judgmental. Even the charge that someone is being judgmental is a rather judgmental thing to say. The truth is, we have to make judgments every day. Parents, when your children are in a fight, and each comes to you blaming the other, you have to make a judgment call. Even filling out a store survey at Subway so that I can get a free cookie requires judgment. More importantly, speaking out against evil or injustice requires making judgments. So while we must avoid prejudgment or final judgments, we must practice good judgment.
Is there a relationship in your life which provokes in you an angry, judgmental spirit? During this 40 day season of prayer, it may be time to schedule a coffee break, and make amends. On the other hand, there may be a situation that you need to prayerfully confront with a full recognition of your own sinfulness and fallibility before God. Knowing that all of us are capable of misjudgment, let us find freedom and peace in this: that Christ alone is our Judge…that this is the God who was willingly judged in our place and took upon himself our terrible judgment…and that in Him there is therefore now “no condemnation.” (Barth, CD IV/1, 59.2, 273).