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“Judge Not” and Judging - Ensign Aug. 1999 - ensign

“Judge Not” and Judging
By Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

From a talk given on 1 March 1998 at Brigham Young University. There are two kinds of judging: final judgments, which we are forbidden to make, and intermediate judgments, which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles.
As a student of the scriptures and as a former judge, I hav e had a special interest in the many scriptures that refer to judging. The best known of these is “Judge not, that y e be not judged” (3 Ne. 1 4:1 ; Matt. 7 :1 ). I hav e been puzzled that some scriptures command us not to judge and others instruct us that we should judge and ev en tell us how to do it. But as I hav e studied these passages I hav e become conv inced that these seemingly contradictory directions are consistent when we v iew them with the perspectiv e of eternity . The key is to understand that there are two kinds of judging: final judgments, which we are forbidden to make, and intermediate judgments, which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles. I will speak about gospel judging.

Final Judgments
First, I speak of the final judgment. This is that future occasion in which all of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to be judged according to our works (see 1 Ne. 1 5:33; 3 Ne. 27 :1 5; Morm. 3:20; D&C 1 9:3). Some Christians look on this as the time when indiv iduals are assigned to heav en or hell. With the increased understanding we hav e receiv ed from the Restoration, Latter-day Saints understand the final judgment as the time when all mankind will receiv e their personal dominions in the mansions prepared for them in the v arious kingdoms of glory (see D&C 7 6:1 1 1 ; John 1 4:2; 1 Cor. 1 5:40–44). I believ e that the scriptural command to “judge not” refers most clearly to this final judgment, as in the Book of Mormon declaration that “man shall not … judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord” (Morm. 8:20). Since mortals cannot suppose that they will be acting as final judges at that future, sacred time, why did the Sav ior command that we not judge final judgments? I believ e this commandment was giv en because we presume to make final judgments whenev er we proclaim that any particular person is going to hell (or to heav en) for a particular act or as of a particular time. When we do this—and there is great temptation to do so—we hurt ourselv es and the person we pretend to judge. The effect of one mortal’s attempting to pass final judgment on another mortal is analogous to the effect on an athlete and observ ers if we could proclaim the outcome of an athletic contest with certainty while it was still under way . A similar reason forbids our presuming to make final judgments on the outcome of any person’s lifelong mortal contest. 1/8

and when He commented on the comparativ e merit of the offerings of the rich men and of the widow’s mites (see Mark 1 2:41 –44). During His mortal ministry the Sav ior made and acted upon many intermediate judgments. The Sav ior gav e this same teaching on another occasion: “And if any man hear my words. “Hath no man condemned thee?” (John 8:1 0). the Great Parent of the univ erse looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard. the Lord said to Alma: “Whosoev er transgresseth against me. and believ e not. “I hav e many things to say and to judge of y ou” (John 8:26) and “For judgment I am come into this world. and if he confess his sins before www. Thus. 1999 . I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world. He is a wise Lawgiv er. The Lord obv iously did not justify the woman’s sin. … He holds the reins of judgment in His hands. We see this in the account of the woman taken in adultery . Thus. and sin no more” (John 8:1 1 ). He declared.” These judgments are essential to the ex ercise of personal moral agency . Intermediate Judgments In contrast to forbidding mortals to make final judgments. and those who hav e a law. In this contex t the word condemn apparently refers to the final judgment (see John 3:1 7 ). will be judged by that law” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. such as when He told the Samaritan woman of her sinful life (see John 4:1 7 –1 9). sel. 23:1 –33). we must refrain from making final judgments on people because we lack the knowledge and the wisdom to do so. This interpretation is confirmed by what He then said to the Pharisees: “Y e judge after the flesh. He simply told her that He did not condemn her—that is. but to sav e the world” (John 1 2:47 ). He would not pass final judgment on her at that time. motiv es. time that would hav e been denied by those who wanted to stone her. After the crowd who intended to stone her had departed. John 1 5:22. but according to what they hav e. and will judge all men. 21 8). Jesus asked her about her accusers. and actions throughout his or her entire life (see Luke 1 2:47 –48. when He rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their hy pocrisy (see Matt. When she answered no. The Lord’s way of final judgment will be to apply His perfect knowledge of the law a person has receiv ed and to judge on the basis of that person’s circumstances. Ev en the Sav ior. “Neither do I condemn thee: go. refrained from making final judgments. I judge no man” (John 8:1 5). during His mortal ministry .ensign The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy . that they which see not might see” (John 9:39). … ‘not according to what they hav e not. The woman taken in adultery was granted time to repent. From all of this we see that the final judgment is the Lord’s and that mortals must refrain from judging any human being in the final sense of concluding or proclaiming that he or she is irretriev ably bound for hell or has lost all hope of ex altation. Our scriptural accounts of the Sav ior’s mortal life prov ide the pattern. Church leaders are specifically commanded to judge.’ those who hav e liv ed without law. will be judged without law. 2 Ne. We would ev en apply the wrong standards. Joseph Fielding Smith [1 97 6].6/1/13 “Judge Not” and Judging .org/ensign/print/1999/08/judge-not-and-judging?lang=eng&clang=eng 2/8 .Ensign Aug. him shall y e judge according to the sins which he has committed. 1 5:1 –9. The world’s way is to judge competitiv ely between winners and losers. Jesus declared. 9:25). the scriptures require mortals to make what I will call “intermediate judgments.

Matt. and. The scriptures not only command or contemplate that we will make intermediate judgments but also giv e us some guidance—some gov erning principles—on how to do so. footnote a. We all make judgments in choosing our friends. and “Go y e out from among the wicked” (D&C 38:42). the Lord commanded Israel.ensign thee and me. Righteous Intermediate Judgment The most fundamental principle is contained in the Sav ior’s commandment that we “judge not unrighteously . and none of us is authorized to deny the power of the Atonement to bring about a cleansing of indiv idual sins. nor honour the person of the mighty : but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour” (Lev . Some of these intermediate judgments are surely among those the Sav ior referenced when He taught that “the weightier matters of the law” include judgment (Matt. … but judge righteous judgment” (JST. 23:23). “Y e shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor. by definition. Through the prophet Moses. It will refrain from declaring that a person has forfeited all opportunity for ex altation or ev en all opportunity for a useful role in the work of the make judgments ev ery day in the ex ercise of our moral agency . in choosing how we will spend our time and our money . be intermediate. a righteous judgment will be guided by the Spirit of the Lord. … “… And whosoev er will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people” (Mosiah 26:29. forgiv eness. www. The Sav ior also commanded indiv iduals to be judges. 7 :1 5–1 6). “Beware of false prophets. Second. On another occasion he said. The gospel is a gospel of hope. jealousy . a righteous judgment must. The Book of Mormon teaches: “For behold. see also John 7 :24. It will refrain from declaring that a person has been assured of ex altation or from dismissing a person as being irrev ocably bound for hellfire. “Judge not according to the appearance. Thus. but judge righteous judgment” (John 7 :24). but we must be careful that our judgments of people are intermediate and not final. Similarly .Ensign Aug. Alma 41 :1 4). of course.” First. “Why ev en of y ourselv es judge y e not what is right?” (Luke 1 2:57 ). D&C 1 07 :7 2). and the way to judge is as plain … as the day light is from the dark 3/8 . 7 :1 –2. 1999 . both of circumstances and of other people. in choosing an eternal companion. in modern rev elation the Lord appointed the bishop to be a “judge in Israel” to judge ov er property and transgressions (D&C 58:1 7 . rev enge.6/1/13 “Judge Not” and Judging . that y e may know good from ev il. our Sav ior’s teachings contain many commandments we cannot keep without making intermediate judgments of people: “Giv e not that which is holy unto the dogs. We must. or selfinterest. my brethren. him shall y e forgiv e. Let us consider some principles or ingredients that lead to a “righteous judgment. On one occasion the Sav ior chided the people. 32). … Y e shall know them by their fruits” (Matt. and I will forgiv e him also. neither cast y e y our pearls before swine” (Matt. and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart. 1 9:1 5). of course. not by anger. 7 :6). it is giv en unto y ou to judge. and a reformation of life on appropriate conditions.

He stated that while teaching an institute class. Two ex periences illustrate the importance of caution in judging. 27 –30. see also John 1 6:8. hoping that they would take the hint. I am waiting further ev idence. this elderly sister innocently answered no. I was tempted to ask them to take their conv ersation outside if they felt it was so urgent—but fortunately something kept me from giv ing v ent to my feelings. This is the age of snap judgments. We should not presume to ex ercise and act upon judgments that are outside our personal responsibilities. He has an ey e trained for the imperfections. A Relief Society worker v isiting a sister in her ward asked whether the woman’s married children ev er v isited her.Ensign Aug. www. but they didn’t seem to notice.’ It is this suspended judgment that is the supreme form of charity ” (“The Supreme Charity of the World. In fact. So informed. In an essay titled “Sitting in the Seat of Judgment. but since I was discussing—as I often do—with my back to the class. 1 1 ). “What if y ou see an unworthy person partaking of the sacrament? What do y ou do?” The bishop answered. and the class was being taught by the bishop. the Spirit of Christ is giv en to ev ery man. 1999 . In another essay he wrote: “There is but one quality necessary for the perfect understanding of character. … [We need] the courage to say . a misspacing. that he may know good from ev il” (Moro. one of her children v isited her at least daily .ensign “For behold. The guilty parties were not hard to spot because they continued whispering all through the class.]. and all of them helped her in many way s. one of them came to me and apologized that she hadn’t ex plained to me before class that her friend was deaf. Fourth. “Y ou do nothing. 1 01 –5). The subject was the sacrament. The friend could read lips.6/1/13 “Judge Not” and Judging .” That wise answer illustrates my point about stewardship in judging. Someone has said that y ou cannot slice cheese so fine that it doesn’t hav e two sides. Most people study character as a proofreader pores ov er a great poem: his ears are dulled to the majesty and music of the lines. Because of a short-term memory loss.” the great essay ist William George Jordan reminded us that character cannot be judged as dress goods—by v iewing a sample y ard to represent a whole bolt of cloth (see The Crow n of Individuality [1 909]. her v isitor and others spoke criticisms of her children for neglecting their mother. I may need to do something. Sev eral times during the hour. that proofreader is busy watching for an inv erted comma. refrain from judging until we hav e adequate knowledge of the facts. an intermediate judgment must be within our stewardship. we should. “I was troubled when one person whispered to another all through the opening pray er. … “We do not need to judge nearly so much as we think we do. Another such circumstance was described in an Ensign article by BY U professor Arthur R. I must hear both sides of the question. Third.d.” The Kingship of Self-Control [n. one quality that. if man hav e 7 :1 5–1 6). emphasis in original). During class discussion a member asked. he may dare to judge —that is. “After the class. ‘I don’t know. to be righteous. Some time ago I attended an adult Sunday School class in a small town in Utah. if possible. They were innocent of neglect and should not hav e been judged on the basis of an inadequate knowledge of the facts. I kept glaring at them. the weaknesses. Bassett. The Sav ior taught that one of the missions of the Comforter He would send would be to assist in the judgment of the world by guiding the faithful “into all truth” (John 1 6:1 3. or a wrong font letter. omniscience. his ey es are darkened to the magic imagination of the genius of the 4/8 .

how much more just will be y our condemnation for withholding y our substance” (Mosiah 4:1 7 –1 8. June 1 991 .” Ensign. In an Ensign article. To this day I am thankful that both of us were spared the embarrassment that might hav e occurred had I giv en v ent to a judgment made without knowing the facts” (“Floods. they need to maintain lov ing relations and encourage improv ed conduct by the precious person. therefore I will stay my hand. The scriptures giv e a specific caution against judging where we cannot know all the facts. A fifth principle of a righteous intermediate judgment is that whenev er possible we will refrain from judging people and only judge situations. to do justly . and will not giv e unto him of my food. such as the writer of a letter to the editor who insisted that certain publicly reported conduct should be ignored because “in this country y ou are innocent until y ou are prov en guilty . 8).Ensign Aug. This is essential whenev er we attempt to act upon different standards than others with whom we must associate—at home. There are important restraints upon our intermediate judgments. Two hy potheticals illustrate this principle: (1 ) If a particular person has been arrested for child sex ual abuse and is free on bail awaiting trial on his guilt or innocence. and ex cept he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forev er. O man. From time to time some diligent defenders deny this reality . whosoev er doeth this the same hath great cause to repent. Some personal decisions must be made before we hav e access to all of the facts. The parents hav e insisted that he not smoke in their home or in front of his y ounger siblings.” The presumption of innocence until prov en guilty in a court of law is a v ital rule to guide the conduct of a criminal trial. and condemn him. Sometimes urgent circumstances require us to make preliminary judgments before we can get all of the facts we desire for our decision making. to walk humbly . 1999 . my student had been ‘translating’ for her friend. King Benjamin taught: “Perhaps thou shalt say : The man has brought upon himself his misery . but the presumption of innocence is not one of them. not a person. would y ou trust him to tend y our children while y ou take a weekend trip? (2) If a person y ou hav e trusted with y our property has been indicted for or in the community . We can set and act upon high standards for ourselv es or our homes without condemning those who do otherwise. For ex ample. to judge righteously ” (D&C 1 1 :1 2). and the Gates of Hell. The article begins with heart-wrenching words and with true statements of www. at work. rely ing ultimately on the teaching in modern scripture that we should put our “trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—y ea. There is one qualification to this principle that we should not judge people without an adequate knowledge of the facts. but it is not a v alid restraint on personal 5/8 . That is a wise judgment of a situation. and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. telling her what I was say ing. I know of an LDS family with an older teenage son who has become addicted to smoking.ensign writing at the chalkboard and talking ov er my shoulder. would y ou continue to leav e him in charge of y our life sav ings? In such circumstances we do the best we can. nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer. Then. for his punishments are just— “But I say unto y ou. 22). … “And if y e judge the man who putteth up his petition to y ou for y our substance that he perish not.6/1/13 “Judge Not” and Judging . ev en as the parents take protectiv e measures pertaining to a regrettable situation. Winds. an anony mous v ictim of childhood sex ual abuse illustrates the contrast between judging situations and judging persons.

www. I will leav e it in his hands. will forgiv e whom I will forgiv e. and y e shall not be condemned: forgiv e. 1999 . a final ingredient or principle of a righteous judgment is that it will apply righteous standards. I don’t need to entertain thoughts of rev enge. Often the command to forgiv e (see D&C 64:1 0) seems almost more than one can bear. but this eternal principle can bring lasting peace. I cannot change the past. I am not to blame for what happened to me as a child. Martha receiv ed Jesus into her house and worked to prov ide for Him while her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His words. The ripples in my pond will spread through future generations” (“The Journey to Healing. The change has come from inside me—my attitude.” The Ensign article quotes another surv iv or of abuse: “I lov e that truth that although I need to ev aluate situations. 7 :2. Seventh. He can make the judgments and the punishments. 6/8 . see also 3 Ne. I leav e all that to the Lord. and y e shall not be judged: condemn not. I wonder if persons who cannot handle an honest mistake without abusing the indiv idual can stand up to hav ing their own mistakes judged by so sev ere a standard. … I do not need to condemn or judge my abusers nor be part of the punishment. see that y e do not judge wrongfully . but I will be judged by how I let it affect my life. I remember a conv ersation with an LDS newspaperwoman who described what happened when she reported that the Prophet Joseph Smith receiv ed the golden plates in 1 826. The fundamental scripture on the whole subject of not judging contains this warning: “For with what judgment y e judge. our judgment will be unrighteous. I am responsible for my actions and what I do with my knowledge.” Ensign. emotional. The scripture is familiar. the Lord. we place ourselv es in jeopardy of being judged by incorrect or unrighteous standards ourselv es. which light is the light of Christ. The Sav ior taught. it shall be measured to y ou again” (Matt. 1 997 . “Judge not. for with that same judgment which y e judge y e shall also be judged” (Moro. He knows the truth. Sixth. “Seeing that y e know the light by which y e may judge. “I. Sept. I will not be judged for what happened to me. If we apply unrighteous standards. She said she receiv ed about 1 0 phone calls from outraged Latter-day Saints who would not accept her admission of error and sincere apology and ev en berated her with abusiv e language. But I can change the future.ensign eternal principles: “I am a surv iv or of childhood phy sical. and sex ual abuse. forgiv eness is a companion principle to the commandment that in final judgments we judge not and in intermediate judgments we judge righteously . A standard can be unrighteous because it is too harsh—the consequences are too sev ere for the grav ity of the wrong and the needs of the wrongdoer.6/1/13 “Judge Not” and Judging . 22). In modern rev elation the Lord has declared. I do not need to destroy my self with anger and hate. Pursuing that principle. I used the principle of forgiv eness to strengthen me” (Ensign. y e shall be judged: and with what measure y e mete. He will be just. 1 997 . 7 :1 8). Professor Catherine Corman Parry gav e a memorable scriptural illustration of the consequences of judging by the wrong standards.Ensign Aug. The prophet Mormon taught. In a BY U dev otional address. a mistake of one y ear from the actual date of 1 827 . I hav e chosen to heal my self and pass on to my children what I hav e learned. 1 4:2).lds. the author of the Ensign article writes: “Somewhere along the journey of healing comes the essential task of forgiv ing. By falling short of righteous standards. and y e shall be forgiv en” (Luke 6:37 ). 1 9). I no longer v iew my self as a v ictim. but of y ou it is required to forgiv e all men” (D&C 64:1 0). My Sav ior knows what happened.

lds. no. But the rebuke would not hav e come had Martha not prompted it. “they were measured by their own standards and found wanting. Professor Parry observ ed that in this instance—and also in the ex ample of Simon the Pharisee. who alone has the capacity to judge. “The older I get. 220) In one of the monthly General Authority fast and testimony meetings. thou art careful and troubled about many things’ (Luke 1 0:41 ). “… While there are many things we must make judgments about. 1999 . dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serv e alone? bid her therefore that she help me. We should refrain from any thing that seems to be a final judgment of any person. not her busy ness with the meal” (“‘Simon. I would follow thee. 1 1 6).” she observ es. and said. no matter how few or seemingly insignificant. Whenev er possible we should refrain from judging people until we hav e an adequate knowledge of the facts.” in Brigham Y oung University 1 990–91 Devotional and Fireside Speeches [1 991 ].” Hymns. which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 1 0:40–42). ex pressed through her judgment of her sister.” 1 1 6. occasioned the Lord’s rebuke.Ensign Aug. manifesting our determination to leav e final judgments to the Lord. I Would Follow Thee. dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serv e alone? bid her therefore that she help me’ (Luke 1 0:40). Who am I to judge another? Lord. In the intermediate judgments we must make. and came to him. Professor Parry said: “The Lord acknowledges Martha’s care: ‘Martha. In subsequent portions of her talk. We should seek the guidance of the Spirit in our decisions. until she judged another person’s serv ice: ‘Lord. I heard President James E. the less judgmental I become. 1 1 8–1 9). “Quite literally . the sins of another or the state of our own souls in comparison to others seems not to be among them. thou art careful and troubled about many things: “But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part. Martha.ensign “But Martha was cumbered about much serv ing. Martha.” That wise observ ation giv es us a standard to liv e by in the matter of judgments. Martha. we should take care to judge righteously . I Hav e Somewhat to Say unto Thee’: Judgment and Condemnation in the Parables of Jesus. I Hav e Somewhat to Say unto Thee. who criticized the woman who anointed the feet of the Sav ior (see Luke 7 :36–50)—the Sav ior took one indiv idual’s judgment of another indiv idual as a standard and applied that judgment back upon the indiv idual who was judging. disqualify us as judges of other people’s sins” (“Simon. Lord. Martha’s self-importance. So far as www. Apparently he was content to let her serv e him howev er she cared to. … Our own sins. “And Jesus answered and said unto her. The Lord did not go into the kitchen and tell Martha to stop cooking and come listen. (“Lord. We should limit our judgments to our own 7/8 . Then he deliv ers the gentle but clear rebuke.6/1/13 “Judge Not” and Judging . Faust say . I lov e the words in Susan Ev ans McCloud’s familiar hy mn: Who am I to judge another When I walk imperfectly? In the quiet heart is hidden Sorrow that the eye can’t see.

photographed by Hans Petersen [illustration] The Widow ’s Mite. In c. “Which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matt. we should judge circumstances rather than people. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. courtesy of Statens Museum for “And the second is like unto it. 22:37 –40). May God bless us that we may hav e that lov e and that we may show it in refraining from making final judgments of our fellowman. In all our judgments we should apply righteous standards. 1 3:1 1 ). “This is the first and great commandment. as I hav e lov ed y ou.ensign possible.6/1/13 “Judge Not” and Judging . He said: “A new commandment I giv e unto y ou. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of lov e. by Dav id Lindsley [illustration] In Remembrance of Me. [illustration] Christ and the Sinner. by Frank Adams. may we judge righteously and with lov e. That y e lov e one another. Our Master whom we seek to serv e is. Jesus answered: “Thou shalt lov e the Lord thy God with all thy heart. in the sublime teachings the Sav ior gav e His Apostles on the ev e of His suffering and Atonement. Copenhagen. There is a doctrine underly ing the subject of gospel judging. A ll Rig h t s Reser v ed www. “By this shall all men know that y e are my disciples. Thou shalt lov e thy neighbour as thy 8/8 . if y e hav e lov e one to another” (John 1 3:34–35). In those intermediate judgments we are responsible to make. and with all thy soul. a “God of lov e” (2 Cor. It was taught when a lawy er asked the Sav ior. in all of this we must remember the command to forgiv e. And. 22:36). as the scriptures say . by Carl Heinrich Bloch. May we be ex amples of His lov e and His gospel. by Walter Rane. 1999 . courtesy of Museum of Church History and Art [illustration] Christ in the Home of Mary and Martha.Ensign Aug. and with all thy mind. courtesy of Museum of Church History and Art Officia l W eb sit e of T h e Ch u r ch of Jesu s Ch r ist of La t t er -da y Sa in t s © 2 0 1 3 In t ellect u a l Reser v e. that y e also lov e one another. Later.