What is forbidden and what is permitted? To look at another human
being and say, 'He is going to Hell,' is to judge him. This belongs to
God and not man. The man who has done this has trespassed upon
the divine prerogative. Several problems which leap out:
Judgment requires awareness of motive, for which the psalmist looks to God:
"Judge me, O LORD; for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the LORD; therefore I shall not slide.
Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart." (Psalm 26:1)
This knowledge belongs to the Lord:
"But, O LORD of hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I opened my cause."
"I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins,
even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the
fruit of his doings." (Jeremiah 17:10).
"And I will kill
her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he
which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of
you according to your works." (Revelation 2:23).
'Reins' means 'kidneys,' in other words 'inward parts;' the innermost thoughts and
feelings. This God knows, we do not. Has a sinner repented, or is he
obdurate? At last we will know, because all
secrets are revealed, and what was hid in darkness comes forth into the
light: "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come,
who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will
make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have
praise of God." (1Corinthians 4:5). Then, and not before, we also will
have a commission to judge, because competent at last: "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge
the world?" (1 Corinthians 6:2). As Philo explains,
"Now words spoken openly and deeds done openly are known
to all, but the inward thought which prompts them in either case is
not known. We cannot tell whether it is wholesome and pure, or
diseased and stained with manifold defilement. No merely created
being is capable of discerning the hidden thought and motive. Only
God can do so, and therefore Moses says 'things hidden are known to
the Lord God, but things manifest are known to the Creature' (Deut.
xxix. 29). (Philo Judaeus, On the Cherubim, Chapter V, p. 19 Loeb
We may know, some of the time, what the miscreant did, but
whether his pillow was thereafter wet with midnight tears we do not
know, God knows. Theodore Parker was mistaken on many points, but he
did get off a good line, "I know well enough what is sin; God, only,
who is a sinner." (Theodore Parker, Works of Theodore Parker, Kindle
Sometimes we mistake our place on the organizational chart and think that we are
part of management:
"But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." (Romans
"And the heavens shall declare his righteousness:
for God is judge himself." (Psalm 50:6).
Some people think that persecution is built into the Christian
world-view, because God undeniably works vengeance against those who
have offended Him, as in the times of Noah: "If a just and omnipotent
God wreaked divine vengeance on those of his creatures who offended
him, it was not for man to question the righteousness of his ways, but
humbly to imitate his example and rejoice when the opportunity to do so
was vouchsafed to him." (Henry C. Lea, A History of the Inquisition of
the Middle Ages, Volume 1, Kindle location 4279). This is like saying,
if a King is justified in executing the treasonous, any one of his
subjects is justified in seizing the throne and executing whomever he
likes. It is because this function belongs to God, that it does not
belong to us.
A situation which is dynamic and changing may be mistaken for one which is static. We are trapped
on the time-line like a caterpillar on a twig. Only God sees the whole, only God knows the end from the beginning:
"Remember the former things of old: for I am God,
and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times
the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall
stand, and I will do all my pleasure..." (Isaiah 46:9-10).
The tax-collectors and the prostitutes, who are outside now, may be streaming in, and those
who now have ring-side seats may be on their way out. The ancient pagans
used to say, do not call any man happy until he is dead. What they meant
was that someone who seems to be very prosperous (the pagans were very grabby)
today might end his days on the torture rack; wait and see how the story
turns out before delivering a verdict. The person sitting next to you in
church may end up an atheist, screaming curses on his death-bed against
the God in whom he does not believe. "Therefore judge nothing before the
Of how much worse things have we ourselves been forgiven? If we were
to be judged by our conformance to God's law, we would all end up in
the same place. The Lord's sacrifice on the cross covered our unworthiness. Reflecting on our own miserable state, we can only beg
pardon for others equally down-cast: