Friday, August 27, 2010

Living Beyond Judgment

From the time we are little until the time we die, it seems we are being continually judged. Maybe more of this judgment is imagined than real but certainly not all of it is. We are judged by the clothes we wear, the car we drive, the company we keep. We are judged by our language, our jobs, even our dogs. Each exam we take in school is a kind of judgment, as are hiring decisions, try-outs, and performance evaluations. We are judged a lot and we are used to it - whether we like it or not.

But perhaps the most relentless and misplaced judgments of all are the incorrect kinds we make on ourselves. I say incorrect kinds because some self-judgments are necessary, even critical. A careful self-evaluation can be a prelude to repentance and an important grounding to our lives.

The incorrect kinds of self-judgments, however, are a different sort. They come from using the wrong kind of standards. Unfortunately we tend to spend so much more time on the wrong kinds of judgment than we do on the right kinds. Wise, indeed, is the person that knows when to judge and when not to - or as Jesus said, to “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

The wrong kinds of self-judgments are invariably comparative. You pitted against others or even against yourself. The right kinds of self-judgments measure light instead. Do you like making others happy? Do you rejoice in learning spiritual truths? How positive are you? Do you make sacrifices for principles? How much can you be trusted? How much are you loved? How much do you love? These kinds of questions measure light. They are very different from the kinds of comparisons we’re more familiar with. It is light and truth, in the end, that really matter, not how you look or where you live.

Consider three employees at a local restaurant. Angela I works in the kitchen washing dishes. She is mostly interested in having fun. She likes to talk and tell jokes and tends to take longer at breaks than her employer allows. In her spare time she plays a lot of video games or talks to her friends. She often judges herself harshly for not being more responsible.

Angela II is a waitress and is mostly interested in making money. She is pleasant to her customers and knows how to turn on the charm if she thinks it might yield a bigger tip. She is quite capable and usually responsible. In her spare time she likes to go to the gym or talk to friends. She also judges herself harshly at times for not having moved ahead enough in her career.

Angela III is a cook. She likes making good food, especially if it makes somebody happy. She enjoys visiting customers just to interact with them and make them smile. She is happiest when she makes others happy. In her spare time she enjoys reading or talking to friends. She doesn’t judge herself very often because she is more interested in pursuing those things that bring her joy.

I don’t mean to imply that Angela I and Angela II are bad (or that the things they do are necessarily bad). But I do mean to point out the nature of a person seeking light: Angela III, that is. She may or may not move ahead in the restaurant, but that doesn’t matter. She may fall in or out of health, depending on her genetic heritage and her lifestyle. She may or may not be wealthy depending on her fiscal choices. But one thing is obvious: whatever her circumstances, she will be seeking light.

Another remarkable thing about Angela III is that she is living beyond judgment. I don’t mean that others won’t judge her. They will. Neither do I mean that she always avoids her own self judgment. I do mean that in the things that matter most - in the eternally important things - Angela III is an heir of glory and can never be condemned.

In Doctrine and Covenants Section One (verse 36) the Lord discusses judgments that are to come upon the wicked. But notice the way it is phrased. “And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world.” Those, Like Angela III who are full of the light of Christ are beyond this judgment of the world.

I don’t mean to imply that Angela III (or any of us) will not be responsible for her (our) actions. The scriptures are clear that we will be recompensed for our actions. But what exactly is to be the measure of these actions? Again, Section One spells this out (verse 10): ... “the Lord shall come to recompense unto every man according to his work, and measure to every man according to the measure which he has measured to his fellow man.”

Our actions will be measured by the standard of service to others. This is a measure of light, not a mensurable quota. It is also different than the way some Christian denominations understand judgment - especially the final judgment - to be. To them the final judgment cannot be escaped and it is understood to be a forensic event - complete with courtroom, jury and judge. For the faithful the only consolation is that it will be less harsh.

This perspective, however, fails to take in to account many of the key scriptural verses on judgment. The Apostle John in particular was keen on this and spoke often about judgment, or living beyond it. He presents us with the apparent contradiction of living beyond judgment while affirming that Jesus will also be our judge. One has to pay attention to see what he actually means by this.

Most of us are familiar with the Biblical doctrine of the final judgment. It will be the ultimate accounting of who we are and where we will go in the life to come. There are a number of scriptural references that confirm this.

It comes as a bit of a surprise when we read in the third chapter of the Gospel of John (verse 17) that Jesus did not come to earth to judge us at all. Many New Testament versions of this verse use the word condemn, but in the original Greek the word is clearly krinetai - to judge. “For God sent not his son into the world to judge the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”

Of course you might point out that John surely can’t mean this since he is the one who clearly taught that Jesus is to be our judge. “For the Father hath committed all judgment to the son …. (John 5: 22). But this isn’t all that John meant. A closer reading suggests that judgment is only to separate those who will rise “unto the resurrection of life” from those who will rise “unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29). For Christ came to bring everlasting life and not to bring others” into judgment” (John 5:24). Again the word is krinetai – judgment. Judgment is to separate light from darkness.

“[Jesus] said ... I am come a light into the world that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12: 44-47).

So of course Jesus is our judge in the sense the He is the author of our redemption from sin. But ultimately we will be our own judges as John points out in the following verse: “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the words that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12: 48).

In a more detailed discussion of how this is to happen, Alma taught that our words and our works will condemn us: “For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence” (Alma 12:14).

This relationship with judgment and condemnation appears frequently throughout the scriptures and the message is consistent: judgment is to separate those that will be condemned from those that will inherit more glory - that is from those that will inherit a kingdom of light, whether that be a light similar to the stars (perhaps the brighter stars), the moon, or even the sun (see I Corinthians 15:40-42).

This is consistent with John’s message that Jesus came to save us and not to judge us. This becomes particularly significant in light of Doctrine and Covenants Section 76 where it is indicated that these degrees of glory (telestial, terrestrial, and celestial) will be filled with the vast majority of the human family.

What a sublime truth this is: that Jesus has no interest in judging any of us. He rejoices in our individuality and, by giving us our agency, has allowed each of us to fully develop into the unique person that is our nature. We will not be clones in heaven.

The question we need to be concerned with has little to do with appearing to do the right things. It does, however, have everything to do with being the right kind of person. The popular image of Peter standing at the pearly gates to great us with a checklist in hand is a crude myth at best. Peter may not even be there, but Christ will - for He employs to servant there. And He most certainly will not be holding a checklist. He will be welcoming us, with open arms, to our place of glory - our place of light.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Preparing for Dred Scott

Yesterday's Walker decision against California's Proposition Eight has left many of us in California (supporters of traditional marriage that is) quite frustrated. The 2008 decision (determined from a state-wide election) to confirm the traditional meaning of marriage between a man and a woman has now been over-ruled. Judge Vaughn Walker's decision is based on his claim that denying marriage to gay and lesbian couples violates the 14th Amendment's equal protection and due process clauses. There is no question that this provincial decision by a biased judge will make its way to the Supreme Court. When it does, let's hope that sounder judgment prevails. It is no exaggeration to state that an unwise decision from our highest court may very well makes things worse than the Dred Scott decision did before the Civil War. Let me explain.

I am certainly no legal scholar, but the history of Dred Scott is not so difficult to understand. He was a slave that travelled quite a bit with his master through both free and slave states and free territories. While in free territories, he was recognized as a free man. After his master's death he sought to purchase his freedom with various degrees of success. Some court rulings granted his arguments, others did not. Finally his case came to the Supreme Court where Justice Taney ruled that Negroes were not citizen's of the United States and then reversed the Missouri Compromise (and its exclusion of slavery from northern Louisiana). It has been one of the worst decisions (if not the worst) in American legal history. By reversing the Missouri Compromise, Taney effectively gave expanding powers to the slave states against the northern states. Of course we know the outcome. It took the Civil War to reverse the decision.

Isn't it a bit fantastic, though, to believe that a mere decision about gay rights could be as significant as Dred Scott? Not really. Consider the following scenario:

Judge Walker's decision is upheld by the Supreme Court. Some weeks later a gay couple in a conservative state - say New Hampshire - decides to show up at the State Capitol and get their marriage license. Much to their surprise, the state refuses to grant them one. They might complain that their legal rights have been ignored but the bare reality of an overwhelming conservative majority of irate New Hampshire citizens might very well make it politically unwise for the state officials to acknowledge the Supreme Court's decision.

Then what happens? Uncle Sam might start withholding federal programs. New Hampshire might lose it's representation in Congress. Other forms of pressure would undoubtedly be found and exercised. Soon other states would decide to back New Hampshire and before we know it, there is a national crisis in the making.

Now you might argue that this sort of thing could never happen. Look at the Court's decision, for example, in Roe v. Wade where abortion was legalized. Certainly abortion is as divisive an issue as gay rights and yet nothing so drastic happened in its wake. But here is the main difference: Roe v. Wade was a decision that ultimately became enforceable at the level of an individual woman and her doctor. Even in conservative states, doctors were available to perform abortions when they were requested.

The issue over redefining marriage, on the other hand, will have to be handled at the state level. That's where marriage licenses are issued. It's also a place where tremendous amounts of political pressure can be applied either way. I think it is highly naive to imagine that an issue this divisive would fail to elicit extreme reactions from millions of Americans if this sort of scenario were to be played out.

This is a very serious issue indeed. Let us pray that the Supreme Court is wise enough to understand this. For the rest of us, it might not be a bad idea to rethink how dependant we should be on Washington.