It’s time for us to admit it: Being “judgmental” is actually necessary to being a person of faith.
Just be really, really careful (and humble) about it.
Odd timing for a post on judgment, I know, since we just finished Christmas and I’m presently sitting in perhaps the last place on earth that you would consider nasty things like “judgment.” (That place being Hawaii).
But in the peaceful early morning hours here in Waikoloa, listening to Mumford and Sons and sipping my Kona coffee, I came across this article in USA about some comments that Bill Maher made about Tim Tebow following their recent loss to Buffalo.
I’ve shared my opinion of Tebow and Maher to others before—and in case anyone’s curious, I don’t deify or demonize either of them. I know this is a bit like comparing apples to Slip n’ Slides, but I’ve found Maher to be both hilarious and needlessly-offensive (I’m not necessarily against someone being offensive if it makes a point)— and I’ve found Tebow to be both annoying and refreshingly sincere. If there is a comparison to be made, they are both in many ways poster children (and caricatures) for the two “sides” of the so-called “culture wars.” But none of this is the point I want to make.
My two main concerns are: a) do I have a right to say the things I just said about Tebow and Maher?…. and b) is a Christian called to “not judge”?
The comments of the above-mentioned article feature a man who says that Maher is “evil, vile, and mean spirited” and defends Tebow…then several people proceed to call the man out as a hypocrite (and many proceed to name-call right back). Such scenes have become about as common on the Internet as Youtube videos of laughing babies and tweets about the newest Apple gadget… and I sure most of you reading this are as tired of them as I am…. but I think a point of clarification needs to be made about what “judgment” is and isn’t.
Really, the metaphor of judgment from a faith perspective has two meanings: Drawing conclusions that lead to making decisions, and declaring someone or something guilty or not guilty. This distinction is CRITICAL… one is about having a critical conscience; the other is about claiming the position reserved only for God. We need to get away from just calling people “good” or “bad” altogether, because this is too vague. We need to distinguish actions and events from what God sees—information that is inaccessible to us.
If we never “judged” (in regards to the first meaning) then Christians would have no right to conclude that any atrocity or act of injustice is wrong. We wouldn’t be able to say much about anything, really. The fact is, making evaluations about events, situations, actions, etc. are necessary components of having a faith that actually claims to make a difference in the world. And I think that that goes all the way down to the level of me not being out of line to make comments about Maher and Tebow, based on what they have said and done in the past, in the public sphere….
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we are not responsible for the statements that we make, and how we make them. If you make incendiary remarks, you’ll have to live with the consequences of them.
But we also often talk as if the “judgment” of God has already happened… and the Scripture makes clear that it HASN’T. We speak of a “final judgment,” or of a declaration of someone as “evil,” as if it is a permanent and absolute state, a foregone conclusion. But no one is “good” or “evil”—at least not perfectly. We are all beautiful and broken, creations of God, constantly permeated and surrounded by selfishness and fear. Our actions, thoughts, etc. can nurture either our beauty or the distortion of it—but neither side ever completely, utterly, disappears without a trace. All a radical bifurcation between “good people” and “evil people” ever does is serve to justify treating so-called “evil people” as less than human, less than a creation of God… which typically serves the interests of those in power, more so than God.
So Christians have a responsibility to “make judgments”… but to do so while taking as much information into account as possible, being aware of their own inherent biases and knowing that the “whole story” is always elusive to us. We can and must make “judgments” based on actions and events, but we cannot presume to know people’s inner state as somehow “good” or “evil,” and we cannot place ourselves on the throne of judgment, which has been reserved for Christ, who had a habit during his earthly ministry of “making judgments” that were precisely the opposite of what people expected.