I reckon the best-known verse in the Bible today is “Judge not”. It’s a nifty, two-word response to almost any moral criticism. Are you meant to be on a diet and your friend sees you tucking in to a big bag of crisps? “Judge not”, you say. The church minister preaches a sermon from the Bible about a common sin in society; at the door, on the way out, an upset listener collars him: “doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Judge not’? A politician is explaining the damage that extra marital affairs do to society: “Judge not” the newspaper columnists say. These two words serve as a convenient moral force-field, which shield us from anybody’s disapproval.
It is, of course, a rather silly mis-use of the verse. Try putting it on the lips of a war criminal. “You’ve just killed innocent Syrian civilians” says the judge. “Judge not!”, says the army officer! The police arrest a youth for stabbing someone to death, “Judge not!” is his defence. When Jesus said, “Judge not”, he was not asking his disciples to suspend their moral faculties. He wasn’t telling Christian judges to quit their jobs and find a new career. After all, in the same sermon, Jesus lays in to the religious leaders for their hypocrisy.
So, what did Jesus mean? He’s talking about an attitude towards others that sits on our high-horse, looking down on them like we’re morally superior. This “judging” simplistically splits the world into good and bad people. It’s letting ourselves think that there are moral monsters over there, and then nice people like me over here.
One day a man was robbed by a highwayman, and lost all his money. That night he thanked God that he was not at the other end of the gun. He was saying, “there, but for the grace of God, go I”. That’s the mind-set Jesus is calling for.
I don’t like it, but it’s actually loving when someone dares to tell me where I’ve deviated from the Bible. Sadly, in Britain, it feels like we’re creating “no-go” areas where we’re no longer free to express moral disapproval – in sexual choices, or even religious matters. When Jesus says, “Judge not”, he’s not telling us to stop every kind of criticism, but to do it without a flame-thrower. Why? because, morally speaking, we’re all in the same boat.
– The Ilford Recorder, October 2023