I watched someone engrossed in her phone step out into the road in front of oncoming traffic. I immediately made the judgement that she was an idiot. I would never be so stupid as to cross the road without looking.
I watched someone engrossed in her phone step out into the road in front of oncoming traffic. I could see she had tears streaming down her face. I immediately discerned that she was upset and that she was totally distracted from watching the road.
Judgement and discernment – close neighbours but very different.
You can see in the example of judgement, my thought process is all about comparing the actions of the person to the actions I would take and making myself feel good at her expense. In other words, the root of my thinking is about me and I am choosing to judge the other against my circumstances and knowledge. Maybe this is why, Jesus said in Matthew 7:1
‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged.’
Maybe he knows that when we judge we are tempted to use it as an excuse to make ourselves feel superior by being critical of the other, putting them down.
In the example of discernment, I can see the person is upset and my focus is on them and how they are feeling. I have more information about her situation – she is crying – and so I can relate to her more easily. In Proverbs 15:14, it says
‘The discerning heart seeks knowledge’
As I gain more knowledge of the situation, my empathy for the person grows. It doesn’t mean that I think crossing the road without looking is a good idea. I haven’t changed my opinion, but I do understand her distraction.
In a court of law considerable effort is made to uncover all the circumstances of the case through the testimony of witnesses and the questioning of barristers so that the jury have the knowledge to discern the truth of the case allowing them to come to a good judgement.
I think Jesus realised that we jump to conclusions far too easily and make judgements without discerning a full understanding of the situation. In reality, it is impossible for us to know and understand every nuance of a situation – the circumstances, the motives, the personality, the thought process, the life experience. The only one who does know all these things is God as it says in Psalm 139:1-6
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
So, what conclusions do I draw from these ramblings? Firstly, God is in a far better place and much better equipped to judge than I am. He has a far better handle on all the different pieces that make up a situation – so I should not rush to judgement. I should leave judgement to Him. Secondly, it’s good for me to discern the facts and causes of a situation as this will give me understanding and empathy which will help me be constructive and to show love and concern in my actions and reactions. For as it says in Proverbs 16:21
‘The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction.’