“in justice shall you judge your fellow man” (Lev. 19:15 – Heb) Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour. (Lev. 19:15- KJV) You must do no injustice in a case, neither showing partiality to the poor nor deferring to the powerful, but judging your fellow fairly (Lev. 19:15 – AAT)
Many read this commandment and automatically assume it only applies to magistrates. In making this assumption, people fail to realize this commandment requires everyone to be fair in their judgment of others. There is no room for prejudice within the scope of this command. Everyone, no matter their economic status, their educational background, their sex, or their religion, must be treated equally and fairly. In today’s society, such a thing as fair treatment has been lost in the attempt for control, power, or revenge.
In order to be fair, we are not allowed to listen to the side of one person without the other person being present. It is wrong to talk about someone to people and make them look bad when they are not there to defend themselves.
“You shall not go about spreading slander among your kinsmen; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake . . . (Lev. 19:16 – NAB) “Don’t gossip. Don’t falsely accuse your neighbor of some crime . . . (Lev. 19:16 – Tay) “Do not whisper calumnies in the public ear, and swear away thy neighbor’s life . . . (Lev. 19:16 Knox)
We are also not allowed to judge a person based on the one-sided information. Sadly, most people today, ignore this command regarding justice. Instead, what we find are countless individuals who are harsh and unfair. While this is true in all of society, I have found this especially true among God’s people and this should not be so. Let me explain.
There are many of God’s people (doesn’t matter the religious affiliation) who have a higher regard for their own character than of those they judge. Let that statement sink in for a moment. Not only do people regard their own character above others, but many also believe religiosity determines character. Religiosity does not establish character! Yet, religious people have a belief that the non-religious lack character and/or ethics. This is very sad.
Also, many religious people judge themselves based on their good intentions and others by their actions. For example, if we don’t visit a friend or relative in the hospital, we usually rationalize in our mind that it’s okay. After all, I “wanted to go visit them, but didn’t have the time.” My intentions were good! Yet, when we are in the hospital and others don’t visit us, we don’t spend the time rationalizing excuses for the non-visitors. Instead, we judge them by their actions and become offended because they did not take the time to visit us.
Many people also judge themselves by their intentions when their actions are bad. If they are being rude, callous, hateful, condescending, hurtful, etc., they rationalize in their mind that their behavior is justified because they are doing so in righteous anger on God’s behalf toward the offending soul. Hurting and/or judging others because they don’t believe or act like you is wrong. Hurting others because they sin differently than you is also wrong. Just because your intentions are good, does not justify unethical treatment and bad attitude toward others.
Have you ever been wronged by a person who saw nothing hurtful about their attitude or behavior toward you? I have – too many times to count. And, sadly, I have dished out the same and rationalized in my mind the deplorable attitude I meted out. Oh, how I wish I could go back and retract my words!
When I was in the fundamentalist Baptist religion, we were taught by example how to mete out judgment and condemnation to the point that we even dished it out upon those who were dealing with tragedy in their lives. Why would we do such a thing? Because we were taught, for non-believers, that tragedy was God’s hand of judgment for sin in their life. This belief affected our thoughts and behaviors toward that individual and caused us to judge them unfairly. I say this with much sadness. We condemned and judged those who did not believe or act as we did while being compassionate and understanding toward those who DID believe and act as we did. We had a double standard! The same tragedy on an unbeliever was dealt with differently than that of a believer! Thus, we stood guilty of breaking God’s commandments. And to top it off, we had no facts to base our assumptions on, only the “word” of our religious leaders. Sadly, this realization brings me much sorrow as I reflect on the negative talk many of my preachers said about so many good people. As a result of this gossip, these precious people were shunned and the attitudes of the rest of their church family toward them inflicted much hurt. To the hurting, this is secondary abuse and many do not realize it.
How sad when we hurt the people we love most and rationalize our behavior; and, when we are confronted by our harsh treatment, we make excuses. What is even sadder is when we hurt the already hurting by violating this commandment; even worse, is when we do psychological and bodily harm to those we judge because they act or believe differently than we do! We are quick to judge, we are quick to reach a negative conclusion about others, and we are quick to condemn.
It only takes one negative action on the part of a good person and we rush to crush them. Wow. Have we deteriorated to such an extent in our humanity that we rush so quickly to condemnation? Where is the compassion and love that causes us to be longsuffering toward others? If we truly followed God’s command to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” we would not be passing judgment on others so quickly. Instead, we would be seeking out excuses for their behavior in the same way we do for ourselves. In doing so, it would cause us to be more compassionate, longsuffering, and forgiving.
If we are not in a position to know both sides and the facts of a situation involving two people, don’t make a judgment about either! NEVER believe someone else’s negative words aimed at discrediting another! In most instances, guaranteed, they will be slanted to the accuser’s agenda! ALWAYS stand back and wait if you are not privy to the side of both parties and the facts! To believe a one-sided view, will cause us to automatically gravitate to a hostile standpoint. Once our mind becomes hostile toward and individual, there is nothing too cruel that they deserve and we will gladly dish out that cruelty. It breaks my heart to see God’s people dishing out cruelty in his name.
Of course there are instances where we will find ulterior motives too. While many may be subtle, still there are others that are hard to ignore. For example, there are religious organizations and people that provide aid or benefits to the less fortunate in order to build a following or recruit members. An example of this would be a church bus route that uses candy and prizes to entice children to church in order to get to the parents. The ultimate goal is to get the parents as members so they can give money to the church. Some organizations also provide aid in order to sexually exploit women and children. In these instances, we should not judge favorably until restitution is made to the victims. There are even some that extend aid to the less fortunate for murder. An example of this would be terrorist organizations. Hamas provides clothing, food, and other forms of aid to the poor in order to gain a following that will enable them to recruit suicide bombers. These suicide bombers are used to hurt and murder those whom Hamas hates. Also, beware of those individuals that extend to you their aid and then call in the ‘favor’ later.
We should never condemn a person based on hearsay. We should always check out both sides of the matter before assuming the worst about a person or attacking them. To do otherwise is not only foolish, it is unethical and, makes you complicit in the sin! “You shall not nurse hatred against your brother. You shall reprove your fellow-countryman frankly and so you will have no share in his guilt (Lev. 19:17 – NEB) Beware of those who gossip! Don’t believe what you hear! Always give the other person the benefit of the doubt until you have both sides of a story as well as the facts. I cannot express how often I hear bad things about good people. I cannot express adequately the pain this brings me. I remember one time where I was discarded as a friend because I refused to believe what I was told about another friend of mine and continued friendship with the accused. I had both sides of the story and the facts showed the accusation against this person to be false. Sadly, this is the risk we take for judging fairly by those who do not. We may lose friends.
I have made a choice that I intend to live by. I will not believe gossip and slander. I will patiently wait and assess the facts for myself and make a decision based on those facts. Sadly, many don’t understand why I do this and criticize me because of it. What I have found is that in almost every instance to date, with a little patience and some digging, I was told wrong information with the intent to create animosity or, the accuser made big assumptions based on someone else’s opinion! In other instances, it was a matter of a poor decision that hurt others and the individual was literally crucified for it, even after apologizing and making restitution for the mistake made. When gossip is believed, it can incite people to violence against the victim. I have witnessed this first hand with many religious abuse survivors. Usually, when this has happened, the gossip was being spread in order to silence truth. This incitement breaks another commandment: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:18 – KJV).
This leads me to another area of concern – that of passing on negative or defamatory information to those who don’t need to know it. Usually, this is done to destroy a person’s character so that no one will believe what they have to say. Many institutions utilize character assassination in order to silence truth; especially if the truth exposes their wrongdoings. Those who judge others unfairly and spread gossip, commit a far greater sin than the wrong for which they are condemning in someone else. Usually, the religious, will disguise their slander and gossip under the mantle of “pray for so-and-so because . . .” Beware of those people who do such things. Don’t believe what they say!
“If you do not judge others fairly, how can you be judged fairly in your time of need? The Talmud promises a divine reward to those who judge in a merciful manner: “He who judges his fellow man favorably is himself judged favorably [by God]” (Shabbat 127b). On the other hand, those who judge harshly will be judged similarly: “In the measure with which a man measures, so is he measured” (Sotah 8b)” [A Code of Jewish Ethics]. We must be careful about passing judgment on others because, in reality, it will really be ourselves we may be judging.
Since the Bible teaches that “There is no person on earth so righteous, who will do only good and not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20), we should not set standards for others that neither they nor we can meet. All of us occasionally stray off path. It would be wrong to attack, label, gossip or shun such a one because of a sin committed (unless it’s a wrong of huge proportions or is a deliberate attempt at destroying another), or because they have done something we don’t like. Usually, in this category of sins of ‘huge proportion,’ would fall rape, murder, slander, sexual assault, physical assault and those attempts at destroying the life and liveliness of others. Any others I would assess less harshly.
In order to judge fairly, it often involves overlooking insignificant matters. On the other hand, if someone is repeatedly mistreating you, then it is probably a good idea to break ties with that individual. It is not a good idea to tell everyone you know about their behavior toward you. There may be a valid reason why this person treats you so unfairly. Just because they treat you this way does not automatically mean they will treat others the same way. Also, if we are going to criticize flaws in others that we ourselves have, we should first acknowledge the flaws in ourselves so that we will be less harsh in our criticism.
What is best? To not judge at all. We should avoid having strong feelings and views on too many subjects. Those who are quick to condemn and judge usually believe that there is only one right way and one wrong way. They do not understand that there are many right ways and many wrong ways. How something is done is based on preference. So before passing unfair judgment on others, or spreading that gossip about them, remember this: You are not as good as you think you are, and the world is not as bad as you think it is. Don’t judge others unfairly and don’t let other’s opinions influence you to judge unfairly no matter what position that person holds. Treat everyone with dignity, compassion, honesty, respect, and love.