Thou Shall Not Judge

It was a calm Monday evening in November around 9:15 pm. There I was, 17 years old, walking to the convenience store only three blocks from my house. The usually busy road was unusually quiet. A single car approached from the opposite direction. After it passed by, it pulled over and stopped, roughly 75-100 feet behind me. Four guys hopped out of the car. Two of the guys crossed the street to my side and started following me, while the other two paced me from their side of the road. As I glanced over to both groups, I could see they were intently watching me. As my pace quickened, so did theirs. I zipped off the sidewalk to the first house I saw with the interior lights on, a house I luckily knew the owners of.

As I frantically rang the doorbell, I realized no one was home. I started to leave, but the four guys had finally caught up to me and encircled me. Then, the one who stood directly in front of me pulled out a knife, a 4-inch blade only about a foot from my abdomen. This was the first time my life felt like it was out of my hands.

In that moment, I had to make a choice. I could choose to run or comply with their demands. If I ran, there was a possibility I would get caught, beaten up, or stabbed.

I chose to comply. I let them search me and take whatever they wanted. All they ended up with was my driver’s license, two coupons for Subway sandwiches, and my fleece jacket. I got out of there without a scratch – even after they threatened to break my fingers. I know others who faced similar situations and weren’t as lucky.

It’s Right to Judge… Sometimes

This experience taught me that in order to better protect myself from people who are doing bad things, I need to open my mind to how they think, to the thoughts behind the actions. If I choose to ignore their way of thinking, I will forever be underestimating what they are capable of. In other words, I would be living in a little fantasy bubble, never anticipating the ways in which someone might be motivated to take me out. The problem is that those bubbles always get popped.

That experience also taught me that there are times in which it is right to judge a person. For example, it was correct of me to judge that something “wasn’t right” in that situation by the way the four guys were acting. It was right of me to judge that I was likely going to experience something I didn’t want to experience. And as they surrounded me, it was correct of me to judge that their actions were not good.

When it’s Wrong to Judge

To some degree, our desired actions reflect the state of our hearts. And the state of our hearts is influenced by our attachments (earthly or otherwise). Thus, our attachments should be considered when looking at the reasons why people act the way they do. However, we cannot equate attachments of the heart to the state of one’s heart overall. In other words, just because I can truthfully claim that a ship has barnacles attached to it, does not mean I can make a holistic claim about the state of the ship as a whole.

Approached from that way of thinking, I can now see that I could rightly judge the actions of those four guys, but it wasn’t right for me to judge the fullness of their hearts because I don’t have the capacity to know the fullness of anyone’s heart. That is something only God knows, and therefore, judgment in that sense is reserved only for Him. If I were to even attempt to do that, I would be grossly overstepping my bounds as a mere human being.

The fact is that I simply couldn’t know their reasons for doing what they were doing, what formed (or didn’t form) their moral compass, or if they were operating in a form of survival mode (possibly arising from experiencing prior traumas they hadn’t yet healed from). I simply couldn’t know if they had valid reason to have lost faith in humanity and were merely lashing out at a random, innocent person. I simply couldn’t know the degree to which each individual was culpable, given the hierarchy that seemed to exist between the four of them. I simply couldn’t know.

“Who am I to Judge?”

After World Youth Day in 2013, Pope Francis infamously asked, “Who am I to judge?” This question drew mixed reactions as it meant different things to different people. Some used the quote to attack people who didn’t think like they thought. Others used it to draw people into a deeper level of conversation about our inability to judge souls, but our moral ability to judge individuals’ actions as either good or bad. I saw barriers erode and new relationships flourish wherever I witnessed the latter.

This is important because it’s through relationships that our faith is most effectively shared. It’s also within relationships (and within a shared objective to explore something beyond what one already knows and understands) that people can more meaningfully journey together toward greater truth, even if they don’t fully see eye to eye on everything. Relationships allow us to walk toward unity despite our differences, to eliminate the us versus them mindset and embrace just us.

The Discomfort of Our Call

It isn’t comfortable to judge a person’s actions while simultaneously refusing to judge the fullness of his or her heart, especially when quotes like, “Who am I to judge?” are tossed around so frequently. However, as St. John Paul II said, we are made not for comfort but for greatness, and that requires us to step out of our comfort zones. It requires us to make judgements, because to become great (for the Lord), we are to become just.

One cannot be just, without exercising just judgments. But, we have to be mindful of what we do and do not have authority to judge. For matters that address desired behaviors (actions which reflect the attachments of our hearts), we should make judgments. In fact, if we fail to exercise them, we counter what we are actually called to do as Christians. However, for matters pertaining to the fullness of one’s heart (or one’s final destination), we should not make judgements. Why? Because we are not God, and we simply do not know all.

Take Courage

With that, take courage and properly judge what you ought, otherwise, justice on Earth will fall apart (or worse yet, fall further into the hands of those who are against Christianity). The justice of God will remain and we will experience His Justice in full, regardless of whether we choose to live in fear of judging others rightfully, or whether we rise up and take our place as we are called to do.

The question is, what will you do?