I have a friend who was deeply hurt by another friend. Friend #1, whom I'll call Taryn, believes that friend #2, whom I'll call Savannah, manipulated and tried to control her. As someone who loves both of these women, it has been an interesting case study for me in judgment and forgiveness.
Savannah, quite likely *did* say and do a lot of what Taryn accuses her of. I was not present when the original conversation happened, so I can only go off of what I have walked each of these women through. Of course, if what happened is true, it was not a right thing for Savannah to do. Savannah, however, is very repentant and sorry for what happened and has expressed her remorse and penitence towards Taryn . This, I do know to be true, as I have walked with her through a lot of the mess from this incident. Savannah seems to be truly sorry for what happened.
Taryn, however, will hear nothing of it. On the surface she has accepted Savannah's apology and says she has forgiven Savannah. However, in walking *her* through what has happened, she still wants nothing to do with Savannah and has even taken it a step further and does not believe that Savannah is truly repentant, believes what happened was done purposefully and maliciously, and also believes that Savannah was never really her friend to begin with. All of their previous interactions, which up until this point had been fine, are now seen through the lens of betrayal and mistrust. If what Savannah did was wrong initially, what Taryn is now doing is wrong as well.
Sigh. Sometimes being in the middle can be the hardest thing. It has also gotten me thinking about both judging and forgiveness.
Judging, in its simplest terms, is nothing more complicated than determining whether something or someone is right or wrong. The dictionary defines it as: "to discern, to distinguish, to form an opinion, to compare facts or ideas, and perceive their agreement or disagreement, and thus to distinguish truth from falsehood." Therefore, when you say that your neighbor is a "good person," you are passing a judgment (forming an opinion) just as much as when you say that the thief is a "bad person." Judging is actually a very different thing from condemning someone for a behavior (John 8).
When the Bible talks about judging in Matt. 7, there is no verse saying that we shouldn't perform the act of judging whether someone's actions are right or wrong, though many people mis-quote or take verses out of context in this way. In fact later on in Matthew 18 and 1 Cor. 5 there are explicit instructions given for what to do WHEN a brother is found in error. What the Bible does say is that WE are not the ones who determine the standards used to judge people when we judge their actions. Our standard for determining right or wrong actions is the Word of God alone (John 7:24 and others). (As a side note: we should not be surprised when those outside the church do not agree with those standards and behave accordingly. Their fate is NOT ours to determine.)
I have found that most of the time those who say "Don't judge" are really saying that they want to continue doing what they are doing without any consequences or negative effects. (Though ironically *they* are judging *me* for saying what they're doing might be wrong. If they truly believed we shouldn't judge, it shouldn't matter to them whether I agree with what they're doing or not.)
The Bible also says that deciding someone's ultimate correction or punishment for any incorrect actions is for the Lord alone for those outside the church, and even to a degree for those inside the church. Basically we can judge an action as right or wrong, based on Biblical standards, but correction is limited only to those who are within the church. Final punishment for a behavior is ALWAYS God's decision. It is His choice alone to condmen or to save. There is a vast difference between saying something is wrong and telling someone they're a horrible awful person who is going to hell for what they are doing.
Even bringing a correction for those within the church can only happen when we accurately judge whether someone's actions are right or wrong. The only way we'll be able to objectively see this is by first examining our own lives and turning away from our own actions of sin in that area. I must first carefully consider my own life and be repentant of that area in my life before I can help someone else see it in their own life. If I believe lying is OK, I'll probably never tell someone else it's wrong. I certainly won't have the authority to help them walk away from it if the same thing is happening in my own life. The Bible also clearly lays out guidlines for dealing with someone who is caught in sin within the church. When done right, which it rarely is in my opinion, this can be a marvelous thing.
Judging Savannah's actions as right or wrong is not the issue I have with my friend Taryn. If we didn't determine whether something was right or wrong we'd have no prison system, we'd have nothing to teach our children, nor would we discipline them if they did something wrong because that would be "judging." If someone harmed or hurt us it would be OK, because to say otherwise would be judging.
Obviously, this is completely ludicrous.
So, my friend Taryn is justified in believing that Savannah probably did something wrong. My biggest concern in this situation is that Taryn is taking it a step further. She is not only judging Savannah's actions, she is judging her motives and heart and drawing conclusions about Savannah's character. No one, I mean NO ONE can accurately judge someone's heart and motives. That is only for the Lord himself to judge. I can speculate based on what that person says or does, but the reality is that only God can truly see the heart of a person.
Taryn is stepping into dangerous territory with her conclusions about Savannah. She is inviting the same standards to be used against her and her heart, motives and character. Matthew 7 is clear that our measuring stick for others is the same one that will be used against us. Perfection is a standard no one can meet and it would be wise of Taryn to be sure she get rid of this unattainable bar for everyone else, lest she have this same measure used on her. I know for me, when I think about it in these terms, it definitely motivates me be quick to truly forgive.