I find in my own heart a spirit of judgment, ready – yea even eager – to damn the oppressor. I can often hear judgment in the voices of all those who hunger for justice. It is a Pharisaical spirit that will not only get in the way of those of us praying and working to see “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” but will also invite condemnation upon ourselves.
When the Global Urban Trek
teams doing orientation in Bangkok we were led out in small groups to the three major red-light districts serving westerners. Our purpose was simply to observe with spiritual eyes what was going on and to quietly pray. We were warned by the couple who lived and worked among sex workers that there are three major malevolent forces which seem to attack those who come bringing the Kingdom of God.
The most obvious is that of lust. Red-light districts are crafted to titillate and to sexually entice the passerby. No one comes into these areas just to relax and listen to music. They come looking for sexual excitement outside of a marriage covenant, which God identifies as lust, and this spirit permeates sexually exploitative environments, tapping men and women on the shoulder and inviting them to a pursue arousal.
The second is that of shame. Those who have indulged some kind of sexually abusive behavior or those who have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of someone else often find themselves struggling with a spirit of shame when they step into a red-light district. Both victim and victimizer can be racked with this crippling recollection over a past event. Remorse for the perpetrator can be helpful in the process of seeking forgiveness, but shame can paralyze them. And though it may sound odd to those who haven’t experienced it, shame can also consume the victim of molestation even though they are the one who has been sinned against.
The third force of evil which seems to grip those who enter these areas hungry for God’s justice is a spirit of judgment. This is the attitude I find in myself and lurking very close to justice-minded people.
Judgment is the pronouncement of condemnation over another person. It is the process of damning someone in our hearts and minds. Jesus confronted the spirit of judgment in the Pharisees and teachers of the law when they wanted him to approve the stoning a woman caught in adultery. I believe Jesus would have reacted similarly if it were the man who was brought before him to be stoned.
Simply put, the Bible seems to distinguish between condemnation (something only God is capable of doing) and correction (something we as fellow law-breakers should do in love for one another). Jesus says in Matthew 7, in effect, “don’t judge, but once you’ve addressed the log of sin in your life and can see clearly, by all means help someone struggling with the speck of sin in their life.”
Condemnation is a spirit in league with pride – the mother of all sins; abhorrent to God and the original sin of humanity as depicted in Genesis 3. A true desire for justice looks first within at all that is broken, depraved and out of sorts with God, our community and the world. Only then can we act with true compassion and real power in our quest for justice, coming to terms first with our own desperate need for forgiveness and correction.
Of course the discernment of evil and the quest for justice is critical for human flourishing. We were meant to govern one another in ways that protect the weak and contribute to the good of all; it comes with being made in the likeness of a just God. But the ease with which we damn one another - whether people (like politicians or theologians with whom we disagree) or groups (ethnic, ideological, corporate or denominational) is frightening. Here are a couple of questions that may help clarify justice from judgment, correction from condemnation:
1. In your offense over an injustice, ask God to show you if there are ways you are guilty of the same injustice. Are there derivative sins related to this injustice that you yourself struggle with?
2. In your anger over this injustice, are there particular people or a particular person that you find yourself hating? Ask God to help you grow in compassion and understanding.
3. Before pointing out wrongdoing or bringing a word of correction to a person or a group of people, ask yourself, “to what extent am I motivated out of a sincere burden for this person’s growth in godliness versus just plain anger and offense over their behavior or words?”
Perhaps Tolstoy put it best, “Everybody wants to change the world but nobody wants to change themselves.” Let us hunger and thirst for kingdom justice and righteousness - first by examining ourselves and confessing the wickedness in our own hearts and behavior, then by working with compassion toward the healing of both the oppressor and the oppressed.