The lesson of not judging others is an incredibly difficult one to learn. It is human to struggle with being critical about others or to look down on those we deem to be spiritually or morally inferior. Unfortunately, it is impossible to fully love God and experience spiritual freedom if we do not love others, including our enemies, without any kind of judgment.
A lack of judgment, on the other hand, is not the same as discernment, which is a spiritual gift. For example, discernment might lead me to stop associating with someone who causes me to fall into some type of sin, either because of that person’s sinful habits or my own sinful inclinations. In not associating with that person, I do not condemn them, but rather I know it is not beneficial for me be with them.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:16 that we should “be wise as serpents (use discernment) and as innocent as doves (don’t judge or condemn people when we happen to notice their faults)”. An excellent start toward living into that is to prioritize not judging others. Using discernment will help us to realize our own sinfulness, which, in turn, will deepen our purity of heart. Being aware of our own sinfulness should help lead us to genuine repentance.
Interestingly, the New Testament Daily Office reading for Saturday was from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians and spoke on this very thing. In Chapter 4 it reads: 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.
This week in A Spring in the Desert, we write about “Forgiveness” and “Judgement”. Below, you will find some quotes from the Desert Fathers that address these subjects:
ISAAC THE THEBAN
One day Abba Isaac went to a monastery. He saw a brother committing a sin and he condemned him. When he returned to the desert, an angel of the Lord came and stood in front of the door of his cell, and said, ‘I will not let you enter.’
But Isaac persisted saying, ‘What is the matter?’
The angel replied, ‘God has sent me to ask you where you want to throw the guilty brother whom you have condemned.’
Immediately Isaac repented and said, ‘I have sinned, forgive me.’
Then the angel said, ‘Get up, God has forgiven you. But from now on, be careful not to judge someone before God has done so.’
THEOPHILUS THE ARCHBISHOP
Theophilus was asked, ‘Father, in this way of life which you follow, what do you find to be best?’
Theophilus replied, ‘The act of accusing myself, and of constantly reproaching myself to myself…There is no other way but this.’
MOSES THE BLACK
If we are on the watch to see our own faults, we shall not see those of our neighbor…To die to one’s neighbor is this: To bear your own faults and not to pay attention to anyone else wondering whether they are good or bad. Do no harm to anyone, do not think anything bad in your heart towards anyone, do not scorn the man who does evil…Do not rail against anyone, but rather say, ‘God knows each one.’ Do not agree with him who slanders, do not rejoice at his slander, and do not hate him who slanders his neighbor.
A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night and yet he is truly silent; that is, he says nothing that is not profitable.