“Judge not, that you be not judged.” Matthew 7:1
I recently watched a favorite movie, “Judgment at Nuremberg,” about a tribunal set up to judge four former-Nazi judges active during the Hitler regime. These judges were being tried by Americans to determine their guilt. The deep tension between the discernment being exercised by the tribunal and the condemnation being portrayed by the prosecution is present throughout. During the trial, the head judge, played by Spencer Tracy, periodically bangs the gavel to either signal the end of the proceedings or quiet the audience.
The discernment of the judges is as if they’re shining a flashlight at the topic, trying very hard to understand those being judged, their intent, and the conditions under which they judged others. The gavel is like the condemnation being passed on the accused, as well as on the audience when they are disrespectful. What a terrible sound it makes when it’s applied to the judge’s desk!
Discernment and condemnation represent a great deal of tension. Discernment is like a flashlight and is used to quietly seek ‘things’ in the dark. In reality, it’s presence can only be seen in darkness. Condemnation, on the other hand, is very much like the gavel, which really doesn’t help when trying to find something. You can hold a gavel in your hand in a dark room and never see, but you can sure make a lot of noise.
In everyday life we experience judgement from others and judgement toward others. In Matthew 7:1 and following, Jesus says we’ll be judged as we judge. In other words, we shouldn’t be judging anyone. Part of our life as believers is to help others walk, sometimes in the ‘dark.’ In order for discernment for others to work, however, some introspection is necessary (working on the log in our own eyes). With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can use the ‘light’ of discernment and love, helping illuminate the dark recesses of our brothers and sisters. We won’t be able to accomplish this with that pesky, noisy gavel.
A good exercise for me is to look at words that seem important, like judgement, and figure out how they’ve changed over time. Could it be that your understanding has, too? Maybe spend some time reflecting on this word, and, when you’ve done that for a time, perhaps write a definition of what you understand judgement to be today in your walk with the Lord.
By Rich Obrecht