Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rushed Judgment

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in the darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

                        1 Corinthians 4.5

Opinion Overload

Here’s a question for those who watch the news regularly: Where is it? All I find are ‘round-the-clock interpretations of the news, which is problematic because I haven’t time or patience to sift the facts out of rambling conversation. (Since I don’t speak pidgin English, I can’t decipher the headline crawlers, either.) What few details I snatch appear to be news about news. The guy on this network says something about what that network’s “media consultant” says about the radio guy spewing venom to stay in the news. Since none of this concerns me—and I think it rude when grown-ups drag personal differences into public—I try another network. There, all I hear is what could happen as a result of something that’s supposed to happen. Am I alone in finding it bizarre that most news is now wild speculation about what is or will be news?

We’re collapsing beneath opinion overload. Before news becomes newsworthy, pundits and scribes rush to judgment, clogging the channels with preemptive strikes. When we finally get a sense of what’s going on, we’ve already been told what to think. We might dismiss this as journalistic decay but for one thing. Being inundated with half-baked opinions has created cracks in the culture and this spirit of rushed judgment is seeping into daily life. We’ve become people who first make up our minds and then shape our reality to fit our judgment. It’s a dangerous business—not only for its sociopolitical impact, but also because it’s ruining our personal and spiritual lives.

Believer-on-Believer Judgment

The politicization of faith has blurred the boundaries of church and state to the point they don’t exist. Issues believers would—and should—regard as moral imperatives are now “agendas.” On the other side of the coin, civic duty to protect equality and freedom has now morphed into defending “values.” The divisive spirit ripping our country in two now dwells unabashedly in the halls of faith, tearing the Body of Christ to shreds. Believers are rushing to judgment about other believers, condemning one another’s faith because their politics don’t mesh. This must stop.

Judgment has no place in God’s kingdom. Jesus explicitly warns us about this in Matthew 7.1-2: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Do we get this? Judging condescends. When I judge you, I place my standards and ideals above yours. In doing that, I set myself up, because sooner or later I’ll also fail by my own standards. I’ll ask your forgiveness, but my past will haunt me. I’ll be judged and scorned.

Believer-on-believer judgment creates inequities that divide. Paul’s treatise on the Body of Christ explains why judgment is antithetical to Christian unity: “God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” (1 Corinthians 12.24-25) The condescension expressed by rushing to judge others actually confirms their value. God gives them greater honor to ensure their equality. He judges them worthy. Our opinions have no merit. Shall we challenge God’s judgment? Well, we do. When we label another believer unchristian or unworthy, we brazenly dispute God’s opinion of him/her. Every letter in His Word may confirm he/she is wrong. Every action and attitude may contradict Christ’s teaching. But knowing this doesn’t license us to judge. Instead it compels us to care and pray for those in error. That’s rushed judgment’s greatest harm. In our haste to do God’s job, our duty to love and uphold weaker brothers and sisters goes untended.

Judge Nothing

“Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes,” we’re advised in 1 Corinthians 4.5. And when Paul says “nothing,” he means nothing. In verse 3 he writes, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.” I love the maxim “What you think of me is none of my business.” If I’m reading Paul correctly here, though, we can expand it to include “What I think of me is none of my business; what I think of you is none of your business.” It’s God’s business. Verse 4 tells us we haven’t the wherewithal to judge anyone, not even ourselves. “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent,” Paul says. “It is the Lord who judges me.”

Rather than rush to judge anything, we withhold judgment about everything, deferring to God’s final, fair decision. Continuing in verse 5, we read, “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” Only God knows the whole story. He alone can ascertain what drives us to think and behave as we do. According to 1 Samuel 16.7, “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Our hearts make the difference. What others judge wrong in us may stand righteous before God because our botched behavior springs from pure motives. What we judge wrong in others may stand righteous before God as well. Not knowing what He knows, we can’t say what He’ll say. Beyond the impudence rushed judgment displays, we should avoid it because it’s like making news of the news and forming opinions before the fact—a silly waste of time.

The current trend for rushed judgment has entered the halls of faith and it’s tearing the Body of Christ to shreds.

(Tomorrow: Everything We Need)

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