Judge not that ye be not judged

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In the last week the BBC, CNN, the Daily Mail, The Telegraph and many other news sites and blogs have reported a hoax as fact. The hoax was this: Internet Explorer users are less intelligent than those using other web browsers.

It is a lie that has spread like wildfire despite the thinnest of fabricated “evidence” produced by a website cobbled together in the last month. Why did this lie find such instant and universal acceptance (amongst the web-savvy anyway)? Because we love to judge.

We are inveterate self-justifiers who need to feel righteous. But before we paint that beautiful word in sordid colours, let’s think about why we need to feel righteous.

We need to feel righteous because we were made to be perfect, as Jesus has just told us (Matthew 5:48). The trouble is, we know that we are evil, as Jesus is about to say (Matthew 7:11). So how do we cope with this vast gulf in righteousness? Jesus counsels us simply to hunger and thirst for His righteousness and we will most certainly be filled (Matthew 5:6).

But we don’t like to hunger. We don’t like to admit any lack in ourselves. We want to be the ones who deal in righteousness. We don’t want to be justified in that passive sense. We want righteousness to be something in our own possession which we wield and apply to others. So we choose the only other option for unjust justifiers. We judge others.

Having rejected a merciful justification we mete out legal judgements. By sheer grace we have been invited out of the dock and onto the side of the Judge as a forgiven yet sinful child. But instead we prefer to remain in the context of earning and merit. So we stay in the dock to fight our corner. And we imagine that somehow we improve our position by turning around to our co-conspirators with an accusing finger. If we play the part of the judge perhaps everyone will forget that we are the accused.

This tactic is as old as Adam. As soon as sin entered in, man hid and sought to cover himself by his own efforts. The Lord came to expose him and, ultimately, to clothe him in acceptable coverings. Yet in his excruciating exposure man rejects the way of repentance and receiving. Instead he goes on the attack. Man blames the woman, the woman blames the serpent and (as the old joke goes) the serpent doesn’t have a leg to stand on. This has been the way of man ever since.

And Jesus says:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Matthew 7:1-2)

Francis Schaeffer taught this truth by imagining an invisible tape recorder hanging around our necks. These days we might update the illustration and call it an iPhone app. Imagine that it records every moral judgement you ever make about another. Each time you hold another person to account, each time you tell someone they mustn’t, each time you bemoan a colleague or institution it records your judgement. Imagine the litany of judgements – scores every month, hundreds every year, thousands in a whole life-time. Imagine that on the last day Jesus retrieves these recordings and hits play. Imagine if every standard you’ve held the world to was applied to you. Who could stand??!

When we are humbled by that prospect, then we are ready to stop ranking everyone. Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains it in these terms:

Judgment is the forbidden objectivization of the other person, which destroys single-minded love. I am not forbidden to have my own thoughts about the other person, to realize his shortcomings, but only to the extent that it offers to me an occasion for forgiveness and unconditional love, as Jesus proves to me.

That’s an important qualification. Jesus is not commanding me to abandon all discernment. Yet in every discernment of my neighbour, their shortcomings move me to pity not pride. When I see how the Judge has justified me, I am freed from the realm of judgement. I leave the dock and I leave my imagined judge’s bench. I come to Jesus, loved in my wickedness. And now every difference I see in others is an opportunity, not for superiority, but solidarity and service.

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