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Righteous Judgment

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Truth is narrow. There is only one truth. We prefer truth, but often we are attracted by falsehoods.

You watch a movie and see the hero do what you know are impossible deeds. You hear the people on screen witness to the impossible deeds as if they were facts. So how is it that for at least the duration of the movie you can suspend reality to accept the impossible as truth? A good bit of this due to the way our feelings are manipulated by the movie director. We sympathize with the characters of the movie and we want the impossible to be possible.

A problem arises when we allow the topsy-turvy fantasy of movies to invade the real world. Far too many people have developed a habit of allowing their emotions to define their “reality.” Because I feel something, then it must be true, at least for me. Decisions are made upon emotions and feelings, leaving the person wondering why things did not work out as they thought they would. Thus, a woman allows a man to engage in sex with her because she feels he is in love with her. It doesn’t matter if the reality is that she has a husband and children at home. The fantasy world becomes all that matters. The chase for personal happiness becomes an endless disappointment because of the disconnect between people’s fantasies and reality.

God tells us that sound judgment begins by observing a person's actions, particularly the results of their actions. "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:16-20). It doesn’t matter if the thief is a charming man who strikes you as an honest man. The things that he does speaks louder than his words.

Yet, we cannot rely totally on our observations. We don’t see everything. We may not see the events leading up to what we witnessed. Nor can we observe the unobservable, such as the thoughts and motives in a person’s heart. Righteous judgment means looking beyond just what is seen. "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24).

Again, we temper our observations of actions by observing the results. This is what is behind James’ rebuke: "For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:2-4). Appearance is only a hint. It tells us almost nothing about the person. "Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?" (James 2:5-6). James encourages us to look at the results of what people do and then we see more clearly the type of person we are dealing with.

We have to remember that we cannot see directly into a person’s heart. We have to rely on what a person says to know what a person thinks. “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” (I Corinthians 2:11). The problem is that people may lie to us, and sometimes they even lie to themselves. “But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (II Timothy 3:13). When there is a conflict between what a person says and what results from what he does, the results are closer to the truth.

The least reliable indication of truth is our feelings. “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26). Feelings change, but truth does not change. Our feelings can be manipulated, but truth cannot be altered. Our feelings can give hints. They can make a great advance warning system, but it is prone to faulty alarms and each alarm must be checked carefully to find out what is actually the truth.

In written communication, such as that engaged in through the Internet, there is an absence of body language and tone of voice to give us clues as to what a person means to say. We see the words, but we are so used to people not always saying precisely what they mean, that we seek out the implied meanings even when there is nothing there to support the implications. Instead, people substitute their own feelings into the words and assume this must be what the writer was feeling as he wrote his words. Frequently those assumptions are wrong, which is why all of us have experienced another person taking something we wrote completely the wrong way.

When a person starts out saying, "But I feel ..." or "I think ...," they are admitting they have no evidence of truth. A boy treating a girl badly is far closer to reality than all the sensual feelings he may stir up in her. A man saying “I want to marry you,” but never commiting to a wedding, is showing by the result of his actions a truth that is closer to reality than his words. A person saying, "Trust me," is asking you to judge solely upon his words.

Fantasy is fine at times for entertainment, but we don’t live in a fantasy world. Don’t let your feelings create for you a "reality" that does not exist.

"Buy the truth, and do not sell it, also wisdom and instruction and understanding" (Proverbs 23:23).