Saturday, February 4, 2017

Isn't God judgmental?

One of the most frequently heard criticisms of religion, particularly Christianity, is that one should not judge another’s beliefs or religious activities.  To inform someone their behavior is wrong and sinful in God’s sight is perceived as inappropriate and judgmental.  In today’s society, one of the greatest sins one could commit is intolerance of another’s beliefs or actions.  Next to John 3:16, perhaps the most often quoted verse found in the Bible is Matthew 7:1, wherein Jesus instructs His followers, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”  If the God described in the Bible is judgmental, then some say He is not worthy of respect.  Is God judgmental and, if so, is that wrong? 

What does the Bible say?
The Bible contains numerous references to God as Judge.  The word “judge” appears 191 times in the KJV of the Bible.  God is described as a righteous judge (Psalm 7:11 and others).  A Hebrew verb frequently translated “to judge” in the Old Testament is šāpat (Strong’s, 8199).  In many contexts this word is used in a judicial sense, such as a third party deciding a case between two other parties who disagree.[1]  For example, when Sarai requested Abram to judge between her and Hagar regarding the child born to Abram and Hagar, Sarai said, “the Lord judge (šāpat) between you and me” (Genesis 16:5).  This word for judge can also be used to describe a process whereby order and law are maintained, such as when Deborah “was judging Israel at that time” (Judges 4:4).  Another Hebrew word used frequently in the Old Testament is din, which has essentially the same meaning as the English word.  There are several Greek words translated in the New Testament “judge” as nouns (kritēs and dikastēs) and verbs (krinō, anakrinō, and diakrinō).  Without going into great detail, these have very similar meanings to the English word.  Diakrinō (Strong’s 1252) denotes “to separate throughout, discriminate, discern, to decide, to judge).[2]  The Apostle Paul uses this word in 1 Corinthians 6:5, where he asks, “Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren”.  This is an act that Christians are expected to perform in handling matters between fellow believers.

God is just (Job 5:1) and righteous (Daniel 9:14) in His judgments.  He is perfectly holy (1 Peter 1:16), knows all things (1 John 3:20), which no person can claim.  So, God is clearly in a position to be a trustworthy judge.  If He seems to be judgmental, He has the right to be.  The real issue with those who claim God is judgmental or that Christianity is intolerant is that they know some of their behavior is not acceptable by God.  Seeking to justify one’s own behavior, we lash out at the authority figure.  Jesus said the world “hates me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.” (John 7:7)     

Did Jesus judge?
In John 8:1-11 is found the account of a woman caught in adultery who was brought to Jesus.  He said to the people, “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.”  When everyone left, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either."  Jesus forgave her and some would say He did not judge her.  However, the next statement He makes to the woman is, “"Go now and leave your life of sin."  Jesus makes it clear to the woman that, after escaping judgment, her next step was to leave the sin that had originally placed her under condemnation.  Jesus Christ has already come to save the world and, one day, will judge the world (Revelation 19:11).   

Is it wrong to judge others?
Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 7:2, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”  Does this mean that Christians should not tell others they are wrong?  The point Jesus is making in these verses is that we need to first look at ourselves – the plank in our own eye – before pointing out the speck in another’s eye.  Believers are instructed to first judge ourselves, as the Apostle Paul instructs, “if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.” (1 Corinthians 11:31)  In 1 Corinthians 6:2, the Bible states, “the saints will judge the world” and in verse 3, “we will judge angels.”  If no one is permitted to judge another, where is it appropriate to draw the line?  If someone is committing a robbery, murder, or abducting a child, would it be inappropriate to pass judgment on this person?  So, all people make decisions about their own behavior and the behavior of others.  Christians are also expected to separate appropriate from inappropriate behavior, however we should begin with ourselves and all judgments of others should be done with love as the motivation.  Paul advised Timothy to “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2)  If believers judged others with patience and love, it would likely be much more palatable for those receiving the correction.

We make judgments every day.  We judge whether people are being honest, such as salesmen, politicians, and witnesses in trials.  We judge whether it is safe to make a purchase on the internet and if our romantic partner is Mr. or Mrs. Right.  We would not survive in life without making judgments.  The person criticizing God or Christians for being judgmental is making a judgment himself.  What gives any of us the right to stand in judgment of God?  The Lord could say the same to us that he did to Job when He asked, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  "Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct me!  "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:2-4).  It is advisable to carefully consider one’s decision to criticize and judge God.      

(Biblical quotations are from the NASB version.)

[1] Vine, W.E., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary (Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), 125.
[2] Ibid., 337.

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