Judge Not …

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How many judges are there in the UK?  Go on take a guess …

Let’s narrow it down by taking the judges from X-factor and all other such nonsense out of the equation and concentrate solely on those people who serve as Judges, with a capital ‘J’ in a legal sense.  How many do you think there are?

I bet it’s more than you think …

In the UK there are currently around 1,600 serving judges, ranging from the ‘common’ circuit judge through to some fabulously titled roles – who wouldn’t want to be “Senior Master & Queen’s Remembrancer?” that just sounds brilliant!

In addition, we have something like 15,500 barristers in the UK too… just think of all those horsehair wigs!  There are around 118,000 solicitors as well.  And I haven’t looked at the number of magistrates here, just the ‘professionals’ if you will.

To me, as an abstract thing it seems like an awful lot of people – around 135,000 folks – whose job revolves around the legal process, whether that would be criminal prosecutions, civil litigation or various technical aspects of the law.  It’s roughly 1 in every 500 people – if you include ‘front line police (around 130,000) that means the figure rises to around 1 in 240.

But, I think that the real ratio is more like 1:1

We all judge.  All the time.  Whether we’re conscious of it or not.  We judge.

It’s natural and sensible to do so – everyone has to make the occasional ‘judgement call’; everyone has to weigh up options, take precautions, do the risk assessment, make decisions – make a judgement.  Surely, it’s something that we should encourage – responsible judgements.  Isn’t it just being wise to think things through and try to reach the right outcome?

Well, yes … and no.

I’m all for wisdom, but the problem is; our wisdom tends to get undone by our rush to judgement.  Our judging tends to wander into situations where it might not be the best way forward; rather than applying things like wisdom and compassion we find a leaning towards “compassion fatigue” and a certain world-weary reactionary cynicism.  It’s as though deep inside of us, there is a rabid, right-wing, Daily Mail reading, swivel-eyed loon just waiting, ever ready, to vent a permanently raging spleen at some imaginary injustice, some undeserving asylum-seeking, benefit-claiming, lager-fuelled, drug-addled, pregnant, teenaged, tuberculosis-ridden badger.  Or, if your background is more like mine you might reject the tabloid responses in favour of a somewhat tattered revolutionary flag and half remembered, lefty-leaning principles of fairness and egalitarianism.  (Basically, I’m a terrible inverted snob … It’s those public-school, Bullingdon Club, landed-gentry, hedge-fund managing, champagne-swilling, expenses claiming, banking-bonus grabbing, upper-class twits that are the problem!)

I judge blindly – based on my assumptions and preconceptions, on what I think I know rather than on what I actually know.  I jump to the wrong conclusion a million times quicker than taking the time to actually think and form my own opinions and responses.  I think – regardless of political and/or cultural bias – we all do the same.

Maybe that’s why Scripture says “Do not judge … “ (Matt 7:1, Luke 6:37).  Not because making a reasoned and informed judgement is inherently wrong, but because Jesus knew that the most common response we all make is to leap blindly in the direction of our prejudices.

“Do not judge …” reminds us that we shouldn’t fall into that pattern of disparaging others and making ourselves out to be the arbiters and regulators of all things.  The warning is that if we ‘judge’ like that, then it’s exactly how others will judge us – harshly, with no desire to understand the situation, with no leeway, with no admittance that “there but for the grace of God …”

The word used has the root ‘krinos,’ which means to properly distinguish or decide, whether that’s in a mental or even a judicial sense.  It should be a long way from there – making a properly considered decision – to making snap judgements and seeking to dole out blame and arbitrary fault to others.  Unfortunately, it isn’t.

I spoke at my church recently – from Amos 5, as part of a series on Judgement and Mercy, partly inspired by the story of Les Miserables – and I was caught by the difference between what I understood about justice and righteousness and mercy and all those type of things and what the actual meanings of the words used were about.  There’s an appreciable difference between my concept of retribution and punishment and the implications of the words ‘mishpat, sedeqah, chesed, and raham.’   The original Hebrew words speak of a world of involvement and relationship that goes far beyond the knee-jerk reactions that I’m used to making.  (The talk is here if you’re interested)

In the same way, I’m certain that there’s a chasm of understanding between my way of judgment and the way we’re supposed to approach things.

There is a massive difference between a judgement that is rooted in a desire to understand and to find the right way forward, and a judgement that is essentially about punishing someone because they don’t do what you want, or share your attitudes, or let you down or a million other things we choose to divide ourselves upon.

There is a massive difference in the intent to engage with someone in a manner that will allow any relationship to be restored and repaired or built upon, and an attitude that seeks a vengeful outcome that is designed to belittle and berate.

Scripture sums it up when Jesus says, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgement on no-one.”  (John 8:15)

Our judgement is flawed, corrupted by our prejudices and preconceptions – Jesus resolutely refuses to go down that path.

Perhaps we shouldn’t either … Damn, I’m going to struggle with this one!



One response to “Judge Not …

  1. Im definitely having to learn about this whole judging and not judging lark – wise words here as ever. It all comes down to the fact that the only one qualified to judge is the only one who truly has all the “facts and data” and can see the big picture. I can’t imagine anyone seeing the big picture of my life and doing anything other than run far away – but he doesn’t, he runs toward and embraces me. How can I do any less for those around me? Judge not indeed – (the phrase also always reminds me of Measure for Measure – a play worth checking out if you can)

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