Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 63: Forgiveness and Judgment
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 63: Forgiveness and Judgment

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Forgiveness is a central component of love. How do we forgive? We may start by not judging other people. It is natural for people to judge others, but Jesus said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3) The problem is that our judgments are always scandalous; we rarely see our own faults, and when we accuse other people they defensively avoid seeing their own misdeeds. Consequently, judgments nearly always evoke resentment and hostility, which lead to violence.

Jesus taught that God makes the sun shine on good and bad alike. God does not participate in our judgments. Indeed, Jesus asked God to forgive those responsible for murdering him “because they know not what they do.” Similarly, as the murderous mob descended upon St. Stephen, “Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord do not hold this sin against them.’” (Acts 7:60) It is critical to note that Stephen articulated the sin against him, but he asked God not to judge the sinners harshly. Refusing to judge people as evil or worthy or punishment is different from discerning right from wrong.

The theme that we should avoid judging other people helps explain the paradoxical parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). The third servant has judged his master to be harsh, and consequently the third servant is judged accordingly. Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2) In other words, when we judge other people, we are liable to similar judgment. The reciprocal accusations impede reconciliation and in fact tend to escalate hostilities. Indeed, if our words and/or actions show condemnation of meat-eaters, they will react defensively and refuse to hear our pleas for mercy. On the other hand, when we condemn modern animal agricultural institutions and point out that the general public, when buying its products, promotes these institutions, we are not attacking individuals, pointing fingers, or assuming a “holier than thou” posture.

Not only does being judgmental impair community-building, it is often based on false premises. By condemning others, we absolve ourselves of our own contributions to conflict and misery. This is the essence of scapegoating – judging someone as guilty and punishing accordingly. The scapegoat, as I’ve said previously, is generally not completely innocent. Rather, the scapegoat is almost always far less guilty than the scapegoating mob believes. The mob is united in a common conviction that they are all innocent, because they have attributed all guilt to the scapegoat.

For example, many people believe in demonic possession, and frequently the mob believes that the scapegoat has been possessed by demons or “the devil,” who has sown conflict and misery. Once the possessed person has been destroyed, they believe that peace and tranquility will return, and indeed this usually happens because they are united in their participation in the scapegoating mechanism. Analogously, we are quick to judge and punish a thief, and indeed the thief has done wrong. But, doesn’t theft often reflect unjust social, political, and economic relationships? By judging the thief evil, we absolve ourselves of our contribution to the illegal act.

Next week, we will continue this discussion on forgiveness with reflections on that part of the Lord’s Prayer in which Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts.”

Go on to: Part 64: “Forgive Us Our Debts”
Return to: Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence Table of Contents
Return to: Christian Living Table of Contents