Sunday, September 23, 2012

Judging (Matthew 7:1-2)

This post is going to try to put into words some muddled thoughts on a difficult subject. I got some interesting emails after last week's post on male modesty. Most troubling were some of the bitter accusations I got about being judgmental. Anyone who had also read my earlier post on modesty from February would realize that my intent has never been to "judge" or condemn anyone. But I feel like we are starting to live in a world where to stand for any value or standard has begun to be interpreted automatically as "judging" anyone who doesn't agree with that standard. Just because I don't drink coffee is no reason to assume that I am constantly shaking my finger at anyone I see who does drink coffee. In fact, I don't even drink soda! That is a personal choice on my part, but I've never seen someone drinking a soda and think, "boy, they sure aren't as good of a person as they could be if they'd stop drinking soda." Likewise, my choice to not run shirtless should not be interpreted to mean that I think I'm a generally better person than those who do or that they are evil.

2 weeks ago Elder Holland gave a CES fireside address which discussed, among other things, the difficult subject of JUDGING. It is a fantastic talk, and if you didn't see it, you can by clicking here. This post will manage to address, however feebly, my own thoughts on this difficult subject.

It seems to me that one of the large problems that arises with this subject is a fundamental ambiguity regarding the use of the term "judging." What do we mean when we say that we feel others are judging us? The most primitive Hebrew and Greek root forms of the words translated "judge" in the Bible basically mean to discern. In other words, if I see you do something and cognitively process that you have done that thing, I have just made a judgment. This is automatic and often a necessary part of interaction which is essential to our understanding of the world and cannot/should not be avoided. I don't think this is what is meant when someone feels they are "being judged" by someone. In fact, I've been thinking all week about what we DO mean when say that. It is harder to define than we may immediately think given how often we throw the term around. The best I can conclude is that the person who feels like they are being "judged" feels like they have been assessed some form of disapproval from the other person. This may or may not be true, but it is certainly what the allegedly "judged" person perceives to be the truth. Ironically, as a result, the "judged" person often does in fact return an actual disapproving assessment of the supposed judger. In other words, when most people complain that others are judging them, they are in fact judging those other people. (I know that was complicated. Hopefully it made sense.)

Here are some additional questions I've pondered this week on the subject of judging. I don't have answers to all of them, though I certainly have opinions and thoughts on most of them. Mostly, I think they are simply important questions to ponder regardless of whether we can pin down a concrete answer for all or any of them:

*Is it possible to disapprove of an action we observe without negatively assessing the person who does the thing?

*Is making a personal decision about what we consider right and wrong the same as judging that action for all other people when we observe them doing it?

*Can we truly believe in the concept of moral law without believing some actions are wrong?

*How much does our assessment of others' actions matter?

*How much does others' assessment of our actions matter?

I hope you had fun pondering those. I imagine I'm going to continue to ponder them for some time now. Another thing I've pondered and tried to understand is the well-known and oft-quoted passage from the Sermon on the Mount:

"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." (Matt. 7:1-2)

Note that these are among those verses which are not altered at all in the 3 Nephi retelling of the Sermon on the Mount (albeit there is a narrative transition added to the beginning of the first verse).

From the ancient source texts, forms of the Greek word krino are used 5 times in those 2 verses. This is that primitive verb meaning "to discern" and a far greater number of both Old and New Testament passages tell us that is is something we SHOULD do. But the word "judgment" in verse 2 is actually a more specific noun form (krima) which denotes an actual pronouncement of condemnation. As this is the only connotation we can assign to the other 4 neutral krino forms in the verses, it seems like the best interpretation looking at it from this perspective would be "Condemn not, that ye be not condemned." Elsewhere, of course, Christ tells us that we SHOULD "judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24). This Greek basically connotes to discern the good that people do.

Ultimately, the more I study this subject, the more it seemingly increases in ambiguity. There is a bit of a contradiction in Christ's commands that we both should and shouldn't judge, but I *think* (and this is certainly a fluid opinion on my part) that the point He's trying to convey is this: we should not occupy ourselves thinking about the bad others do, but we should take note of the good they do. That being said, it would be unwise for us to never discern whether an action is good or bad. We simply needn't preoccupy ourselves with those actions we deem inappropriate and we should never neglect to see the good in everyone wherever it is found.

Sometimes it is our job or stewardship to judge the deeds of others and even to offer correction. The role of parents is often to help correct a child in order to help them become an upstanding and morally concerned contributor to society. Teachers cannot truly help a student grow if they aren't willing to assess weaknesses and points for correction. In these and similar instances, discerning weakness is necessary, including even commentary and feedback on those weaknesses. If our focusing on a weakness is not for the intent to lift someone higher or is not appropriately within our stewardship, it probably isn't a wise thing for us to make public or to dwell on.

I know this post hasn't been very logically ordered thus far, perhaps because it reflects my disjoint and inconclusive thoughts on the subject. But overall most of my advice and thoughts have focused on those who judge. Now a few thoughts for those who feel judged by others:

First of all, for the most part it doesn't matter what others think about you, and you may not be correct anyway. You are not a telepath. We desire acceptance and fear losing it, so we often jump to the conclusion that the absence of a positive affirmation of our actions automatically assumes a negative assessment. Second of all, sometimes our assumptions about the judgments of others are actually a reflection of our own arguments with ourselves. Change is difficult and when we don't want to change (even when deep down we know we need to) we build walls of justification that can also involve assigning blame to others who are "judging us" as a defense. They may not have thought about anything you've done, but regardless of whether or not they have, your perceptions of their thoughts are more likely a manifestation of your own argument with yourself about the relative good or bad of your own actions. Sometimes this might mean that the correct course is actually to humbly listen and look for ways to improve rather than to fight back. And if you know you are doing the right thing, then it doesn't matter what others think about you. Let them think you are evil if they want to; if you are a good person then God will take note, regardless of the opinions of others around you. He's smarter than they are. And don't judge them in return. If they are judging you, their underlying intent is most likely to safeguard themselves from doing things that are wrong. That isn't always the case, but quite often a person may judge even inappropriately with the best of intentions because they, like you, are also imperfect.

Anyway, I hope this made sense. It has not been my first post on judging and I'm sure it won't be my last. Commentary is welcome.

My best,


1 comment:

  1. Obadiah, I love it when people get down to the Greek. It clears up a lot of things that have been muddied by popular interpretations. I love the distinction you show between discernment and condemnation. I think that it is impossible to call someone judgmental without being judgmental.


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