"...judge someone else?"
"God is the only lawgiver and judge. He alone can save and destroy. Who do you think you are, to judge someone else?"
Last week we took our church's youth group for a day of hiking, canoeing, and kayaking. One of the highlights of the hike was this waterfall. Since the water flowed over the edge of a very large rock outcropping it was possible to go behind the falls and get a view through the water from "the other side."
The view from "the other side of life" is pretty much always different from our own view on "our side of the falls." Yet time and again I hear folks express such pain because in the midst of some tragedy or difficult circumstance someone is ready to offer their opinion as seen from their side of the falls. In other words, they're ready to offer that word of judgment based on what they "see" from their side, but make little or no effort to wonder what the view might be like from the other side of the falls, the back side of the falls. To wonder what it might be like for the person on the other side of the falls is what we call "empathy." To walk behind the falls in a situation and attempt to wonder with the hurting person from that perspective can be especially healing, helpful, and hopeful for the one in crisis. That's exactly God's divine agenda, to be with us wherever we find ourselves. However, the word of judgment that is spoken from from our side of the falls without the attempt to empathize almost always intensifies the hurt the person in a crisis is already experiencing "behind the falls." Judgment rarely, if ever, helps but must serve some purpose or else folks would not be so quick to judge based on the view from their side of the falls.
I'm convinced that judgment is a great defense for empathy. To "walk behind the falls" risks our having to encounter our own vulnerability. In other words, it risks our shifting from, "This could never happen to me...," to, "This very well could happen to me and it would feel awful. Maybe it would feel so awful that I might just make decisions that wouldn't necessarily fit the expected or norm." To judge means I don't have to feel the pain. I can stay on my side of the falls and you stay on your side. I can pretend that I would never make the sort of decisions you're making in your crisis. It's safe for me, but painful and lonely for you.
James confronts us with, "Who do you think you are, to judge someone else?' I know who I am. I am a vulnerable child of God who has and will again in the future find himself on the "back side of the falls." I pray that God will help me remember that when I see others on the back side of the falls so I can resist judgment and offer hope. How about you?
Blessings and Peace,
Pastor, Sand Hill United Methodist Church
Boaz, West Virginia
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"...judge someone else?"