Tag Archives: Judgement

Kevin Wiebe: Curiosity and Condemnation

by Kevin Wiebe

What happens when you disagree with someone? How do you respond when you encounter an idea that is so very different that you feel it is inherently incompatible with some of your core beliefs?

These sorts of encounters often lead to dramatic conflict between people and groups—both within churches and between churches. In an effort to understand some of this better and to help me to become a better pastor, our church has been sending me to classes about conflict and congregational leadership. One key lesson is the difference between judgment and curiosity.

Defining Terms

Before we go any further, it would probably be useful to define the terms I am using, as both of them have a wide range of usages. Curiosity is not just an automatic disposition or something that killed the cat. Rather, curiosity is the choice we have to seek more information and truly understand the people we are in conflict with. It is choosing to listen and ask questions instead of just waiting to insert our own comments.

When I speak of judgment, I am referring to the tendency for us to become condemning of others, making enemies out of them instead of seeking to know them better.

It should be stated that the context in which I am talking about judgment is not in the sense of critical thinking. After all, Jesus said, “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:57, emphasis mine). Rather, when talking about avoiding a judgmental attitude it is more accurately about our inclinations to become condemning of others before we even begin to understand who they are or what they believe.

Critical thinking, on the other hand, listens to others and then analyzes it in light of truth. It is proper and good for us to think critically about ideas or theology we don’t understand. Faithful believers should filter ideas through the truths of the Bible, like the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:11. This, however, is very different than embodying a hostile and condemning disposition.

A Lesson From Psychology and Neuroscience

An interesting lesson in my classes is that according to studies in psychology and neuroscience, there are certain things the human brain finds extremely difficult to do at the same time. Research seems to indicate that one cannot be both judgmental and curious simultaneously. Furthermore, we have a tremendous capacity to consciously choose which one of those dispositions we embody, even in the middle of conflict.

What this means is that if we embrace an attitude that is judgmental and condemning, we will not do as good of a job listening to them as we ought to and be quicker to make faulty assumptions. We rush to conclusions without giving others a chance to explain. When we are curious, however, we begin to ask questions that help us to better understand matters, and treat others with more dignity in the process.

We Have All Been There

All of us have faced situations like this. Perhaps a young adult cuts us off in traffic and we slam on our brakes, bemoaning millennials and how entitled they all are. We may go on a rant about how doomed the next generation is with that kind of attitude.

We could jump to that kind of condemning disposition, making assumptions about the motives of others or slandering their character—but what if we dared to be curious? What if we were bold enough to suspend our desire to be the judge, jury, and executioner and instead became a detective, wondering about what the truth really is.

The point I am making here, is you cannot know circumstances unless you are curious; and without that knowledge, faulty assumptions abound. Often those explanations curtail our tendency to rage.

Making the choice to be curious instead of condemning can go a long way not only in improving our relationships with others, but also in reducing the stress or negativity we feel about the world around us.

My Dear Mother

My mother is an excellent example of someone who lives with this kind of curiosity. In all the conflicts with other children that I had while growing up I honestly cannot remember a single time that she would let me get away with holding a condemning attitude of someone.

If I would jump to the conclusion that one of my classmates must be the spawn of Satan, or some equally ridiculous accusation, my mother would jump in with a series of questions to spark the very curiosity we are talking about:

Is it possible that they look up to you and are jealous of your accomplishments, so out of the pain of their own failures might be lashing out?

That child has come out of a tough home, don’t you think they might simply be hurting?

When you lash out, it is often because you are hurting; how much pain do you think they are feeling in order to act in the way that they did?

If you misbehaved, wouldn’t you want to be shown grace?

These kinds of questions often led to the calming of a conflict instead of further discord. Though I found this annoying at the time, now I see how my mother wisely set an amazing example for me by demonstrating the power of being curious instead of condemning

Theological Disagreements

As Christians we often run into theological differences with others believers. It can happen between family members, between people within the same church, between churches in the same denomination or between different denominations or schools of thought.

Perhaps we get into a situation where we meet someone who espouses a theological position that we have watched hurt people in the past. For many of us we immediately begin to be suspicious of them. We view them as misguided or somehow lesser than we are.

We might even jump to the conclusion that because they hold a theological position we think is terrible, that they must be a terrible person. This is once again embodying a disposition of condemnation instead of choosing to be curious and asking some thoughtful questions:

If I have been hurt by their theological position, I wonder if they have been hurt by someone with my theological position?

Is it possible that they are not aware of the dangers of their position? Is it possible that there are dangers in my position?

Are they really throwing out the Bible to get to this conclusion, or is it possible that my understanding of the Bible is not yet complete?

Not Endless Relativity

I do not believe that calling for more curiosity and less condemnation should result in endless relativity. There are some beliefs that we as Christians need to stand firm on, such as the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. Although even then our attitude matters—only by being curious can we find out why others would have erred in that way if we hope to lead them to the truth.

Many conflicts are greatly blown out of proportion because people neglect to be curious in favour of being condemning. Being curious does not mean embracing the beliefs of people we disagree with, but rather taking the time to understand how they get to that place.

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Kevin Wiebe

Perhaps if we were more curious we could stop thinking of other Christians with whom we disagree as our enemies, but we could instead recapture a vision of them as our brothers and sisters who are also loved by Jesus.

Kevin Wiebe is the senior pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship (Tilbury/Stevenson, Ont.), a member of the EMC Board of Church Ministries, and the assistant editor of Theodidaktos, Journal of EMC theology and education.

Dr. Arthur Boers: Why Do We Call This Friday ‘Good’?

by Dr. Arthur Paul Boers

Any way you look at it, there’s so little to admire or even to consider good about Good Friday. Most of the people involved in the Gospel accounts of the events of this day are not admirable. They are despicable.

It is not bad enough that the political and religious leaders crucify Jesus or that the crowd becomes a mob and turns on him. But one of Jesus’ own disciples denies him and another betrays him. Yet in truth most of the disciples effectively deny and betray Jesus in their fearful abandonment.

The Good Friday story is deliberately structured to remind us that we are all sinners. It shows us that on our own, even when we try to do our best, sooner or later we mess up. If left to ourselves, we are lost, and our brokenness swallows all our attempts to be faithful and good.

Judgment Easy to Spot

William Willimon says, “The cross, for us, gathers up compassion and judgment.” Now that judgment characteristic is easy to spot. In the Good Friday story, not one of us can point a finger at anyone; we are all implicated. The only innocent here is Jesus, and the rest of us stand judged.

For just as all conspired toward, collaborated with, or contributed to the crucifixion of Jesus, we know that there are no innocents among us today. We are all guilty of conspiracy, collaboration, and contribution. We are all guilty of aiding and abetting in the crucifixion of the Son of God, whether intentionally or not.

But, you ask, “Not me! I would never do such a thing!” Like Peter, we believe only others could. But the Gospel accounts are harsher and more realistic. If the disciples who listened to Jesus every day for three years, the ones who knew him most intimately would deny, betray, and abandon Jesus, what makes you think we would do otherwise?

Skepticism

William Stringfellow reminds us,

The gospels are redundant in verifying one reality—one might also say, the versatility—of the skepticism of the disciples about Jesus as Lord. The disciples show a similar misunderstanding of Christ’s kingdom when the assorted claims and disputes among them concerning honor and status surface, as when they argue [over] which of them is the greatest . . . or as when the sons of Zebedee, James and John, seek the places beside Jesus in glory…. Their hearing does not seem to be clarified during Holy Week, though Jesus’ utterances are no longer guarded…. Throughout their whole experience with Jesus, in Holy Week as well as earlier, the disciples are found misconstruing his authority, or doubting it, or, sometimes, opposing it.

Without exaggeration, Stringfellow labels the disciples obtuse, apprehensive, hysterical, and skeptical. And we are no different. This is the strange message of Good Friday—the judgment of this day.

We object to this judgment because we did not plant that traitor’s kiss on Jesus’ cheek, hammer nails into his hand, or even fall asleep in the garden. But most of us have betrayed someone who trusted us, hurt or abused someone who was vulnerable, neglected to show mercy, and failed to give love.

More Than Judgment

There is judgment here aplenty in this day that we strangely label “Good” Friday. But mercy and compassion ultimately triumph. And here-in, strangely, we find the reason that his day is called “good.” It’s because we are not left alone. Jesus walks and works with.

Jesus takes on our worst: our sins, brokenness, betrayals, and denials. Jesus bears them to the cross and carries them to death. And somehow Jesus redeems us. Through his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus rewrites history and turns around the course of the world, reconciling us to God and to each other. Even our worst, the slaying of God’s chosen, is turned to God’s best—the saving of humanity.

Thus even on this worst of all days we can trust that God is at work and nothing will separate us from God’s love. Paul proclaims in Romans 8:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…. No, in all these things are we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Gerrit Scott Dawson writes,

God took on the responsibility of caring for the pain of the world by entering it in Jesus. Rather than turn away in exasperation to leave us in the chaos we created, God waded right into [our] mess. Jesus was not insulated from the people around him; he walked among us, he was vulnerable . . . . It is as if [Jesus] said, “I go before you. I will undergo all you suffer and have experienced. None of your life will be foreign to me. You will know always that wherever you have been, I have been also.

The goodness we attribute to Good Friday is not goodness because of events that happened or because of people who behaved so well. It is because the name of Jesus Christ lives on. His name, his word, and his life continue. Here is the reason that we call this day “good.”

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Arthur Paul Boers

Arthur Paul Boers, DMin, has been a pastor since 1985. He is the author of several books, including The Way is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago (InterVarsity) and Servants and Fools: A Biblical Theology of Leadership (Abingdon). He taught pastoral theology at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and leadership at Tyndale Seminary. He and his wife have been married for 37 years and are the parents of two adults. He lives in southern Ontario. This article was previously published in the Gospel Herald.