In my former incarnation (I used to be a litigation lawyer) I remember how intimidating it felt when I went and stood before a judge on behalf of a client. I was a very junior (and inexperienced) lawyer when I had to go and stand before a High Court judge in his chambers to agree a timescale for a case. I was so junior that I had to ask for his permission to be admitted and represent my client.
My mouth went dry, my knees knocked and a rabble* of butterflies performed complex acrobatics inside me. I somehow managed to speak and make representations, and we reached an agreement. I left the room feeling simultaneously drained and elated.
On another occasion I had to go before a High Court Judge in Bristol, again in chambers, on a complex and rare procedure. I was coming to the end of my time as a lawyer, about to go to the Vicar Factory, but I was still anxious because it was such a difficult procedure and because of who I would be standing before. When the case was called I was relieved to find that the defendant was not there and neither were any legal representatives on his behalf.
The judge asked me some questions about the procedure, which I had followed to the letter and could demonstrate with documentation, and agreed to grant me the order. He then asked me to let him have it so he could sign it. I didn’t have anything with me! I had not expected to win so easily and had not thought to bring a document in case. I remember going very red in the face and apologising for forgetting. He realised my discomfort and graciously agreed to sign it when I sent it.
I left the room feeling simultaneously drained and elated.
You may be expecting me to head off at this stage with bloggerel about standing before God and how awesome he is. If that is where you are heading then go with that and reflect on that thought in your own life. But I want to go in a different direction.
I would not want to be a judge. By virtue of their wisdom, experience, training and reputation these people are set apart to make decisions for the rest of us when we are unable to decide for ourselves. That sort of responsibility is profoundly impressive when it is carried out in the ways that I have experienced. It is no wonder that we are intimidated because these people are set above us and have the power to shape our lives.
Jesus warns us not to judge other people, as we ourselves will be judged. When we judge someone else we are setting ourselves up as superior to them. We have a set of standards by which we judge. We decide whether or not someone has matched up to our expectations and our standards. But who decided that we are superior? Who decided that our standards and expectations are right? When we judge someone else we are assuming that responsibility. If we condemn someone else on the basis of our judging then we are assuming the moral high ground.
There’s an old saying that goes, “When you point the finger at someone there are three other fingers pointing back at you.” I think that is what Jesus was saying in the warning I mentioned above. If you judge others you can expect to be judged by the same standards. If you condemn someone else, be careful because that condemnation may well come back at you. None of us is perfect. I am certainly not perfect. If you decide that someone else is not good enough you need to recognise that you aren’t either. You may not share the same faults that you have identified in someone else, but you have others. If you aren’t sure about this, think about what Jesus had to say about taking a speck of dust out of someone else’s eye while you have a plank in yours! (Matthew 7:1-5)
If, and I would like that word in bold, flashing letters, it is ever right to point out to someone else where they may have fallen short we should only ever do so with grace, humility, prayer and gentleness. We should only do so if we are sure that this is what God wants us to do, and we should only do so in a Christlike way. It should never be our intention to condemn, always our intention to encourage and build up. We should never leave someone quivering and full of guilt, we should always leave them feeling that God has blessed them through us and reassuring them of his grace and forgiveness.
Please God, forgive me if I ever presume to judge someone else, especially when I know that I am nowhere near perfect. Thank you for the forgiveness and fresh starts that you graciously offer.
Be blessed, be a blessing.
After a lawyer had spent six hours summing up his case the judge was unimpressed.
“Mr Feldspar,” he intoned, “After six hours of your presentation I am still none the wiser.”
“Possibly not, M’lud,” responded the lawyer, “but you are far better informed.”
*Apparently this is the collective noun for butterflies. It seems a bit unruly for such graceful creatures!