The Truth About Judgment

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“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matthew 7:1-2).

Much has been written about judgment, usually casting it in the unfavorable light of a practice we should avoid. Passing judgment on another, we’re told, is a sure way to reap unwanted consequences. But what if we understand that the motive and actions of another are selfish, disruptive, even potentially harmful to ourselves and others? Do we never say no, but stand in harm’s way, and deal with the fallout as if it’s only our soul’s lesson to learn? Does learning to hold our peace while getting trampled earn us points in heaven?

I have devised a question that may help sort through this very common type of situation: Am I protecting a weakness, or am I advancing a strength? Am I afraid to do what I know is right, or can I do what is right and own the consequences?

While we may think of the ministry of Jesus as a great gift to the world, we should also remember that there were many people who did not want him to continue. Had he capitulated to their short-sighted concerns, he would have been protecting a weakness. His fear would have robbed the world of the gifts he brought. As it happened, he stood his spiritual ground and gave from his greatest place of strength.

Are we to suppose that Jesus advocated neutralizing our faculty of judgment, or was he simply calling attention to the fact that we’re actually judged by our own motive? If we are protecting a weakness, we will perpetuate weakness. If we are advancing from a position of strength, we will contribute to stronger, healthier conditions.

Whatever conclusions we draw from this will set the tone for our experience in life. Judgment is one of our executive faculties and should not be denied. Being clear about the motive from which we exercise this faculty will go a long way toward resolving any confusion about it.

Rising Above the Fog of Uncertainty

Not long ago I was talking with a person who was at a crossroad in their life and that the spiritual principles that had worked in the past were having no impact. “I’m looking for guidance,” this person said, “but all I see is fog.” Because I too have stood at a similar crossroad and stared into that same bank of fog, I shared a truth that I came to know: It is often when your world is shrouded in fog that you gain your clearest vision.

In thinking of spiritual principles, our tendency is to see them as tools that will help lift the fog. Our fulfillment is somewhere out there in the distance but we are unable to see it. We cannot see it because some distracting condition has occurred. So we reach into our spiritual bag of tricks—positive attitude, denials, affirmations, forgiveness, tithing, random acts of kindness—and we make a renewed effort to apply one or all of these until the fog of uncertainty lifts.

The problem with this approach is that it does nothing to either lift the fog or to advance our spiritual understanding. Whether or not you do anything about it, fog, in its many forms, comes and goes. Things go well for a time, then they seem to fall apart. The deeper spiritual issue has less to do with the fog and more to do with understanding the one who is peering into it.

The self-image that we drop into the world every day is full of specific dreams and desires meant to enhance and protect its stature and increase its peace of mind. The soul, however, is not tied to the needs of the self-image. To the contrary, the soul issues a perpetual reminder that we are much more than we think.

The self-image is like a glass jar into which we have tried to stuff the soul and then live a free life. What many are calling spiritual development and self-improvement is nothing more than a scramble for a bigger jar. Our spiritual arsenal is a bag of tricks intended to protect and bring stability to this inherently fragile structure. Rather than understand the vulnerability of the jar, our mission becomes one of protecting it from the possibility of breakage. Thus, our aversion to fog.

What if we understood that the fog is not a thing out there, but a film on our glass jar? What if we realized, as Paul suggested, that we are merely seeing through a glass darkly? Would we not stop battling the fog and turn our attention instead to climbing out of the jar? Buddhism attributes the cause of suffering to the act of clinging. In our analogy, this implies something much more than the tendency to cling to the needs of the jar. We are to examine our need to cling to the jar itself.

Can you, for a moment, imagine shedding the image of the person you think you are, to rise from the confines of your jar and simply let yourself be? In the few moment it takes to accomplish this, you see you are not the least bit threatened by those glass-breaking people and things you encounter in your life. The stones they cast pass right through you. You no longer have to wait for the vision-impairing fog to lift. You yourself rise above it. And it’s not because you have suddenly become something more than you were moments ago. You are simply experiencing the truth of who you are and who you have always been.

The Truth About Grace

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To assist in sorting through those elements of our religious training that may or may not be true, it’s helpful to start with a baseline concerning the nature of God. For example, can our thoughts and actions influence the way God behaves? If we do our best to walk the straight and narrow, will God grant us special blessings?

I recently spoke with a woman whose husband finally got a good-paying job. She said, “I think God has seen how we’ve struggled, that we really try to be good people and do the right thing. This really feels like a God thing.”

This seems perfectly logical, and a lot of people endorse the idea. But then a Jesus comes along and says something like this: “… for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Is he saying God is as willing to help the evil and the unjust as the good and the just? Or is he simply saying, God is changeless?

The notion of grace, in its highest form, is really an acknowledgement of the changeless nature of God. Unfortunately, the general understanding of grace, at least in Christian thinking, is that it is a free and unmerited favor of God. We don’t deserve it, but God loves us and will do the occasional favor for us anyway.

In truth, grace is simply God being God. Whether we live with our mind and heart open to the presence of God has no more bearing on God’s behavior than it would on bringing sunshine or rain.

If you have a situation in your life that needs a resolution, try dropping all thought around the idea that God is trying to teach you something, or that you probably deserve this problem but you would like God’s help anyway. Focus instead on the truth that God is changeless love and light, and that God is now working through you in the most marvelous way to resolve your situation.  Affirm the following:

By grace I am lifted above all fear, all struggle, all doubt that God’s greatest good is now unfolding through me. Thank you God, that this is true!