For the next six months this column will be written by Edith Schaeffer, who with her husband operates L’Abri Fellowship in Huemoz, Switzerland. The column will retain the name given it by the late Dr. L. Nelson Bell, who wrote it for sixteen years.

People are quick to jump into a place of judgment of others, feeling that they are secure on some sort of a platform from which they look down. Somehow the discussion of another person’s faults seems to keep the one speaking, or thinking, out of the searchlight of inspection. It is easier to hide from one’s own memories of sins and shortcomings when one is in the middle of accusing someone else.

In Romans Paul speaks of this sort of thing with tremendous force: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (Rom. 2:1). This strikes everyone who will listen. When we wallow in judgment of others, we are condemning ourselves. The things we so piously pick out to judge, gathering our self-righteousness around us like a protective blanket, are the very things, God says, that will come around and hit us. “And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” (Rom. 1:3).

These are sobering words. To think of judging other human beings, and being in the position of condemning oneself point by point, is a fearful thought. Yet we easily push this away from our minds and conversations, and carelessly indulge in outlining lists that could be presented to us in a different context when suddenly we are the ones to be judged, rather than the judge!

There is another kind of judgment and criticism that is far far worse. Over and over again one hears people say, “I can’t believe in a God who would have only one way to approach himself. What about the heathen nations? What about other religions and philosophies? God cannot be a loving God or a compassionate God if he allows people to be lost.” Unbelievers use as an excuse not to come to God the fact that they believe they have within their own minds and hearts more compassionate and loving attitudes and actions toward the people of history than God does. They set themselves up to criticize God, the Creator of the Universe, the Infinite Personal Trinity, apparently feeling that they would have a better plan, a greater love, more compassion and justice.

It is awesome to think of the lack of awe and fear on the part of a miniscule creature with a span of experience that could not exceed one century presuming to judge the Eternal God so lightly. What he should be doing is seeking to discover something of the marvel of the love of God, the wonder of his compassion, which is compassion not for friends but for enemies. Natural man is at enmity against God; that is, man is really an enemy of God before he becomes a child of God through what Jesus, the Lamb, did for him in taking his punishment. The love of God is such that the second Person of the Trinity died for enemies! It is a love man cannot fathom.

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However, it is not just those who are non-Christians who set themselves up to judge the compassion and love of God. Often Christians slip into thinking and feeling that they have more love, more compassion, more willingness to suffer for other people’s sake, more sensitivity to the world’s sorrows, more hatred of the ugliness of the spoiled universe, more agony over the results of sin and the abnormal world, more willingness to do something costly to themselves, more ideas for a solution that would help more people, than God. Perhaps Christians don’t put it into a clear outline in their own minds and feelings, but in conversation, that which is in the wells of their hearts comes out in the flow of their verbalized questions and doubts.

The dark doubt of many Christians’ minds is a form of judging God. To judge and to criticize is to set oneself up as at least equal to, if not above, the one being criticized. How dare we! We should pray with David, “Thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Ps. 86:15), and ask for a greater trust in his compassion, infinitely greater than ours.

We should be careful in our thinking as well as in our conversation to remember that our carelessness is affecting this next generation, and we have responsibility. “One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts.… They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness, and shall sing of thy righteousness. The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great merey.… The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works. The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth (Ps. 145:4, 7, 8, 17, 18).

How can we set ourselves up to criticize, judge, look down upon the Infinite Holy God, who is perfect in his love and justice? Just who do we think we are? Such thoughts should send us to our knees to worship the God who has made us in his image with compassion as a part of our makeup but with a fraction of love and compassion that gives us only an inkling of his perfect, eternal, limitless love and compassion.

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And if we are troubled with agony over the lostness of the world, if we are sleepless at night because of the suffering, what should the solution be? First, a realization that God has given us access to him through communication. We are allowed not to criticize but to come asking, pleading, interceding for others. We are given the possibility of affecting history of others through our prayer and our willingness to be involved. Rather than simply weeping, we should weep and pray, and ask that God use us in some very real way in this moment of history.

Secondly, we should recognize that our “feelings” should give us compassion toward God. If we suffer because of other people’s suffering, we can understand in a small way Jesus as he cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37). We can understand in a tiny way Jesus’ anger and hatred of the sin that destroyed life as he wept at the tomb of Lazarus.

Then we should come to Lamentations and pray with the writer of these weepings as we say to God, “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22).

Our Judge is compassionate beyond our imaginations. We must trust his compassion and love, for ourselves and for those for whom we long. When we slip into the posture of judging God, we should stop and ask: Who do we think we are?

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