Spheres of Judgment
“Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, “The Lord knows them that are His” … And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth — that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” (II Timothy 2:19-26)
A very good friend of mine is a retired Church Minister and a practicing Christian. Over the years I have known her I have observed that she is what I would consider very Christ-like in her dealings with people – or at least people that she knows. She exhibits compassion, kindness, and love, with only a few lapses (for as she says to me, “We’re only human”) in all of her direct dealings with people. She is no pushover, and indeed has a bit of an ‘edge’, being of an age that really did experience an overtly sexist and racist world, having been born in 1931 in Illinois. But still, she is not judgmental of the people she knows and meets, in recognition, I can only imagine, that judging others is really for God to do, not us.
There is a disconnect, however. Her equanimity with respect to her concrete relations to people around her disappears when she has to deal with people in the abstract. My friend is an aficionado of the news and politics with a strong streak of justice coursing through her blood; she sputters vehemence at the mention of the name of half-a-dozen political leaders. As an example: poor Stephen Harper; can he really be that bad? I know I tend to agree that his government has done bad things – his proroguing the Canadian Parliament is just one example that irks me greatly – but I have no idea about the man himself. He is, after all, a public figure of whom most of us really will never have a true sense. So much of our understanding of things in the larger sphere of public life is so manipulated and filtered through the news media that I don’t think we really know much – even if many think that they do.
Still, I feel confident saying that proroguing Parliament is almost certainly a bad thing, and I can say too that Stephen Harper’s role in doing this is a bad thing. But I am uncomfortable suggesting that the man, Stephen Harper, is bad (or simply stupid –always another possibility). The same goes for almost every other political leader that we can think of. We are in no position really to say that any are bad – or good – as people.
But most of us, like my friend, do treat people unknown to us in this dialectic universe of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, often in stark contrast to how we treat people personally known to us. I have friends (including political friends) who believe and sometimes do the most stupid or evil things. I recognized these failings, and yet, because I know them I still feel compassion for their humanity.
I need not approve of their attitudes or behavior to have compassion and love for them. Indeed, it is sometimes surprisingly easy to have compassion for them not despite of their failings, but because of their failings. It is because I know them that I can see their humanity and their inner goodness, and thus I feel compassion and love for them. And while I will still not really approve of their failings and the harm they may cause, I find myself forgiving them.
Does this sound familiar? Compassion and love and forgiveness — despite of the sin? This is why Jesus died. He knew us from the beginning. He knows our hearts, and loves us and forgives us, despite our sinful failings.
And so, what are we to make of my friend’s intense disgust she holds towards Prime Minister Harper as well as a gaggle of other politicians? Well, I’d suggest she doesn’t know any of them well enough – that’s all. If she did, I have no doubt she would still condemn their attitudes and actions, but maybe not the men and women themselves? Or so we might hope. Still, on a broader level, if we are really to become Christ-like as the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom proclaims, perhaps, we as believers should take time to (re)consider how we extend our sphere of forgiveness.