True Judgment Versus Being Judgmental

Scripture Hymns

Psalm 9:1-10 #80 "This Is My Father's World"

#83 "Seek Ye First"

Mtt. 7:1-2; John 7:16-24 #22 "Praise The Lord"

Rev. Kit B. Billings

January 26, 2003

Judge not. Judge. How are we to understand this apparent contradiction? Perhaps an illustration might help us out here, one I hope you find both humorous and clarifying around the subject of discerning genuine judgment.

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there lived a Swedenborgian minister on the planet of Alderon, the same planet that was home to Princess Lea who led the Rebellion in Star Wars against the evil Galactic Empire.

Now, I bet none of you ever heard about the presence of Swedenborgianism and its influence on Obi-Won Kinobi before he became a Jedi Knight. Well it happened, and here's a short story about Obi-Won Kinobi, long before he became a Jedi Knight, when he had just become a new, young Swedenborgian pastor.

The young, lanky, newly ordained Rev. Obi-Won Kinobi was starting a new pastorate in the city of New Jerusalem upon Avon. In the fall of star date 1039.7 not long after Rev. Kinobi had arrived, he had to find his way into downtown New Jerusalem upon Avon to run some errands. After he got down there in his land-speeder (a machine comparable to our cars we drive today), he found a place to park and went about his business. Several hours later he came back to his land-speeder, got in it, and went home.

His first journey downtown was completely uneventful………or so he thought. What Rev. Kinobi did not realize at the time was that a police officer had put a parking ticket on the window of his land-speeder while Obi-Won was away running his errands. And furthermore, what he hadn't known was that either the wind or a person had come along and taken that ticket off his windshield without him knowing it!

Well, two whole years then passed, and the wide-eyed young Reverend never heard a whisper, or received a letter, about the legal infraction he had committed. Somewhere around two years and three months after he had moved to New Jerusalem upon Avon, he received a friendly little notice on his electronic inter-planetary space-mail telling him that if he didn't come to a specified court appearance, he was going to be arrested!

THAT sort of took his breath away! For who knows maybe tough, armored storm troopers would be ringing his doorbell!

But what made this even worse was that the court appearance was scheduled right smack dab in the middle of his vacation when he would be some two hundred light years away at a Jedi Knight Introductory Seminar!

He immediately envisioned the news headlines:

Flash!……Swedenborgian pastor cooling off in the slammer…….parishioners bringing him cookies during their lunch hours…….film at eleven!

At any rate, he probably would have been cooling off, indeed, because he was beginning to get rather angry about the whole thing. He had never even seen any such parking ticket, and here he was, a Wookie's breath away, from being arrested.

Well, Rev. Kinobi immediately called the police and it turned out that instead of showing up in court he could write out his defense and send it in if he sent it in exactly 10 days before his hearing date. So he did this, but never heard any word from them……..until, one sunny Tuesday afternoon when he got a notice that his land-speeder was about to be impounded, right out from under him, because he did not show up at the trial date!

At this point, Rev. Kinobi was hoping that adrenaline was truly good for the human body…for plenty of it was pumping through his veins!

So, back on the phone he went, only this time he finally got some resolution. After winding his way through the New Jerusalem upon Avon police bureaucracy, and finally ending up with the right person who handled these things, he then got put on hold, but eventually the police worker came back on the line and said, in very clear and very unemotional language:

"The judge found you guilty."

It was the way he said it…there was something clean and non-condemning about it, something right to the point, and Obi-Won was, quite frankly, a bit surprised at his own response. In a personal letter he wrote to his friend, Raymond Skywalker, Obi-Won describes it like this: "I said to myself in a simple, matter-of-fact way after the sentence was given, `How refreshing!'"

And so, he was guilty. It was over. No more ambiguity. No more guessing, or worry. He was guilty. The funny thing was is that there was almost something spiritually orienting about it all… some way he didn't understand. It had made his head feel clearer inside somehow.


[As you may have guessed, the real names, dates, and places of the people you've just heard about have been concealed to preserve their identity…well maybe!]

This was a story about JUDGEMENT-which was, in fact, helpful! Orienting. Constructive. Not completely pleasant, to be sure, but very helpful, nonetheless. What is it that separates Rev. Kinobi's example and experience from other very destructive experiences that we've all had or done ourselves? That is, THE VERY DESTRUCTIVE ACT OF BEING JUDGMENTAL---------of being condemning and/or shaming?

It seems to me that this is a difficult, but extremely important, subject for all of us on our spiritual journeys, for we often seem to ere in one of two ways:

  1. We either end up being judgmental.

  2. Or we tend to throw out all judgment for fear of ever appearing judgmental-a kind of "hear no evil, see no evil" approach you might say.

What, then, IS righteous judgment, as the Bible calls it, and how does it differ from that very negative judgmentalism we've all had shot at us at one time or another, and that is so graphically portrayed often in Scripture by the Pharisees?

My own spiritual concern here is that we not loose our ability to judge, to discern cleanly and clearly, but to do so in such a way that, at the same time, we are not being judgmental. Getting these two separated from each other can be a difficult spiritual problem to come to terms with, but one of immense spiritual importance.

Now I'm sure there are many "ins" and "outs" to this whole subject, but I'd like to try and cut through some of them to, perhaps, the core of the matter. The core, it seems to me, the thing that makes all the difference, and that is so different in one than in the other,is our internal state-that is, what's really going on inside us at the time; what our overall intention is; how we, in fact, FEEL INSIDE as we're judging some situation or someone, perhaps even ourselves.


Judgmentalism, as I've experienced it in myself, is really a very self-centered state of being. It's typically self-centered in my experience, often due to anger actually, and, perhaps, a great deal of fear as well. There is no, or certainly very little, LOVE present.

The intent, conscious or not, is to shame and to blame, to create fear and distance and to create pain in the other person-that is, to reject and to hurt. But the even deeper dimension is a very negative, inner judgment and condemnation issue within the person being judgmental. For you see, I cannot destructively judge another person unless I've first done it to myself-unless I've condemned myself!

A voice of inner self-condemnation will always precede judgmentalism toward others, and what's really interesting about that is how truly Godless that is because, quite simply, God never condemns anyone. It is literally not possible for God to condemn anybody, ever! The Lord can and will judge people, and can do so without hesitation, but He never, ever condemns us. Condemnation is something that only we can do to ourselves. Our church teachings offer a helpful bit of commentary here on the subject of condemnation:

…take as an example, [spiritual] vastation, punishment, and condemnation, which are attributed to the Lord in many passages of the Word; when nevertheless they belong to the man of the church, who vastates, punishes, and condemns himself. It appears before a man as if the Lord vastated, punished, and condemned; and because it appears so, it is so expressed according to the appearances….

Heavenly Secrets, Swedenborg, n. 1838(2)

The deepest spiritual danger in judgmentalism is really a secret attempt to play God. But if God doesn't condemn, how can I? Judgmentalism and condemnation stem from a false sense of my mutually loving and merciful relationship with someone else. We cannot condemn and be in a good relationship to God. Within judgmentalism there is a serious attempt to put destructive distance between God and the other person, and between God and us. The reality is that there are many ways we can try to be God. Sometimes I think that THAT is the problem from which all other problems spring.

True Judgment

True judgment, on the other hand, no matter how vigorous or intense it may appear outwardly, comes, ultimately, from a different place in us. It originates, actually, from a very soft, but critically important, FELT connection to God and is therefore fundamentally an act of humility-an act that moves from the perception of the right relation between God and myself and others.

It's a perception that burns quietly for everyone

to have a living, real connection

to that Infinite Source of Love and Truth.

The two inner worlds of judgment and judgmentalism are as different from each other as night and day. They are, in fact, opposites, even though-and here comes the tricky part-even though the outward behavior may seem similar.

There is a final dimension to all of this that I would like to mention, and that is that what we're really talking about here is our ability to love in the presence of real evil-whether in ourselves or in each other, and to do so in a wholesome, balanced, yet clear-eyed kind of way.

There is a man named Howard Storm, and he once went on an amazing journey! He died after having a massive heart-attack, where he then claims that his spirit left his body, wandered around the hospital for what seemed like a short while, and then began to experience some amazing spiritual phenomena. One of the interesting things about Howard Storm, prior to these experiences, is that he was a total and complete atheist.

Howard tells us that he spent hours in discussion with the really good, wise angels, feeling the depth and real caring of their love. And at one point he began to speak of his own evil. He had not been a particularly loving person. He was self-serving. Unloving. His giving always had strings on it, et cetera.

And what do you think was their response to him? They said something with great feeling and clear-sightedness, knowing full well the truthfulness of what he had just told them about himself; they said, with great compassion and empathy, "we know." Then Howard said to these angelic beings, "Are you sure you've got the right man? Shouldn't you be talking with someone else?" And their reply to him was simply, "We don't make mistakes."

These people don't make mistakes. They always judge mercifully.

So let's not throw the baby out with the bath! Judgmentalism is clearly an act of aggressiveness and anger. Genuine judgment, however, although perhaps a bit painful at times, is PROFOUNDLY different indeed. Let's not only keep real judgment and discernment, without being judgmental or moralistic, but let's also remain open to God's judgments of us. We needn't fear it. It is trying to tell us the truth but without condemning us.

When the concentration camps were opened at the end of WWII, one of the most frequent responses was: "This is evil." Losing true judgment began the build-up that resulted in those camps!

It turns out that true judgment, not judgmentalism, is a function of real love…spiritual love that is connected with truth. For IN REALITY, love and truth always go together, they are ONE. Love without truth is a semblance of love. Without truth and the good, merciful judgment that comes with it there is no love, no matter how sweet or soft or lovely we might appear on the outside.

The Lord is Love Itself, in part because He's always willing and capable of bringing truth and love at the same time. Although He also knows when to come first with love, and then maybe or maybe not share great judgment in the truth. Clearly, sometimes the Lord held back an immense amount of His truth, such as when He was being tried and condemned before the Sanhedrin and then before Pontius Pilot. At that point, He essentially remained silent.

As we each in our own unique way engage vital journeys of self-examination coming up soon in Lent, in order to cleanse ourselves (and our church) of problematic spiritual leanings away from God, let us join together with the angels in real judgment. Let us be open to God's judgment of us. And let us truly walk further into our spiritual regeneration-with the Lord's loving, discerning eyes illuminating our minds.


Pastoral Prayer

Oh Lord, we approach You this morning acknowledging that You are with us in a special and healing way when we are in prayer like this. The more united we are in spirit as one, the more You are able to give us useful discernment that moves according to our unique affection for You-to the end that we might know and then serve Your will as the New Jerusalem continues to flow down out of heaven, blessing all who feel its healing warmth and light.

We humbly ask to be given a new experience of the dimension of Your life today, on this yet another gorgeous and peaceful Sabbath day. We ask for this gift because the deepest part of our faith knows that when You are near, love is the most real and important thing of all, and then selfishness and judgmentalism find no home in our hearts.

May we have the courage to be open to Your judgment, which always is connected with Love, and to let You enter our space where perhaps barriers have lived for years. May we have the humility to let go of self-image long enough for You to melt away what is doggedly determined to remain the same.

And may we have the faith to let You transform what is broken, misguided, or lost. For the good of all people in heaven and for all who live here on this sacred earth, we come to You now and rejoice in a spirit of gratitude for the love and understanding You so freely give.

We are whole in Your Presence, dear Lord. Thank You for being so fully present with us here today.