Michael: Last week we examined how our genetics and environment could be a cause for us or others to commit grievous sins. If factors outside of me caused me to commit a sin, is it fair that I pay the price of my sins? How do we judge this situation? These factors complicate our understanding of what is sinful, and how we determine culpability.
There are several verses in the bible that indicate that our judgment is insufficient and biased. For our discussion today, I will focus on the parable of the wheat and tares, and Jesus’s sermon on the mount.
The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares
24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field;
25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.
26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared.
27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’
28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’
29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.
30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
Notice how eager the servants are to gather up the tares. Distinguishing between tares and wheat may be initially hard for a person who isn’t a farmer, but since the plants produced crops already it is a relatively easy ordeal. It is likely that everyone listening to Jesus knew very well how to distinguish between the two, so why does Jesus say no to the servants?
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus also tells us that our judgment is biased.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Jesus’s summary on the topic came as a commandment:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Jesus’s commandment is simple: Do not judge. Do not try to distinguish between right and wrong. This is none of your business. It is not within your capacity, and, importantly, self-interest.
The question for our discussion today is this: Can we follow this commandment of Jesus? Is it possible to not judge?
One of the biggest distinguishing features of humans is the enormous size of our brains. Of that, the highly developed prefrontal cortex is the reasoning center of our brain. This is the judgment center, the decision maker. Humans have the largest prefrontal cortex relative to that of all animals.
We can safely argue that Homo sapiens made good judgments for their survival. What to eat, and what not to. When to fight a threat, or when to run instead. How to build a shelter, why is it better to be in a society rather than alone. We developed through nomadic hunter gatherer tribes to agricultural societies to building mega cities. We outsmarted every other animal and dominated the world. To do so, we extensively relied upon our trusted decision maker, our beloved prefrontal cortex.
Today, we still make judgments. Internet sources estimate that we make around 35,000 decisions per day, although I could not verify this number from a scientific source. We make judgments about who is a friend and who’s an enemy, should we eat desert or skip it, and if we should invite the neighbors or ditch them for being slightly out of line at Thursday’s dinner. But it’s important to note that many of these worldly judgments also carry moral undertones—“I don’t want to be friends with a liar,” “my colleagues are lazy and sloppy,” “that woman at the feet of Jesus is a prostitute that deserves stoning.”
The argument I’m trying to make is that our judgment is an innate function and a defining feature of our humanity, it is instantaneous and automatic. But this is not all. It seems that we are spiritually hardwired to judge as well, this is our inheritance from our spiritual parents, Adam and Eve. This is evident in the story of the Fall:
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;
17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,
3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.
5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”
Whenever we judge, we are certain that we have judged correctly. After all, we do know what is good and what is evil, it is as easy to separate between them as separating between night and day. Or is it? If judging sins is complicated by genetics and/or environmental factors, how can we know we judged correctly?
We have a serious dilemma on our hands. When Jesus is asking us not to judge, he is asking us to do something that is against our human and spiritual nature. I think we grossly underestimate how hard that is. I think two other stories can shed light on this commandment by Jesus.
The first story is that of Nicodemus:
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.
2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs You are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time to be born?”
The second story is when the (Mark 9:33–41; Luke 9:46–50) disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 Jesus invited a little child to stand among them.
3 “Truly I tell you,” He said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me.
In our class, we often pondered what these statements meant. What does it mean to be born again or to become like a little child? I think these strange statements all effectively come down to the same thing, to suspend or stop judgment.
So, my questions to you today are: is it possible to stop judging as Jesus commands? How do we do that? What can we learn from little children in this regard? Jesus suggests humility is an essential factor to become like a child. Do you think humility is enough? Is it possible for us to cultivate humility by ourselves, or does the transformation come from God? What role does suffering have in this regard?
C-J: I think adults extend grace to children. I think grace is the component that you trade off. I can’t fully not judge without grace.
Donald: It’s interesting what you said initially about the unique characteristics of a human being. Is reasoning the same as being judgmental? If one reasons, does that equate to judgment? Outside of this conversation, I think most people would view reasoning as a more favorable approach than being judgmental. The term “judgmental” carries some negative baggage, it seems to me. But are they really the same? And if they are, is that what makes us human? Because if we don’t reason, we’re not human.
David: Exactly, that’s the crux of the matter. Jesus advocated actions that seem almost humanly impossible—like turning the other cheek. Tell that to the Israelis who were attacked by Hamas, or to the Gazans who were subjected to airstrikes. Jesus must have known we’re incapable of following such teachings. He knew that to not judge, or to turn the other cheek, is nearly impossible for human beings. But I think what Jesus hoped for is that we’d try. In trying, we learn something, gain some enlightenment.
However, at the end of the day, we’re still dependent on God’s grace, as Connie seemed to be saying. We’re simply not capable of living up to these ideals. When asked, like Nicodemus, “What do I have to do?” Jesus answers with a task that is humanly impossible: “Be born again!” It’s the same for the rich young ruler: “Give everything away.” It’s just not humanly possible to do what Jesus asks of us, and I don’t mean just literally; I mean spiritually. But I think Jesus is telling us something important: That we know what we’re supposed to do, even if we’re incapable of actually doing it.
Donald: Well, that has to make us feel guilty then, doesn’t it?
Carolyn: I want to explore the difference between judgment and reason. The Lord once said, “If it doesn’t work here, shake off the dust from your feet and move on.” In other instances, He has guided us to make decisions, which makes me feel like I have to judge a situation or a person. So, I’m really interested in understanding the difference between judgment and reason.
C-J: I believe it comes down to spiritual discernment. When we judge out of our human nature, we miss the mark due to pride and ego. But if we rely on the Spirit, we extend grace and love to others as we love ourselves. There has to be a dialogue or reasoning about how this can be accomplished. Until Israel and Palestine mourn each other’s losses, there will never be peace. You can’t only mourn your own loss; you must also understand the impact on the other side. And the suffering I’ve seen—it humbles me. Going days without water, living amidst noise and chaos. Until both sides recognize each other’s suffering, the cycle will continue.
Donald: So when we say, “Let’s reserve judgment,” is that just a polite thing to say, or is it actually realistic?
C-J: True leaders must do that. When you’re negotiating, it’s not a poker game. You have to recognize the loss of life and property. Restoration will take generations. A large portion of the Palestinian population is under 25—two generations have been lost. Where will leadership come from if outsiders continue to make decisions?
Donald: So, this conversation calls for withholding judgment.
C-J: We need to come to a point where we ask, “Have you cried yet?” Can you mourn for my losses as you do for your own? That’s the basis for coming together and saying, “This must never happen again,” which is what Europe did post-World War II. But for some reason, these two communities can’t find it in themselves to establish a stable, internationally-recognized government for the Palestinians.
Donald: For the sake of this discussion, let’s not focus too much on the political aspects.
C-J: I mentioned it as an example, not to get political. The point is, if you can’t mourn for someone else’s children as you would your own, we can’t move forward. Our social systems, like laws that protect children and provide for the needy, stem from a grace-driven perspective. It’s about seeing the needs of others and acting out of love, not just self-interest.
Michael: I was also concerned that I might have conflated reasoning with judgment. While they may not be identical, we certainly rely on reasoning to inform our judgment. As humans, we rely extensively on reasoning—that’s a given. That’s one reason why Jesus’ directive is so challenging, and why I’m posing this question even though I don’t have an answer. I referred to it as a “commandment” from Jesus specifically to contrast it with the Ten Commandments, which are structured to facilitate judgment. That stark contrast is why I chose to label it a commandment.
David: You mean his commandment to not judge?
Michael: I call it the commandment of Jesus to contrast it to the 10 commandments. Which currently are muted, but which are basically designed to how to judge
C-J: I see the opportunity for grace in each of the Commandments. Whether it’s “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” where God is our provider and resource, or “Thou shalt not murder,” which gives us a moment to reflect on our own anger. I view the Commandments as opportunities for grace to fill what we lack, rather than a list of prohibitions. This need for grace can be traced back to the metaphorical fall in the Garden of Eden.
David: I believe the Commandments were given not as societal rules but as individual guidelines. Take “Thou shalt not kill,” for instance. It’s easy to condemn others who kill, but what if we kill out of mercy for someone’s suffering? The real focus should be on our own actions. We are the ones who must judge ourselves, based on the divinity within us. Jesus’ teachings like “turn the other cheek” are calls to recognize and act on the divine elements within us. The Commandments are not societal norms but individual moral imperatives. If there’s any judgment to be made, it should be self-judgment. Jesus’ caution against judging others doesn’t mean we shouldn’t evaluate ourselves; on the contrary, teachings like “be born again” urge us to judge our own lives.
Anonymous: That’s exactly what I was thinking. I also want to add that even Jesus doesn’t judge us. He said, “I’m not coming to judge you, but to save you.” It’s our own consciousness that judges us, nothing else. To elaborate on Michael’s point, yes, suffering is often tied to judgment. Every poor judgment leads to chaos, hatred, and suffering—whether globally, socially, or even internally. If I stop judging and accept things as they are, believing that God is in control, then I don’t need to judge my brother. I’m commanded only to love him or her. Living by this rule brings more happiness and peace.
Jesus’ teachings are essentially advice for our own good, steering us toward happiness. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Trust me, lean on me, don’t worry about judgments; they’re burdensome and lead to heartache.” I felt this message strongly this morning. I prayed, opened my Bible randomly, and found myself reading Matthew 7 about not judging and the fruits of the tree. I was so moved, I shared it with people I know. It felt like divine timing that Michael continued the discussion and deepened my understanding.
This might be a good time to mention that I almost stopped my cancer treatment. The treatments weren’t showing benefits, so I considered giving myself entirely to God. Yesterday, I was tempted to re-evaluate some of the options my oncologist provided. I momentarily doubted my decision but ultimately found peace in surrendering fully to God. I woke up with peace and spoke to God peacefully. I believe He is guiding my path. I’m reminded not even to judge myself, but to trust God entirely, regardless of what tomorrow brings.
So judgment isn’t beneficial; it only causes trouble. It’s better to live like children, free of judgments, and to rely wholly on God’s grace. This aligns with the commandment, which is more of advice: “I advise you not to judge.” Thank you, Michael, and thank you, David, for contributing to this enlightening discussion.
Reinhard: During Jesus’ time, the “Do not judge” instruction was particularly relevant to the religious community of the Jewish people. Many disciples and members tried to show that they were better than others, which I think is the type of judgment Jesus was warning against. This seems limited to religious practices. For example, Jesus didn’t judge the adulterous woman or those who ate without washing their hands.
In our modern times, while we shouldn’t judge others in terms of their relationship with God or their salvation, we still have responsibilities within our religious communities. The Apostle Paul mentioned that we will even judge angels at one point. So, it’s crucial to separate judgment based on religious rituals, which have nothing to do with salvation, from more foundational principles like the Ten Commandments.
In the Old Testament, if two or three witnesses saw someone committing a particularly heinous act like idol worship, the person could be executed. While we don’t carry out such extreme measures now, we still have the right to reprimand or admonish someone if they’re blatantly transgressing against God’s will. The term “judgment” might differ slightly from “admonishment” depending on the situation and motive.
God gives us discernment. If angels are subject to our judgment one day, then resolving disputes among ourselves or reprimanding members of the church for wrongdoing is within our purview. The key is to understand the situation and the motive behind any corrective action.
Don: It occurs to me that most of the judgment we engage in aims to place us at an advantage over someone else. Rarely do we judge in a way that would disadvantage us more than the person we are judging. I believe that understanding judgment requires a comprehensive grasp of the concept of grace. If one values and understands grace, then judgment becomes secondary. The nature of the judgment almost becomes irrelevant if grace is the overriding principle. Perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at when he made such stringent demands: You can’t judge in the way humans normally do because you’re not God. Moreover, it doesn’t matter as long as you are a recipient of grace. To me, any discussion about judgment should be intrinsically linked to an understanding of grace to fully appreciate what Jesus was implying.
David: One recurring topic in discussions about grace is its seemingly unreasonable nature. People often question why someone receives grace when they seemingly don’t deserve it. This brings us to Michael’s key question about the relationship between judgment and reason. The problem lies in the type of judgment we typically use, which relies heavily on our intellect. Take, for example, Jalisco’s testimony. She ignored the reason-based arguments presented by oncologists and literature. Instead, she relied on her inner light for guidance. In essence, she surrendered herself to it. We’re required to abandon our intellect, which is almost impossible for humans to do consistently. Therefore, any judgment that involves reasoned argument must be considered false. True judgment, in a spiritual sense, is not backed by reason, just as grace is not backed by reason.
C-J: I believe the concept of servitude is closely tied to this discussion. When we say, “Thy will be done,” it reflects a servant’s mentality of putting God’s will first. The idea of serving others comes naturally from that foundation. Even if we falter in this regard, grace is still extended to us. It’s a humbling concept to consider.
Donald: The last four words I noted concern reasoning and judgment. I’d like to introduce another term: perspective. When we hold a perspective—or commit to it—is that in itself a form of grace? Being open-minded without feeling the need to reach a conclusion? And then comes self-interest, which I think Don was pointing to. Right after self-interest enters the equation, we hear cries of “it’s not fair.” While grace is a lofty ideal, I wonder how practical it is to build a society entirely on grace. It could lead to chaos. Just look at Adam and Eve; it didn’t take long for their small society to unravel.
Michael: I want to clarify that while we may be hardwired to make judgments, even in the spiritual realm, grace has provided us a new lineage. We might have had Adam and Eve as our spiritual ancestors, but that has been supplanted by our spiritual parentage through God. I raise this point to emphasize that when we judge, we are making a choice about who our spiritual father is.
Reinhard: I believe it’s God’s prerogative to judge us. In certain cases, salvation comes only from God; we can’t judge others as if their salvation depends on us. God’s grace fills in where we fall short. However, there is a domain within human affairs where judgment is necessary. Churches, for instance, make decisions about memberships and regulations. People within these organizations will make judgments based on these factors. We have to recognize our limitations as humans when it comes to judgment or admonishment. Ultimately, God’s grace compensates for our shortcomings, especially in terms of salvation.
C-J: Justification falls short of grace. Scripture tells us that we are forgiven and it’s remembered no more. When someone hurts me, I might forgive but not forget, aiming to protect myself from future harm. But grace moves us to a different response: “You may hurt me, but I’ll continue to love you. How may I serve you?” That reflects divine intervention because it contradicts our natural human instinct for survival. Jesus, among others, went to the cross—both literally and figuratively—with a spirit of “Thy will be done.” It’s an unimaginable level of surrender and acceptance.
Don: Michael, would you be willing to take the fertile topics we’ve discussed today—particularly the questions that remain unanswered—and refocus our discussion for next week?
Michael: I can try, although we might be entering an area where maintaining an engaging discussion could be challenging.
Don: Why not read John Chapter 9, about the blind man and the discussion of whose sin caused his blindness? It might offer some insights and directions for our next discussion.
I’m grateful for everyone’s participation today; I’ve learned quite a bit myself.
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