The Bible says that we shouldn’t judge … but it’s hard not to. When talking to another person, my mind is constantly assessing, forming opinions on – and let’s face it, judging what they’re saying. We make decisions on what we like / dislike, agree with / disagree with, think is right / wrong. We judge.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – we sniff milk that’s been left for slightly too long in the fridge to judge if it’s good to drink. Similarly, we judge what people say / write to see whether it is wholesome – or not – for our minds, spirits or souls. We use the innate judgement that God has given us.
But when we judge in a different way we can be in effect saying that we are worthier of God’s love / forgiveness / attention etc than the person we are talking to. Whose standards are we using here – God’s? Or our own? How are we ranking ourselves against them – is that particular sin worse than the sins of pride, lack of forgiveness, jealousy etc. that we – unknowingly or otherwise – commit every day? Or do we claim that we are using God’s standards in order to justify our own reactions?
When Jesus talked to the woman taken in adultery, there is no recorded statement of condemnation or comment on her behaviour. When he talked to the woman at the well about her marital history, we learn that she has had five different men, but do not hear Jesus castigating her about it. When he talked to Peter after his resurrection, he does not berate Peter for his denial. Did Jesus think these were wrong? I would hazard to suggest – yes – the first because of the effect it would have had on her husband, the other man, possibly on herself; the second, similarly; the third not least because of the hurt that Jesus must have felt when one of his closest friends turned his back on him.
But what we hear in each case is an over-riding message of love and affirmation. Jesus says to the woman taken in adultery: “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again” (John 8 v 11 Good News Translation.) He acknowledges the sin, forgives before she asks for it and when she could not possibly expect it given her culture and background, and offers her a way back. He offers the woman at the well the Living Water that she so desperately craves, revitalising and replenishing her, which allows her to embark on the evangelisation of her community. And to Peter he gives the greatest task: “Take care of my sheep.” (John 21 v 17, same translation.) Peter, rather than being condemned and flattened by Jesus, is given a way back to abundant life and fruitful ministry.
And if Jesus, earthly embodiment of God, who is the only one who should be truly offended by our sins (since he is perfect whereas we are not) can judge but offer forgiveness, why can’t we? Yes, we can form judgements but in our response and our words, we should offer God’s forgiveness and love first and foremost. Believe me, depending on what the issue is, the people to whom we are speaking may have judged themselves time and time again already – they do not need to hear it again. It is up to the Holy Spirit to convict and change a person, not up to us. And we do not truly understand what has led a person to a particular point, a particular choice, unless we have been there ourselves. God does – because he made them.
So by all means judge – but in your response: love, point to God, try to understand and love, love and love again.