On judging and submitting to judgment
One of the pressing needs of our time is a sound view of judgment. For while the word “judge” has fallen into disrepute, judgments are meted out with astonishing frequency, with little sense of proportionality and little seasoning of mercy. The very judges who decry “judgmentalism” often hand down the harshest sentences, knowing not what they do.
We judge the way we breathe. Our judicial sentiments act as regularly, as unconsciously, as our breathing reflex. The question we face, then, is not whether we will judge, but how well.
A first step toward learning to judge well is to acknowledge that God judges. We need to get over saying that. We need to rejoice in saying that. In his epistle to the Romans (2:16), St Paul said that God’s judging the world was part of his gospel. It is good news that we have a good judge who has the wisdom and power to sort things out, to make things clear, to right wrongs, to refute accusations, to justify justly.
We also need stories, though, to correct and (by turns) sharpen and soften how we imagine judgment and the act of judging.
St Luke tells us, that as Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, he told two such parables. In the first, a widow asks an unjust judge for judgment against her adversary. In the second, two parties, a Pharisee and a Publican (tax collector), appear in succession before God, presenting themselves for His judgment.
The two cases are of different kinds, and appear in different postures. In the first, the widow appears as civil plaintiff. Jesus says she is a model for something that the Church corporately, and her members individually, ought to do: come to the Father for judgment against oppressing adversaries — “for he will avenge them speedily” (18:7-8) In the second, the Pharisee and Publican appear before God as criminal defendants — though only the Publican acknowledges that he’d done anything deserving condemnation (v. 13). Jesus says that for humbling himself, for casting himself wholly upon the mercy of God, the Publican was justified. He, not the Pharisee, walks out of the heavenly court an innocent man (v. 14).
Taken together, the two parables tell us about the kind of Judge God is, and the proper postures for His people to appear before Him. He is the Judge who liberates us from adversaries — and, as such, we should not shrink from approaching Him boldly as plaintiff, asking Him to grant judgment for us, against hardened enemies. We do this, however, knowing He also has absolute power and jurisdiction to judge us, and that only His mercy affords us hope of emerging from that examination justified. Both parables inform the manner in which we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God. We need both to reform our imaginations, our hearts, our wills — and our judicial sentiments.