Judgment Puzzles

Only God knows how any of us responds to His love

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Virtue

Puzzles, especially real life puzzles, can drive us crazy. (When my dad was charged with doing this very thing, he’d reply “Sir (or Madam), in your case it will be a short, quick trip.”

But puzzles can also lead to insight, and the harder the puzzle the more valuable the insight can be.

Here’s a puzzle in Scripture. Matthew 7: 1-2, in the language of the King James Bible, teaches: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” Yet in Isaiah 49: 2 we find “He made my mouth like a sharp sword,” words that also appear in the Liturgy for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

The puzzle persists in Church life today. A few weeks ago, two friends with whom my wife and I often pray urged that in light of the complex and worsening evils of these “interesting times” we ought not to judge, period. Yet St. John XXIII, in Mater et Magister, wrote that when we work for justice our maxim should be “observe, judge, act.”

This first puzzle isn’t hard to resolve. We are to judge (are we not?) actions and not people. Hate the sin, love the sinner. Still, this puzzle persists. Why? It does so, in part, because it’s hard not to judge people and hard not to hate sinners. Very, very hard.

Now comes a second and tougher puzzle. The choices we make, taken together, make us to be who we are. (Remember mom’s warning: “Keep making that ugly face and it’ll freeze that way.” Say what?) The point, duly expanded, is that if someone acts hatefully, that someone becomes hateful. If I act, again and again, in an evil way, don’t I become evil? And if I become evil, why shouldn’t you hate me?

Let me offer a starter solution to this second puzzle. If we love as we ought, we love the person rather than merely some set of qualities. I am more than the content of my character, as are you. The good thief, after all, was a thief. But he was more. It is love and the capacity to love that, in the end, constitutes the core of the person. A person’s love and capacity to love, especially insofar as the object of such love is God, goes far beyond what any of us can observe. We can observe acts. We can and should judge them. Only God, though, knows how any of us, at the core of our very selves, responds to His love. It is because we cannot judge persons as God does that we cannot love them as God does. We cannot judge them as He judges them. Perhaps some such insight led St. Augustine to exclaim, in his Confessions, “You were more inward to me than my most inward part and higher than my highest”(interior intimo meo et superior summo meo).

Doubtless there’s much more to say about the second puzzle. We might consider it from the perspective of the oldest of those who stood ready to stone the woman caught in adultery. Why, upon hearing Christ’s words, were they the first to walk away? It’s well worth thinking about in another post.

Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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