Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thinking about Discernment and Judgment

I'm very aware of the tension between discerning the truth and judging others that makes many, if not most, people uncomfortable. So-called fundamentalist and evangelical Christians are frequently perceived as being "too quick to judge" others, or even one another. Main-line denominations may have more problems with erring on the other side of the issue - failing to speak truth or use the Word, at all, for fear of being perceived as "not nice", "not friendly", "unloving", or "judging" others. I know leaders in a main-line denomination who don't want others to tell Scriptural truth, who don't want to hear truth, and who fail to speak truth, at all, because they perceive truth-telling as judgmental.

I'm going to toss a thought into the ring that occurred while I was mulling over this during my times with the Lord the last couple of days. I believe the above dilemma involves a grave misunderstanding - on both sides - of "judging" and "judgment."

Discernment: Christians need to speak the truth according to the Word, and Christians need to discern the "signs of the times", the presence of ungodly or counter-biblical practices in ourselves and one another, because to fail to speak truth is to fail to love others as God loves us. God, God's Son, Jesus, and God's servants (prophets and apostles) always called a spade, "a spade"!

Judgment: Let me suggest this idea that has held up so far in my studies (James 4, Matthew 7 and my understanding of the Hebrew, mishpat). Judgment is the decision of the Judge to render consequences to the guilty. Judging involves acting on the awareness of guilt, or the perception of guilt according to some legal standard. That legal standard may/may not be God's standard, in real life, because we frequently get our own personal laws mixed in with God's.

Pro-Discernment: Christian discernment is normed by Scripture. Christians must discern truth from lie, reconciliation from cessation of warfare, repentance from highly glossed words and pretense, the faithful follower from the facade of the religious. No Christian can succeed at godly discernment where they have failed to come under God's own discerning eye, repented, received the pain of consequences, and picked up his/her own cross to follow Jesus. (Being human, it's easy to believe our own self-deception that we don't have to do the hard and humbling stuff ourselves in order to be able to see clearly what's happening with others -- cf. Matt.7:4-5.)

Anti-Human-Judgment: Where Jesus, Paul and James, as well as the OT prophets, drew the line, is against the times when we decide to impose consequences on the other. We're not the Judge, James said, so we should not "speak evil against" or "slander" one another. Speaking evil against, or slandering one another is an act of human judgment; we're deciding what consequences to impose for whatever the offense was and we're carrying it out. We judge others when we impose the penalty on them, and in so doing, distrust that God will be the One Judge. Separation from one another, divorce and alienation are also signs of judgment. This judgment, then, is an act of faithlessness.

Discerning truth from lie and speaking truth, on the other hand, is essential to being a faithful Christian, and needs always to stem from a humble heart that serves God and others. Anger isn't antithetical to humility, by the way, because Jesus, the apostles and prophets surely were angry at those who abused the powerless and poor! However, anger is not justification for slandering or demeaning the other created in God's image.

Truth hurts -- the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God will always cut us. Our faith may be first evidenced in standing still under God's sword, facing the ugliness of who we are - broken and ugly in sin without Godself, and trusting that the pain we feel is only God's faithfulness in dividing death from new life. Thanks be to God whose Son Jesus gives us the assurance that we may know new life because of his sacrifice and resurrection!

We should be seeking faithful brothers and sisters in Christ who won't fail to tell us the truth while always standing under the truth of the Word with us. In other words, truth-tellers don't abandon others, don't slander others, do give grace and forgiveness, but may face being abandoned themselves, being slandered, being unforgiven, and harmed by those unwilling to face the truth with us. None of the latter should prevent us from loving them enough to speak truth and offer grace -- we are the Body of Christ!

  1. in response to Larry Kamphausen's comment: Larry made a comment about the discernment/judgment blog I wrote that adds "time" as an element. I agree with him, particularly because we're naturally so impatient with one another. Thank you, Larry, for pointing this out! If we consider that the metaphor of fruit is frequently used in the discernment process of godly and ungodly paths both by Jesus (Luke 6) and Paul, it reminds us that our posture of love-which-is-patient-and-kind allows the evidence to mature and waits for the "kairos"/season to speak. Remembering that our attitude and posture of humble servants to God and to others is essential to keeping us Christ-centered.

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to mull over this awhile. But I find your careful parsing helpful.
    Your observation about mainline/liberal vs. evangelical/fundamentalist Christians seems to be true in my experience as well.
    Though speaking truth is tricky, and doing so in love can be trickier still. As you say discernment is key, but I wonder if there are situations where at least for a time discernment is impossible, and so then is speaking the truth.
    Well I could probably say more but I think I need to read your post again and let it sit with me a little while longer.