Satan is one sly devil. If the war against Satan were football, I’d say he scored this touchdown with some “trickeration” which left the defense unsure what happened until they saw the replay on the big screen. This is akin to stuffing the football up the back of the center’s shirt, or pulling off a flawless Statue of Liberty, fumblerooskie, or halfback pass play.
What are we talking about? Judging others. These days there is a lot of hype about how “non-judgmental” people should be. Any action which offends another is assumed to have judgment as its root cause. All opinions are nefarious. Opposing viewpoints, even if respectfully expressed, are taboo. If one thinks the action of another is wrong, then they are “judging” them, and so the sin is on the one who had an opinion.
Didn’t Jesus Christ say the same thing? “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
Yep, there it is in plain English. We are not to make any judgments, whatsoever. Let’s put a pin in that thought – I will follow up on it at the end of the article.
Think about the power we have over Satan. Because we have agency, we can decide right from wrong. In fact, one of the main purposes in coming to this earth is because we need to learn discernment and exercise our agency correctly, learning as we progress.
What, then, would be something Satan would love to see? He would love to see us decline to use our agency. What would motivate us to do such a stupid thing? Well, guilt seems to work.
So how did Satan do it? I don’t know. What did he do? He has somehow made it so that the world considers it a sin to judge.
Let’s be clear what I mean by “judge” in this context. I’m talking about the denotation, not the connotation. There is a significant distinction between the two. By denotation, the word means to “form an opinion or conclusion about” something. By connotation, society has transmogrified it to mean “form an opinion about another’s worth as a human being based on their decisions or some aspect of their person.”
Let’s look at some examples. If I were out walking around town late one evening and saw a group of people approaching who had similar colored bandanas on and hoodies, I might prudently choose to cross the street or enter a store before I came close to them. Have I judged? Well, yes and no. I have formed an opinion that the situation presents some red flags which could indicate increased danger and that avoiding it would eliminate or mitigate that risk. Have I judged the people and their innate good or bad natures? Not really. I haven’t met them or spoken with them, and haven’t seen them do anything wrong. They could be Civitan members coming from reading to children at the library story time for all I know. They could be thugs who would mug me. The fact is, I don’t know. But I have judged.
What if my teenaged daughter were on a date, and her date suggested they drive alone up to a place where they can park and enjoy a beautiful overlook of the city, and look at the stars? She might prudently decline, fearing that he just wants to make out with her, and she does not want to do so. Has she judged? Yes and no. She has made a decision that the type of setting suggested coupled with their being on a date could easily be an invitation to make out, or even a sort of indirect or code invitation to do so. Is she right about his intentions? Might she be worried about keeping her own boundaries with him in such a situation? Is she wrong, and maybe he is an amateur astronomer who would simply show her constellations with innocent intentions? She doesn’t know for sure, but she feels that declining the invitation would ensure that the risk is averted. Has she decided he is a hormone-crazed guy who will never amount to anything in his life? Of course not.
We are commanded to judge. “And go ye out from among the wicked. Save yourselves. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” Doc & Cov 38:42.
Boyd K. Packer shared his thoughts on a time when he made a judgment but later changed his mind. He shared, “When I was a student, nothing tried my faith more than the falling away of the Three Witnesses. If ever there was a temptation, for the sake of appearances, for the Church to compromise Church principles, that was the time. It was not done; and therefore, what had shaken my faith, one day was transformed into an anchor to hold it steady.”
The Three Witnesses all underwent personal crises of faith. We know that they suffered greatly in spirit because of their choice to question or leave the Church. Still, they stayed true to their testimonies, and when they sought forgiveness, Joseph Smith was the first to welcome them back and forgive them. After all, Mormons are Christians, and so we do our best to judge right and wrong without passing judgment on an individual based on their actions. Joseph did not judge them personally, but he certainly judged their actions. By recognizing that the Church could not compromise its standards even for someone who gave so much for it, young Boyd Packer began to understand that it is God’s job to judge our souls, but it is our job to learn to judge between right and wrong decisions for ourselves.
I often hear a scripture shared in a context which I think misrepresents it. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” 1 Thess. 5:22.
So does this mean I should try to avoid being found in situations where I am acting innocently, but where others might think I was doing wrong? No. Look at footnote b. The Greek word used there was “kinds” of evil, not the outward appearance of evil. In fact, this scripture is telling us that we have to judge every single day what is right and what is wrong. We have to decide what is evil so that we can avoid it.
But wait – didn’t we learn that Christ commanded us not to judge? Let’s go back to that first verse of Matthew chapter 7. If you look at the footnote, you see that Joseph Smith’s translation corrects this mistranslation from the King James writers. It should read, “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.”
Jesus Himself practiced this skill every day, just as we do. Take the story of the woman caught in adultery. Here, certainly, was an easy judgment to make. There was a woman, who was taken in the very act of adultery by witnesses, and she is brought before Jesus Christ, who is a perfect judge himself. Does he judge her as a person? Or does he judge her action? His response is perfect, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” John 8:1. While certainly qualified and entitled to judge her, He instead chose to identify her action as a sin, but not to condemn her personally. He knew that her time on earth was not finished, and had faith that she could change her life. He judged the action without judging the person.
So yes, I am teaching my children EVERY SINGLE DAY that they need to be judgmental. I teach them to judge the choices others make so that they can learn for themselves what is right and wrong. I also, however, teach them not to judge others, deciding whether the person is evil or good. That, thankfully, is a decision God will make. Since He is a perfectly just God, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In my judgment, anyway.
Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer’s talk from April 2010, “Developing Good Judgment and Not Judging Others”