Judge Not, Because You Don’t Know Enough to Judge
Even compliments sometimes reveal a hidden judgment. Take the comment my wife and I often hear in public: “You must be such good parents, your children are so well-behaved.” Of course, when some passerby sees them complaining, screaming or hitting each other, he’s thinking “What bad parents.”
A good friend of mine and his wife, devout Catholics expecting their first child, were married for several years without conceiving a child. Family and friends presumed they were more focused on their careers than starting a family. The irony? My friends threw caution to the wind years ago. It simply took that long to get pregnant.
Recently a well-meaning friend kept pushing us to homeschool our eldest daughter. He was one of those who believed that parents who didn’t homeschool were lazy or foolish. Some churches are notorious for exerting social and moral pressure on families to homeschool. Yet who here knows the needs of our children better? Our unsuccessful attempts to educate our daughter proved she would do much better in a school setting — and she has.
This kind of judgmentalism is often excused as “seeking the good of others.” Here’s one reason it’s wrong: because we’re often wrong.
Here’s another: Judging others undermines their status as people created in the image of God. The traits, experiences, and hardships unique to them becomes subsumed by whatever silly, limited, and erroneous caricature we give them. “The parents who won’t discipline their children”;“The couple who won’t have kids”; “The overweight person who refuses to exercise.” Whatever we call them, it’s usually dehumanizing.
Here’s a third reason not to judge: We might wrongly impugn the very character of God. In Jesus’ parable of the landowner and the laborers (Matthew 20:1-16), those who worked all day judge those who were hired late in the day.
Of course, the landowner had found these “late hires” waiting around for work, implying they weren’t lazy, but simply unemployed, a status that should have evoked the original laborers’ empathy. Yet they see only that they worked longer and received the same pay as those hired later. They grumble against their master and accuse him of perpetrating an injustice. The owner rebukes them:
Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?
In the same way, we can miss how God has worked in the lives of those we’re judging. We could be judging them for failing when they’ve been sacrificially obedient. That disobedient child may have a physical or psychological problem. His parents may be showing heroic love we can’t see. They may be turning every day to God for His grace and help.
Late nineteenth century Scottish theologian Ian Maclaren famously quipped, “Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.” Such an insight serves us well as we walk a world full of sinners. Indeed, as one who can often fall into the trap of judgmentalism, I’ve been surprised how often my opinions prove wrong.
St. John Paul II declared: “A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use.” The more I’m the recipient of unfair judgmentalism, the more I’m convinced that rather than critique other’s supposed weaknesses to buttress my own inflated ego, I should simply love them.
Indeed, this how I came to faith in Christ, when a Stranger I knew not, rather than judge me, deemed to call me his friend.