To Judge or Not to Judge….That is the Question

The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently enjoying (“The Humor of Christ”):

“One of the saddest of our failures to see Christ’s humorous intent, and thus to sharpen our perception of the teaching, is found in our confusion about judgement.  When, in a contemporary church, the members decide to try to practice the reality of membership [church discipline], there are always some who profess to be shocked.  Who are we, they ask with mock humility, to exclude anybody?  They conveniently ignore Christ’s own practice which, by erecting a costly standard, produced self-exclusion (Luke 9:57-62).  They neglect the fact He warned, and did not beg anyone to enter the Cause, always pointing out that the price was high, the way narrow, and the recruits consequently few.  We have already seen how violent was Christ’s judgement of the Pharisees.  He did not exclude them, but allowed them to exclude themselves. It is inconceivable that He would approve of accepting into membership those who are seeking chiefly social standing or respectability, and whose contribution in prayer or money or witness is intentionally nominal or trivial.  Neglecting this entire side of Christ’s message, the critics of a tough standard of entrance into membership fall back either on the strategy of literalism and say that either they nor anyone else can rightly make a judgement in such matters because Christ said “Judge not” (Matt 7:1 and Luke 6:37).  The notion that there is subtle humor in Christ’s dictum is seldom even examined.  But let us see.

It is obvious that men must judge!  If we give up judgement we give up almost everything which dignifies human life.  We are judging, and rightly so, between different men and different platforms, every time we cast a vote.  We judge colleges when we help our children to decide where to enroll. To say that one is as good as another would contribute to the complete undermining of the effort to achieve academic excellence.  In art, if we do not judge between authentic and the forged, the artistic effort is destroyed.   And it is men who must do the judging, for there is no one else available.  To say that one church is as good as another would be to harm rather than to help the entire Christian movement. After all, some churches are financial rackets with all the assets vested in the name of the pastors.  Some mean business and some do not.  It is patently absurd to say that there should be no standard by which the qualifications of membership should be judged, because the acceptance of such a practice would mean the complete devaluation of membership.  There is no cutting edge that is not narrow.  Judgement may be mistaken or imperfect, but the only alternative to it, viz., the refusal to judge at all, is manifestly worse.

What then can Christ have meant?  He is reported to have said, “Judge not, that you may not be judged.  For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged.” (Matt  7:1, 2).  Here the irony is particularly sharp.  “You want to avoid judgement do you?” He can be understood as saying, “Then be sure at least to have the consistency to avoid it yourself.”  It is of the essence of judgement that it is always two-edged.  People will apply to you the standard which you apply to others, and so, indeed, they ought to do.  “Do you criticize others for advertising their benevolences?  Then you had better,” says Christ, “examine your own practice, since an ethically honest man will never make an exception of himself.  It is intrinsic to any moral order that every judgement is a self-judgement.”

If this paraphrase is at all correct, we have here one of the most vivid examples of that kind of irony in which the intended implication is the exact opposite of the literal sense.  What we have, in reality, is not the categorical command never to render judgement, a command which, if obeyed, would destroy all that is best in human life.  What we have, instead, is the warning that if you want to avoid judgement on yourself, you will have to do the impossible, i.e., refuse to engage in any judgement at all.  It is here that we find Christ’s humor at its subtlest and deepest.  It is not surprising that it sometimes escapes the insensitive.”

 “The Humor of Christ: A significant but often unrecognised aspect of Christ’s teaching” by Elton Trueblood, Harper & Row, 1964, pg60-62 (Red emphases mine)


1 Comment

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One response to “To Judge or Not to Judge….That is the Question

  1. Over at Tim Challies blog, a guest blogger, Stephen McGarvey, tackles a similar subject to the above – using discernment in real life. Stephen is editorial director of Salem Web Network.

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