Many social commentators would say that we live in the most tolerant age of human history. NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof last year wrote that, “We have a . . . glorious tradition intertwined in American history . . . of tolerance, amity and religious freedom.” No one would say it’s perfect; in fact, many would point their fingers at churches for slowing down the pace of America’s developing tolerance.
In America, we dream of a glorious day to come when all judgmental thoughts are vanquished, and people can live free of the stigmas wrought by thousands of years of religion, traditional beliefs, sexism and racism. Now there’s some good desires here, but I recently found myself asking: will turning our backs on God’s word (which judges all of us) make us the less judgmental… or will it make us the most judgmental generation in human history?
This question hit me while I was reading an ancient biblical story about the dysfunctional family of King David. In 2 Samuel 13 we read about David’s firstborn, Amnon, who was so overwhelmed with lust for his beautiful sister Tamar, that he created an elaborate scheme to get her alone and rape her. After raping her, he threw her out, yelling, “Get up! Go!” In fact, “Amnon hated her with very great hatred” (v. 15). Lust turned into violent hatred.
Now David, as King, should have judged his son and made him pay the price for his evil. Tamar deserved justice! While David “was very angry” with Amnon, he did nothing (v. 21). David aborted justice, presumably because he favored Amnon as his first son.
As a result Tamar’s other brother, Absalom, spent “two full years” growing in resentment and hatred for Amnon and King David. Eventually Absalom’s hatred boiled over into violence, and he assassinated Amnon. If David would not do justice, then Absalom would – but Absalom’s so-called ‘justice’ was actually sinful retribution.
After the murder, Absalom fled to live with his Grandfather (the king of a nearby kingdom). While David refused to judge Amnon for his sin, David did judge Absalom for his sin by banishing him from Israel. We can imagine how Absalom’s resentment for his father grew during the years of his exile. He might have thought, ‘David refuses justice for Amnon, but demands it for me!’
After three years, a friend of Absalom’s secured his return to Jerusalem, but David refused to see him. This deeply stung Absalom’s sense of justice. He began to think that he would make a better king and a better judge than his father.
As a result, for four years, Absalom stationed himself outside of Jerusalem, and stopped visitors coming to the king for justice. Absalom lied to them, saying, “See your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you . . . Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me and I would give him justice.”
After years of hearing Absalom’s lies, Israel believed the deception and followed Absalom into a bloody civil war against David, so that Absalom might become their judge.
Now ask yourself: Why did all of this happen? Why did Absalom seek out judgment on amnon violently? Why was the royal family torn apart? Why a civil war?
Because David miscarried justice; he failed to judge Amnon.
You see, the truth is, we all need justice. When someone hurts us, whether with harsh words, a lie, or even violence, our inner sense of justice is incensed against them. When someone steals from our friend we do not say, “Woah, don’t be judgmental!” No, we want justice; we want restitution. And when it doesn’t happen, we often take justice into our own hands.
God, in his word, promises to judge all people. He does so perfectly and impartially, applying the just punishment for every sin. Because this is true, we do not need to take justice into our own hands (which tends to be partial, overblown, and reactive) like Absalom did.
Paul puts it this way, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ ” (Rom. 12:19).
You see, when a society refuses to judge, (i.e. whether or not someone’s sexual lifestyle disqualifies them from adopting or keeping children, whether or not substance abuse is destructive, whether or not mothers have the right to kill unborn children, etc.) the individual people will not cease to judging. No, instead we take judgment int our own hands – we try to give pain to those who hurt us, or we simply begin judging others by the strangest standards, to make us feel better.
In fact, people who live in a judgment-less society will judge others by the most insignificant things: what music we listen, what clothes we wear, what political party we subscribe to, what beer we like, what kind of job we have, what city we are from, what movies we like, what restaurants, how athletic, intelligent, well-read, or cultured we are.
That last paragraph describes me perfectly. My generation, too. We are sardonic, ironic, cynical and, above all else, judgmental about the most frivolous things. We are constantly making judgments and feeling judged.
You see in the great age of tolerance and anti-judgmentalism, we actually feel like we’re being judged by the most superficial criteria – those things most distant from who we actually are.
We need a true judge, not only to give us the justice we long for, but to also to judge us as glorious, and lovely. Otherwise we will live on the roller-coaster of meaningless judgments that our friends and society lay upon us.
On the cross, Christ bore the justice that we deserved for all of our sins. Through faith Chirst, the eternal judge – God the father – looks upon us with love in his eyes. He says, “Well done good and faithful servant.”
We will be unceasingly judgmental until we accept the overwhelmingly restorative judgment of the true God in Christ.