I’m mentally judgmental. I try really hard not to be but it’s like a popup on my mental screen that I can’t seem to totally rid myself of. The best I can do is click the “close box” before too much time has elapsed and the thoughts become a permanent virus in my spirit.
I’ve been thinking about a passage in James lately, the final words of which stand out to me like a stoplight.
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? James 2:2-4
As you can see, Pastor James, not famous for a reserved approach to spiritual leadership was confronting favoritism of one group over another. He makes it clear that when we treat some people better than others based on socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or whatever other differences exist between us, God doesn’t much like it. But it’s the phrase, “judges with evil thoughts” that’s always seemed sort of out of place until now.
I don’t think of myself as a particularly judgmental person, but it’s true that I often think I’m better than other people. I got a sense of it recently while I was walking down the street and I had to push a number of “evil thoughts” out the window of my mind. I have to admit that it’s not all that rare that I think of myself being smarter, skinnier, better looking, more spiritual, more whatever than other people. Whether or not I give verbiage to it or act on such profane thoughts about other people in comparison to me, at least momentarily it’s in my mind. These thoughts remain and thrive there until I do something to extract them.
James observed the reaction that some of his people had to the poor who braved a visit to their pristine church services. They didn’t direct them to the bad seats in the balcony, they gave them no seats at all. They gave them the floor!
Evil-thinking-judges come in all shapes and ilks. When my mind is off kilter about people who aren’t like me it’s not usually the poor. I get along with the poor quite well. But I’m not nearly evil-thinking-free in regard to other distinguishing characteristics between me and other people.
It’s in the mind where discrimination is spawned – mental judgmentalism. It’s the way we think that gets us into the most trouble, don’t you think? We think our thoughts are so safe and sound inside our brains. We assume that we can afford to possess them as long as we don’t act on them, but it’s only a matter of time until they’ll eek out in an attitude, which usually, if not always, paves the path for an action. When I try to hide my prejudices rather than repent of them they usually seep out my pores and eventually from my mouth.
Hiding biases is not the prescription. “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” If you’re a bigot of one sort or another, even if you suppress it and pretend like you’re not, it’ll eventually show, at least to others. The only thing that works for me is to identify these devilish opinions and yank them out like weeds.
Jesus doesn’t expect us to have no opinions or even biblically informed convictions about the lifestyles or actions of others. He told us to discriminate between good and evil (John 7:24). In his letter, James was himself judging the judgmentalism of others. But God’s beef is with bias based on the exterior.
But even when I do make biblically sound assessments of the actions of people, it often morphs into an “evil thought.” At that point I’ve trapezed from the platform of identifying evil in someone else to the other that assumes that I’m better than they are because I am not a consumer of their same form of evil.
Weird, right? I have evil thoughts about me being better than someone because they’re doing something evil! Sound at all familiar? Isn’t there something about “planks, slivers, and eye surgery” in the Bible?
It seems to me that most of my sin, if not all of it, begins in my mind. In case you’re scrolling down the page to see what other iniquities I might confess, save yourself the effort. I’m only admitting this one today. To my closest friends I might divulge a more extensive list. But on the Internet? Nope. I have enough trouble getting people to like me as it is.
Catherine Marshall wrote an article called, “A Fasting on Criticalness” wherein she told of an assignment that the Lord gave her. For one day she went on a fast from criticism in all its insidious forms. About her grueling exercise she wrote, “For the first half of the day, I simply felt a void, almost as if I had been wiped out as a person.” She said, “Barbed comments on the tip of my tongue about certain world leaders were suppressed.” And yet, “Bemused, I noticed that my comments were not missed. The federal government, the judicial system, and the institutional church could apparently get along fine without my penetrating observations . . . My critical nature (before the fast) had not corrected a single one of the multitudinous things I found fault with.”
My goal is to never have another evil thought about my superiority over others, but I’m beginning to think I might have to settle for a lesser degree of sanctification. If I can’t be entirely rid of all my judgmental thoughts I can always fight them when they come, replace them with the truth that we’re all the same – busted up people that God loves anyway – and try my best to love people that are not like me.
If you feel inclined to unburden yourself, rather than confess your own predilection to mental judgmentalism, feel free to divulge someone else’s. I thought I might get more comments that way.