Judging, Part 1 (Scripture)

The following is taken from notes for a talk I gave last week. I've divided into two parts for this blog.

The theme I've taken for today is that of judging, and the right attitude towards falsehood, bad things, etc. As the point of departure I take two seemingly incompatible demands: the first, the prohibition of judging, the other, the requirement to live according to the truth and to help others to life according to the truth.

The tension between these two demands is not a unique case in Christian teaching. There are a number of tensions in the teaching, tensions that cannot be simply overcome by a deeper understanding. They remain, and they should remain; they help us to keep to the correct mean. For example, St. Augustine is alleged to have said, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Act as though everything depended on you.” Whether or not St. Augustine actually said this, similar apparent contradictions can be found in Scripture itself; St. Paul says that Abraham was justified by faith rather than works, “If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God… to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Romans 4:2,5), while St. James says that he was justified by works: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?” (James 2:21) While there is no real contradiction between the two–since everything we do is both from God, and from ourselves—this tension is necessary so that we may neither become negligent, nor try to live rightly on our own without God's grace, which is impossible.

In the case of judging, Christ says “Judge not, that you be not judged.” This saying is found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37). Also in the Gospel of John, Jesus says that he was not sent into the world to judge the world (John 3:17), that he judges no one (John 8:15); even when someone hears his words and does not follow them, he does not judge him (John 12:47). This may be seen as the biblical ground for “tolerance,” and in a certain sense is.

St. Paul lays down a similar rule. Regarding the decision to eat meat or not, he says, “How can you judge the servant of another?” (Romans 14:4). It is the Lord who judges (1 Cor 4:4), not we.

St. James says the same: “He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12) And again, “Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged” (James 5:9).

Is the modern replacement or at least equation of the law of love with the love of tolerance therefore justified? That would be a precipitate claim. There are also many scripture texts which presuppose or require some form of judgment. Immediately before the commandment of love of neighbor in Leviticus is a prohibition of hate: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart”; and immediately following, “but you shall reprove (yakah, which can be translated “judge, rebuke, correct”) your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17).

Jesus says “Matthew 18:15-17 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17). In order to act when “your brother sins,” one must first make a judgment that he does.

And although Jesus gives as advice, “if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” (Matthew 5:39), when before the high priest “one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, 'Is that how you answer the high priest?'” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” (John 18:22-23). It is not, then, a matter of never defending oneself, but of being ready not to defend oneself, to be silent before accusation when that is helpful for charity's sake.

St. Paul, too, is not silent when unjustly struck, but says, “God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” (Acts 23:3) clearly speaking on the basis of the judgment that Ananias is acting unjustly. Again he says, “If a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). “Restoring him” requires first recognizing the trespass.

This tension arises from an important fundamental principle, the inseparability of love and truth. Love and truth must remain linked, for two reasons: first, a person, in contrast to a thing, is distinguished by the ability to attain truth and to act according to it. If love or a loving relationship is to be really personal, it must correspond to the nature and truth of the persons. In his homily for the beatification of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Pope John Paul II paraphrases or cites her: “Accept nothing as truth, if it is without love. And accept nothing as love, if it is without truth. One without the other becomes a destructive lie.” And St. Paul says that love, “Does not rejoice at the wrong, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:6).

The second, and deeper basis for the inseparability of truth and love, is their identity in one person, in Christ. As Christians we believe in a truth which is a person, which is the God who is love itself, and whose love we have the privilege of experience through his giving himself for us.

This necessary connection between love and truth is one of the main criteria by which the Church recognizes whether or not something is from God. St. John says expressly, on the side of truth and acknowledgment, “Every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2), an on the side of love, “Everyone who loves, is from God and knows God” (1 John 4:7) As we heard in the reading for today, when we live in the darkness, i.e., in hate, we do not do the truth, and do not know where we go. When we live in love, we are in the light, i.e., in the truth, and know where we go.

But although love and truth are mutually complementary, and in Christ are identical, they possess different aspects, and it is not always easy to see in concrete cases how they are to be united. Hence arises the tension that we saw in the simultaneous prohibition of judging and the requirement of “correcting”

To be continued…

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