Judgmentalism

From my 2012 Journal. We tend to focus on different things at different seasons of our lives. For example, when our daughter Cindy took a course in human anatomy for her degree in sculpture, she couldn’t help but notice the shapes of different people’s noses, eyes, and hairlines. As a young mom now, I suspect she’s focusing more on toddler behavior.

Cynthia’s self-bust

I, on the other hand, learned to critique a speaker’s vocal quality and body language for my oral interpretation degree. Perhaps that’s what kicked into high gear last night when I attended an evening church service. I found myself distracted by what I observed on stage. The words to a song splashed onto the screen, the worship leaders stepped up to the front in unison, each dressed to perfection—except that I think one is too perfectI wonder what that rigidity looks like in her daily life? One dresses fashionably, I muse, but the fashion doesn’t suit her. Another is not petite enough. (What?! I just critiqued “the perfect one” as being too petite!) Arrggh! What’s wrong with my mind? I’m noticing the outward appearance, but inwardly, I’m critiquing: too perfect, too immodest, wounded, relaxed, etc.

I’m not God, and I can’t see into another person’s heart, so where do I come off having the right to judge and critique someone else’s inner soul? Yes, the externals give clues to the internals and, because of my counselor’s training, I’m getting better at noticing. But I don’t like the consequences. It’s distracting to my focus on worship. I’m not these people’s judge . . . or have I become one? When did I take on this role, and how do I stop it? It’s one thing to notice; it’s another to critique and then to judge.

So why do I do it? I think to myself, This person needs fixing! Yikes! What an ugly thought! That’s God’s job, not mine.

What if I focused on creativity and beauty instead of flaws? What if I celebrated our differences and our choices instead of our motives? Celebrated the colors on stage. Observed the style of clothing from a designer’s eye, appreciating the variety of shapes and sizes and textures rather than as a critique of a person’s character. I need to separate the physical from the internal.

So when does assessment turn into judgmentalism? Or pride? Or contempt? Or pity? Or concern? Or compassion? Have I created a standard in my mind for right and wrong that is different from God’s standard? God’s measuring stick is absolute (don’t lie, hate, lust, covet). My standard is a moving target based on cultural norms, a person’s age, historical time periods, etc.

And so I begin by stating an observation regarding externals:

  • She’s large-boned / He’s shorter than average
  • She wears high necklines / she has a plunging neckline
  • She has 4 visible tattoos / he has none
  • She wears tight-fitting jeans / he wears saggy pants
  • He has shoulder-length hair / she has short, spiky hair

It becomes an assessment when I draw plausible conclusions based on past experience or training. The assessment is not wrong IF I acknowledge that it is an educated guess:  it could be that . . . I wonder if . . . most people like this are. . . . But concluding (without knowledge) what’s in a person’s heart is presumptuous. For example:

  • She’s too skinny / plump because she’s on weight-gaining drugs, she was abused as a child, she has no self-discipline, she has a food disorder, etc.
  • She shows cleavage because she wants to attract men’s attention, she has a “wardrobe malfunction,” she grew up in an Africa village where it’s culturally acceptable, etc.
  • She has tattoos because she wants to fit in with her peers, because she wants to permanently remember an event, because she’s rebelling against parental restrictions, etc.
  • And so on and so forth.

This exercise of the mind morphs into sinful pride (The Elder Brother syndrome) when I begin to compare myself to another person and indulge in feelings of superiority:  I would never do that. . . I’m better than he/she. How sick is that!

I think about Zacchaeus the tax collector. How would I have judged him I wonder . . . a short, fat, greedy, mean, traitorous man? But Jesus sees into his repentant, hurting heart and begins a love relationship with him.

Visual: I see mobs of people milling around. Some are blind, others are crippled, and many are wearing arms in slings. Others hide behind facial masks, believing they’re safer that way; but their restricted vision prevents them from seeing the truth. They’re all dressed in filthy rags, covering painful sores. A pitiful lot.

And then I watch as a drop of Living Water falls gently onto one person. Like a drop of soap in a dishpan with oil, the ripples spread out and a path of clean is created. And more drops fall, and the people turn their faces skyward. Blinded eyes see, slings fall off, and crippled legs are straightened. But some are frightened by the foreign matter, and they run from the moisture . . . because water and dirt create mud streaks on their face, and they feel self-conscious.

And so I begin to let go of my judgmentalism. I now see their fear instead of their sin; their timidity instead of their stubbornness.

The rain is gentle and soothing and inviting. I allow myself to be bathed in it, cleansed, forgiven. I sense the sweet wooing of the Savior. And now instead of judgment, I feel sorrow for those who struggle, for I am one of them.

Suddenly the focus of my prayers change. I don’t pray for the person to have a change of heart; I pray for God’s mercy to let a drop of His Spirit fall on him/her. I appeal to God to pour out His love and woo the stubborn, judgmental heart—starting with mine.

Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7).

Rule-Keeping 101

Rules

From my 2009 Journal. I’ve been reading Romans 14 and thinking about biblical rules. Old Testament rules included “Don’t murder.” but Jesus said it’s what’s in your heart that is most important. Is “Don’t hate” a New Testament rule? I suppose you could say that, but rules generally govern actions, not attitudes. For example, I may be imprisoned for murder but not for hating someone in my heart. But if you take care of the attitude (hatred) in your heart, you’ll have no temptation to do the action (murder).

In context, Romans 14 seems to be referring to religious activity: observances of meat offered to idols and special observances of days. I have freedom, the Apostle Paul says, to eat meat or not eat meat, to observe a day “unto the Lord” or not. It’s not just the action that pleases God, but the attitude of the heart. Am I doing it out of obedience to my conscience or out of disobedience? Am I doing it with a grateful heart? If I do the religious activity but am not thankful, what good is it? Verse 14 says food offered to idols in and of itself is not unclean. But if in your heart you believe it’s unclean, then to you it is. Don’t do it!

When I see someone’s action, I may or may not know their heart or their motive, but I confess I have been found guilty of unfairly judging them. It’s long past time for me to quit the Old Testament rule-keeping and be grateful for God’s grace and freedom to live according to the only two rules I find in the New Testament: love God and love each other.

Bottom line: examine your own heart, and don’t judge another believer’s religious activities. Can I hear an “amen”?

The Right/Wrong Game

When our girls were little, we used to do a little exercise we called the Right/Wrong Game. For each of the four deeds and motives below, we tried to come up with examples.

  1. Right deed [Give to the poor], wrong motive [makes me look good]
  2. Wrong deed [Steal from the rich], right motive [to give to the poor]
  3. Wrong deed [Steal from the rich], wrong motive [spend on my pleasure]
  4. Right deed [Give to the poor], right motive [meet a need]

I thought of this little game when I read II Chronicles 25:2.

He [Amaziah] did right in the Lord’s sight, but not with a perfect or blameless heart.

I think Amaziah fell into Category #1.  I want to live in Category #4.

Anyone care to share some other examples for this game?