Thursday, August 21, 2008

Love vs. Judgment

I struggle with the wrong kind of judgment, that condemning apprehension of someone else. I've been convicted that what I need to have toward others is not judgment but love. I'm certain God would be more pleased with me if I never judged again and replaced every opportunity for judgment with a warm fervent love for people.

It also occurred to me that love would be a better approach to error than judgment. When I feel judgment in my heart toward another, even assuming the other person is actually in error, I'm unable to effectively address that error. This is because either I am feeling unspiritual and just keep my mouth shut, knowing if I opened it I would only do harm, or because I do open my mouth, and approaching the person in a spirit of condemnation, I do, in fact, do harm.

But if I were to instead have a fervent love for people, this wouldn't mean some kind of blanket acceptance of every error. The Biblical writings of Saint John are good examples of this. John is clear that love is paramount, but he also makes some of the most challenging statements about how the Christian should live (if anyone is born of God, he does not sin, etc). If anything, I'd guess that fervent love would cause me to be more confrontational. Who is the most loving person in history? Jesus Christ our Lord - but how confrontational was he? Very.

There is such a big difference between approaching error in love instead of condemnation. First, most people can tell how you feel about them. If they feel love coming from your efforts, they will be more likely to respond. Second, if one approaches error in love, he will be more likely to see it objectively and be able to say something helpful about it, as opposed to when we approach error in condemnation, where we feel self-righteous and our perspective is skewed by our own investment in being right.


-Dave said...

I agree completely. I wonder what we could gain from taking a close look at who Jesus was confrontational towards.

When I look at the most public face of Christianity, I see condemnation of the "headline" sins - homosexuality in particular and salaciousness and promiscuity to lesser degrees. When I look at myself, I see a stronger visceral reaction against sins that make people "not like me." But among people "like me," I feel much less inclined to rock the boat.

Jesus, however, was most confrontational towards the far more cancerous sins: hypocrisy in the leaders, and the turning of church into a tool for personal gain instead of a house of prayer. He was largely, perhaps completely silent when given the opportunity to call out "not like me" people, but was most firey in the face of those with who he'd naturally be expected to have an affinity.

He went for the jugular in public on those who would lay a snare for others, but declined to judge "those sinners" when doing so would naturally make him look better by comparison.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

I think, Kenny, that you are quite correct in the statements you make in this post. If anything, they're somewhat incomplete, but that's because a blog post shouldn't be encyclopedic, and also, there's still some experiential data that you have to acquire.

What Dave has commented is also correct, and it lays out a very important point about how we confront sin, in individuals, in individuals representing groups, and in groups considered corporately. Each of these requires a different response, though the motivation behind them all is still "love", in the sense of "love thy neighbor as thyself."

There are actually more than three kinds of responses, so don’t take my meaning rigidly, but I want to limit it to the basics. The bottom line is, of course, for anyone who is in the Word, the correct response in every situation will come to mind, leaving one to decide for or against it. (You say, How can a person who is in the Word and knows the right thing to do, but cannot or will not do it? I think you know the answer. Yes, as Martin Luther said, “We are all still sinners, even in the best of life.”)

First response, to individuals. This is what I do, I approach everyone I meet with a spirit of love, of wishing their good, of hoping for their salvation, and willing to help them with whatever I can. Notice, there is no judgment at all at this point? If it’s a new person, a stranger on the street, whoever, or if it’s someone I’ve known for years, in the case of the latter, it’s forgetting the past and starting the relationship fresh and new at every encounter. This is how I have decided to live me life, whatever the cost. And costs there are. There is no judgment in me on the different kinds of people, or on their various philosophies, religions or life-styles. I approach a gay person, for example, with the same readiness and welcome that I approach anyone else. In this way I am “politically correct.” But where the rubber hits the road is that I will not settle for less than the truth in every encounter where the truth is violated. So, I have no enemies, per se, and am willing to be a brother to all. I do not cut them off from me, but I give them all that privilege, to cut me off from them. That’s what God does with us, that’s what I see the Father doing, what Jesus does, and I try to follow. When I fail, I am willing and able to apologise. It happens often enough.

Second response, to individuals representing groups. This would mean church leaders and political leaders, it means anyone who claims to have authority or exerts it over others. We have Jesus’ example, we have the prophets of Israel. Still seeking their good, still loving them as I love myself, still hoping for their salvation, the response can be critical when it needs to be, and it sometimes is. Altho I try to avoid this kind of confrontation I sometimes get drawn into it.

Third response, to groups considered corporately. This is very impersonal. This is almost not personal at all. Yet the way it works out can still be very personal. This dictates how I relate to Islamic terrorism, or to any aggression coming upon me or my social group from the outside. This is essentially a warfare ethic. But on a practical day to day level it is most often encountered in the warfare of dialectic. And so it dovetails with the first two responses. The current subversion of my local Orthodox community by anti-evangelical leadership and how I relate to it falls into this category. The response varies day by day, but includes such things as civil disobedience (the normal Orthodox tactic when dealing with heretical leaders), “damage control” (restoring Orthodoxy and reassuring others who are becoming disoriented), but very rarely direct personal confrontation.

Last thing is this, that your response to others, especially those in sin or error, will always take two forms, hard love and soft love. Now we’re not talking anymore about just the attitude in which you receive all people, but only the category of confronting evil in them. These terms, hard love and soft love, are by now known to most people, as they’ve been used extensively in counseling. But they take on perhaps a slightly different meaning in the context under discussion. Soft love is how you deal with people who are aware of their sin or error and want to change but either don’t know how or are afraid to. With them, you take every pain to make the way “easy” for them to return. You follow the father’s example in the prodigal son story.

Hard love is how you deal with people who are intent on changing the rules to make their sin or error acceptable and correct. This is what holy apostle Paul is talking about when he says to treat a brother who is sinning in such a way that he will feel ashamed and realise he’s in the wrong, and repent. I know that this kind of thing has been horribly abused in the past and present. Just look up “shunning” in Wikipedia. This is why “hard love” must be used with extreme care, and rarely.