“Who am I to judge?” One might say that this was the question heard around the world. The fact that it was asked at 35,000 feet on a Papal flight, might just justify that moniker. The context of the question and the Pandora’s box it opened aside, by asking the rhetorical question, Pope Francis brought sharply into focus the human fear of being judged.
Very early on in my blogging career I wrote a short article on judging and being judge (you can read it here). I addressed the dilemma of trying to help others avoid condemnation at the final judgement without coming across as taking on God’s unique role of judge of their soul. It is a very fine line, and recently I happened across Edward Sri’s Who am I to Judge?, which gives great insight into how to go about helping others understand God’s judgement without becoming judgemental themselves.
What all of this has highlighted for me lately is our human fear of being judged – especially God’s final judgement at the moment of our death.
Meditating on this question, I’ve come to realize that there are two reasons why we fear judgement:
Ø We are used to imperfect, human judges; and
Ø We have already judged ourselves, and found we are lacking.
None of us here on earth has stood before Christ, the perfect judge. That time will come only at the moment of our death, when each of us will face our final judgement. Our last breath taken, our soul will stand before the Lord, the evidence of our earthly life presented for His merciful judgement.
Until that time, however, we will have to content ourselves with less than perfect human judges. This statement isn’t intended to slander judges or our judicial system. I place a lot of faith in both the system and those who run it, for our judges “would have no power over (us), unless it had been given to (them) from above.” (cf Jn 19:11) I trust that in His infinite wisdom, God has placed the right people in the right authority to bring about His plan for Salvation. It may be earthly authority, but its ultimate goal should be to help us to heaven. This is probably why it takes years of law school, practice as a lawyer, and innumerable checks and balances to ensure that only the best of the best become judges,
This said, these are human judges, and, unfortunately, human weakness and sin can get in the way of God’s plans.
Mistakes happen, and even the best and most experienced of judges can make an error in judgement. Even though they are the exception and not the norm, stories of wrongful convictions abound in the media. The masses call foul of the judicial system, and our mistrust of those put into a position of authority deepens.
Unfortunately, this developed mistrust of our imperfect human judges then get projected onto the perfect judge – our merciful Father.
We fear death and our final judgement, because we fear that we will be the exception and not the norm. Although there has been an eternity of God’s perfect and impartial judgement, we fear that we will be the first to be wrongfully condemned. Our human minds, formed in their frailty by a history of imperfect human judges, are unable to understand that God’s judgement is not only perfect and impartial, but that it is also merciful.
We tend to forget that God is slow to anger and abounding is steadfast love. (cf Ps 86:15, Jl 2:13, Jnh 4:2, Ex 34:6, Ne 9:17, Ps 103:8 and Ps 145:8)
This fear of imperfect human judgement leads into the second reason why we fear judgement…
Don’t judge me! is often the pre-emptive retort before someone can make a comment on whatever it is we are doing. What this statement is really saying is: I have already judged myself, and know that I am lacking.
I know that I took an extra trip to the buffet table – don’t judge me!
I know that I drink too much – don’t judge me!
I know that I shouldn’t smoke a pack-a-day – don’t judge me!
I know that I slept around – don’t judge me!
We all know the litany of sinful behaviours and skeletons that hide in our closets. Yes, deep down, we’re ashamed of them. We know what we’ve done is not in our best interest. We really don’t need you to point this out.
When it comes to the list of our own short-comings, we can all be pretty harsh on ourselves, and hearing it from someone else just makes the wound that much deeper. Self-control is usually listed as the last of the fruits of the Holy Spirit for a reason, it can seem to be the hardest to come by. Still, it is something that we desperately need, and should ardently desire.
Our short-comings are never more evident than when we come upon perfection. As an recreational athlete, I never feel more inadequate that when I play with someone who has competed at the highest level… I become aware very quickly of the chasm of skill and athleticism that separates myself from a true athlete. I judge myself unworthy to be on the same playing field as my more-talented adversary, and the lack of confidence soon shows in my increasingly sloppy play – but don’t judge me… the other guy is vastly superior.
Looking ahead to our own final judgement, we can’t help but think that we will feel the same way when we come before Jesus. Christ is the ultimate perfection, and we are not. Although called to hold ourselves to His divine standard, we come to realize very quickly that we will fall considerably short of His heavenly criteria… but don’t judge me – at least I’m trying.
Maybe in this day and age we want to shout out to Christ: “Don’t judge me!” because we have judged ourselves against His divine standard and we understand just how much we are lacking. We don’t want God to judge us, because through His revelation we already know where our actions are taking us, and we don’t want to go there. If we ignore His judgement, then we can ignore the consequences.
We need to remember that if we have judged ourselves, we’re being judged by an imperfect human judge.
In the end, Christ, our ultimate judge, understands this and He is compassionate towards us. This is why He has given us the sacrament of Reconciliation through the Church. He offers us the opportunity to bring ourselves out of our own imperfect self-judgement into His perfect and merciful judgement.