I'm coming the terms with the fact that I can be a bit judgemental. I guess it comes with the turf of being a vegan, and the turf of being a Christian—you know, being a person with a strong, concrete, idea of right and wrong.
It's something I'm working on as I'm confronted everywhere by the big story of our culture: what you believe on a moral or spiritual level has no implications for anyone else's choices.
While blind obedience to that cultural assumption could end very, very badly, most people don't go all out. In New Zealand we like to be moderate.
Most people hate the sting of being told what they think ace is actually evil. Or, more to the heart—that they're not God. Telling people all the ways that they are not God is not exactly going to be a hit on the social scene. As my school age self's catchphrase went: “that's not very nice.”
There's something true about the sentiment though, right? “Do not judge” may well be the verse that holds the Bible together for most Kiwis, not a balanced approach to Jesus' teachings. But Jesus still said it, and it is still true.
Why shouldn't we judge others? Funnily enough, it's quite possibly because while others aren't God, we also happen to not be God. In our right recognition of evil, we too often go beyond righteous anger to sinful wrath.
But where does that leave us? In the same boat as everyone else.
Vegans and Christians may well be famous for being judgemental, but it's something that everyone does. At the work place, as your colleagues discuss another work mate's actions over sandwiches. At the mall, where someone from another suburb turns their nose up at you after just a look, at the café, where you tell someone that they're on the wrong spiritual path and they judge you for judging them.
Unfortunately, I think it's a human thing.
But let's check our definitions because this can get a bit muddy.
Hitting the books
We hear about judging others a lot. A lot of the time, I'm not sure we mean the same thing as Jesus did when he told his disciples not to judge others in Matthew chapter 7. Let's double check what we mean against the Bible. What we usually refer to when we call someone judgemental is that they said someone did something or believes something that is morally wrong.
Is that what Jesus was thinking of when he gave us this nationally beloved advice?
Jeremiah was a prophet in Jerusalem in the days just before and during the Babylonian conquest of the kingdom of Judah. He did a lot of telling people that what they were doing was wrong. He repeatedly faced backlash over his messages, from God, that God would bring judgement on His people in the form of the Babylonian conquest.
In that situation, while Jeremiah repeatedly told people that what they were doing was wrong, he told them God, not himself, would be their judge. That God would let many of them be killed by the Babylonian soldiers. And he said if they changed their ways, God would show them mercy.
What about in the last judgement? Jesus speaks about it, and it's pictured in the book of Revelation (which can be pretty tricky to understand): the last day, where all people will be resurrected to eternal life or to face God's wrath. That's a big moment in the Bible.
But what's the last judgement all about? It is God bringing final justice, where all people get what they justly deserve, both good and bad. This consists of a verdict followed by reward or punishment.
Serious stuff but not all bad
Judgement involves serious consequences. Think courtroom. Think Green Mile, community-stoning stuff. Think Pharoah's army in the Red sea. Think death. Paul sheds some useful light on Jesus' teaching when he quotes Deuteronomy chapter 32 as he writes Romans chapter 12: “It is mine to avenge, I will repay, says the Lord.”
We may feel conflicted about God taking peoples' lives. In feudal society they would’ve been seriously uneasy when told we shouldn't kill people in vengeance, but it's worth noting that God gives us our lives in the first place, along with everything we have.
It's also worth noting that God offers a much, much better life in a perfect world to all those who would abandon sin. When God judges you righteous, it's something to celebrate big time.
So why don't we all just stop sinning and escape judgement, and sink our teeth into creation as God intended it? Because we're naturally addicted to sin. Like a meth baby. We crave it, we love it, and it kills us. But God, in His mercy, has taken the punishment on Himself so we can be free from sin and death.
We don't know everything. We have biases and can misunderstand God's word. Thank God that He, not us, will bring justice. Let's keep warning people, and letting them know about God's offer of mercy through the cross of Christ.
It's an offensive message but it's true.
Matthew Joils is Christchurch based artist. He is passionate about mission and sustainability.
Matthew Joils’ previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/matthew-joils.html