“We can’t judge. We don’t know her situation.” How many times have you heard this said? I will begin by saying that we shouldn’t “judge” in the way that God does, but often the word “judge” is misused. In fact, what is often meant by the word “judge” is precisely what we should, in charity, be doing.
What Judging Is and What It Isn’t
God alone can judge in the way that God judges. How does God judge? God is the one whose judgement determines who are the sheep and who are the goats. God alone knows the desires and intentions of each heart, and whether people desire his mercy. Because of this God alone can determine who it is who goes to heaven or hell (and who needs a stint in purgatory). It can be difficult for us to talk about God’s judgement because we don’t fully comprehend the depths of God’s mercy. The Scriptures tell us, “For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” God’s mercy toward us is the only way to make sense of his judgement, because his merciful love is so great for us. He doesn’t arbitrarily determine who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. That judgement is made in light of mercy. In fact, God doesn’t send anyone to hell – those who end up in hell have chosen it themselves. God has only honored their desire to be separated from him, for God does not force anyone to love him.
Remember, hell was created by God for the devil, because in his great loving mercy, God chose not to force the devil to love him. He allowed the devil to choose not to love him. Likewise, God allows us to freely choose or reject him, always loving us and longing for us. He is so great, so powerful, that he could make us love him, if he so chose. Yet, he allows us this freedom.
We, however, are not as merciful as God. In fact, we cannot even comprehend God’s mercy, let alone enact it perfectly in our own lives. It is for this reason that we cannot judge in the way that God judges (i.e. determining who goes to heaven and who goes to hell).
We cannot and should not judge in this sense, but there is a way in which we can and should judge. We can and should recognize good and evil, what is healthy and what is damaging spiritually. When we recognize those things, charity should compel us to share that recognition with others.
Judgement in Light of Charity
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is “right judgement.” The gift of right judgement enables us to determine the right course of action, and to determine what is good and what is evil. Those are strong words, but it is important to acknowledge that there is both good and evil in the world. Can a person be engaged in an evil action (i.e. an action that is sinful and not of God) and yet not be an evil person? Certainly. In fact, any of us who has frequented the Sacrament of Reconciliation (myself included) can attest to that. I am a sinner, yet my sin doesn’t make me intrinsically evil. There is hope for me.
My husband is a wonderful accountability partner for me, when it comes to loving, fraternal correction. One of my biggest struggles is being patient and selfless with my children. Sometimes, the stress of life takes its toll, and I take that out, in frustration, on one of my children. “This child is driving me crazy!” I’ll tell him. He’ll challenge me, “Is that fair? Is she upsetting you, or are you actually upset about something else and blaming her?” He’s right more times than I would like to admit, and I’m grateful for the times that he points this failure out to me, gently calling me back to love.
We live in a society that is decidedly post-Christian. Many of the beliefs celebrated by secular society are in direct contradiction to our own Catholic beliefs about morality. Even in the Church, we see certain sects questioning beliefs about marriage, birth control, etc. When we see someone we love engaged in activity or beliefs that are contrary to what we believe to be true, we should want to offer correction. Yet, when we try to offer that correction, we are often accused of being “judgmental.” We are told that only God can judge, not us.
As we already discussed, there is truth in that statement. Only God can judge as God judges. Yet, if we truly believe what it is we hold to be true – is the most loving thing not to try and lead others to that truth?
The Gift of Truth
This is not a popular thing to say but giving someone the gift of the truth is a loving thing to do. Granted, if we are not offering moral correction from a place of love, then our message is not going to be compelling in the least. How do you know if you are offering correction from a place of love?
If you are offering correction in love, then you should be offering it out of a desire for the happiness of the other. Happiness is another misused word. By happiness, I don’t mean “feeling good.” By happiness, I mean the eternal happiness of another, and deep peace and joy in this life. Can you not feel happy but possess real joy in carrying your cross in life? Certainly. That is the sort of happiness we should desire for others.
If we are offering correction from a place of love, then we should desire that others know the truth (about human sexuality or marriage, for example) not because we want to “be right.” We should offer that correction because we want their eternal happiness. We should pray for them to come to know the truth of the Gospel, even if we never know about their successful conversion. We desire their good not for the sake of our own satisfaction, but because we genuinely love them and want them to know the happiness of divine union with God in heaven.
If we believe that our faith is true, then we should profess it with conviction. We shouldn’t feel we need to change or re-evaluate it to fit the spirit of the times. After all, the martyrs died because they believed the faith was true, not with a shrug of the shoulders and a muttered, “Oh, well. You do you.” That is the kind of conviction we are called to. And if, as the parable says, we have found a pearl buried in a field, we should be willing to sell all we have to buy that field.
Judging in charity is the loving thing to do, when motivated by genuine concern for the good of the other. It may not be the popular thing to do, and it may lead us to be despised by those who misunderstand our intentions. Yet, what is the point of taking up our crosses daily if we are not willing to suffer for the love of others?