Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a big fan of N.T. Wright as a theologian. This puts me squarely in the centre of every other would-be pastor-theologian. Everyone pretty much loves him, or at least pays attention to him.
Recently I was reading a large work of his, and he wrote this:
The word “judgment” has of course been allowed to slip into negative mode in the contemporary western world, with “judgmentalism” one of the classic postmodern villains. “Judgment” is in fact a positive thing. It is what restores health to a society, a balance to the world. It replaces chaos with order. The fact that it can be abused – that humans, whether or not in positions of authority, can take it upon themselves to “pass judgment” on one another in negative and destructive ways – indicates, not that is a bad thing in itself, but that like all good and important things it can generate unpleasant parodies. N.T. Wright
And this little quote really got me thinking.
In general, I would say I’m not a fan of judgment. I’ve seen its abuse so often in top-down ways, in destructive ways, in shaming ways – in ways that seem so…unlike Jesus. Yet I believe that N.T. Wright is right on this issue. Judgment, when done properly, is a positive thing; it can call out unhealthy habit, it can call out things that are wrong, and it can make the world a better place.
Because as I’ve grown older what I’ve learned at least in my closest relationships…I need judgment. I need my wife to judge whether I am parenting in a healthy way or unhealthy way. I need my close friends when I’m obsessing about a mistake to judge whether I should let it go, or make some changes. I need the Spirit to judge whether I am standing up for truth or just being a jerk.
And I think the reason we react against “judgment” is because it so often comes “from above”. Like how N.T. Wright puts it in destructive ways from positions of authority passing judgment from a distance.
But when the judgment comes from someone who loves us and comes alongside us that can make all the difference.
When my wife points out that I was short with the kids, or that I let them watch TV because I was tired and didn’t want to parent – I need that. But I listen (when I’m at my best) because it “comes from alongside”, from “we’re in this together”, from “I’m with you Andrew”. When my friends judge the fear to be haunting me as not needed and counsel me to let it go – I need that. But it too comes from a position of “I care for you”, or “I have your best interests at heart”. And this is even still true with the Holy Spirit when he counsels and judges me. In Greek Holy Spirit means Paraclete, the one who comforts, who comes alongside, who advocates and helps us. So when the Spirit comes alongside to me, and points out that bitterness is creeping in – I need that judgment. But it doesn’t come from above, but from alongside, a Spirit that seeks to lead me further into the way of Jesus Christ.
So all of this is to say – yes judgment can be destructive, abusive, and needs to be resisted. But sometimes when it comes from alongside, from caring and loyal relationships (spouse, friends, God), it’s the most needed and healthy thing of all – because it leads us into greater health.