We all have faith, don’t we? That is, we have faith in something. I might be the staunchest of atheists, yet faith in the possibility of staying alive, and making some progress in my endeavors, is required even of me as I get out of bed every morning. Over the years, when sharing my faith with others, I have been told, “… judge not!” This is meant, I have assumed, to shut the conversation down, or at least make sure my POV has no sharp edges. It has been spoken as a sort of talisman– once out in the space between us, it is supposed to guarantee that no unacceptable words will come from my side (or at least give cover for ending the conversation with a note of, “… I told you not to go there.”) While meditating on Christ’s words in Matt. 7:1 (the source of this idea), the realization came that I had significantly misunderstood it. In reality, the Lord meant to say, “Sentence not…” That is, don’t pass sentence on someone else, because you may find (using your own flawed standard) that God has likewise passed sentence on you.
Flawed standard? How so??
It is the nature and responsibility of a judge to discover as many facts as possible, and to weigh them in context, before passing judgment (the sentence). In contrast, fallen human nature proposes to gather just a few facts (or simply use an unsupported opinion), and then rush to judgment. Without the ability and authority to gather all the facts, we simply aren’t qualified. What Christ does not say (and cannot say, if we are to use our minds at all) is “Evaluate not.” We know this because, for the rest of the chapter, He goes into detail on various aspects of wisely evaluating the situation we face, in whatever form it takes. Finally, at chapter’s end, He strongly directs us to evaluate the foundation on which we build our lives. For this exercise, in contrast to passing a sentence, we do not need all the facts, but rather enough to decide our own course. In the parable, both houses are perfectly fine structures, but only one has a solid foundation which can withstand the rushing flood.
Though it might go against my nature to evaluate instead of sentence, it is actually a joyful thing. It frees me, and anyone else willing to embrace the principle, to disagree without rancor, and to step back instead of pressing into a bitter place. Is my opponent likely wrong? I can think so, and even express an opinion, without passing the sentence which I don’t own. Am I likely wrong instead? So be it – my opponent may pretend to wave around the judge’s mallet, but without the actual authority, his opinion is merely that. Finally, at the end of a discussion where evaluation is the goal, neighbors can agree to disagree, and let the peace of “no sentence passed today” prevail.
Let God Almighty judge. I pass.