The Iceberg of Judgment

Christopher Sullivan
Christopher Sullivan


I have never met anybody that wasn’t judgmental. Some are less judgmental than others but nevertheless its a universal problem. On the first day of my first college course, the teacher said, “Raise your hand if you think you’re good at judging other people.” Everyone’s hand shot up. Unsurprised, the Psychology teacher said every person thinks they’re good at judging others. But where does this confidence come from?

Judgments are largely unseen and unheard. They are thoughts that exist internally, free to roam about our minds, not always held accountable by the external world. The only filter between good judgement and bad judgment is us, many times with our pride quelling our conscience, leaving us without reason to question our judgments.

As a lifelong overly critical person, I’ve learned a lot about being judgmental. Below I go in depth into ways I’ve wrongly judged people, the difference between good and bad judgment, how we justify our judgmental attitudes, and more. It’s a deep and ugly sin that I hope to expose!

Born Judging

I remember instant messaging my friend in middle school and unfairly criticizing who he was. Nothing held me back from ripping into him, assuming I knew the way he thought, limiting him as a person.

I remember in high school telling a friend they “left their brain at home” when they went to church.

I remember in college blowing up at a friend in an email, knowing what I said was unfair and hurtful, and pressing the “send” button anyway.

I remember telling my mom how terrible I thought she was for years and years.

These are just a few examples of the countless ways I’ve hurt so many people with my condemning words.

Even though my stories are clear examples of what judgment looks like when it’s expressed, it’s roots go deep beneath the surface and remain largely unseen. The judgment people saw was only the tip of the iceberg of all the judgmental thoughts I had inside.

Should We Judge People?

You might be thinking, “Surely we have to make some judgments about people!” and I’d say you’re right, that not all judgments are wrong. It depends on which kind of judgment you’re referring to. This is where we need to be clear about what we mean by judgment. I’m going to distinguish between two kinds of judgment.

(1.) Fairly assessing the rightness and wrongness of an action, thought, desire, etc.

So, in this sense, yes! We must judge people, we can’t live in a world where we don’t do this type of judgment. If a child is being unruly or a politician is lying or a friend is being lazy then we need to fairly assess the situation. These are good judgments we need to make on a daily basis.

(2.) Unfair, overly critical condemnation of another person.

In another sense, no, we shouldn’t judgmentally condemn people. We can’t live overly critical, ungracious and unforgiving lives. There is a great danger once we step outside the boundaries of fair assessment. Condemning judgment puts people down, lays heavy burdens, fuels our self-righteousness, puts tension on relationships, and undermines the value of people. We need to abolish this form of judgment in our thoughts and hearts.

Now that we distinguished fair judgement from condemnation, let’s break down what good judgment is and what it isn’t.

What Good Judgment Isn’t

Someone once told me being in college was helping him learn how not to judge people. As he went on, I realized he sorely misunderstood what being judgmental meant. What happened was a lowering of his standards of what is right and wrong and, as a result, judged people less. By decreasing his standards for the first type of judgment (fair, moral assessment) he decreased the second type of judgment (unfair condemnation). This is not how good judgement works!

Being judgmental does not mean you can’t believe someone is wrong. A lot of people don’t agree with my views about any number of things. Regardless, maintaining my sense of right and wrong does not require me to condemn others for engaging in activities I find wrong — and it shouldn’t. Disagreement doesn’t necessitate condemnation.

For example, people love to misuse the Bible verse that says, “don’t judge lest you be judged.” It’s usually the go-to verse for someone to fend off others who tell them what they are doing is wrong. You can imagine someone saying, “Don’t judge me, man! You don’t have any say in this, you don’t know me! Judge not lest you be judged!”

But this verse is not about refraining from telling someone they are wrong. The full passage is actually a lesson about how to properly tell someone they’re wrong (Matt. 7:1-5). The gist of the passage says that you can only really help someone with their issue if you’ve overcome that issue yourself. That is to say, it is hypocritical to judge someone for being chubby if you yourself are obese.

Jesus actually encourages making fair, moral assessments about people.

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24)

Unfortunately, there are obstacles within all of us that clouds our ability to judge fairly.

Where Bad Judgment Comes From

In a leadership meeting I attended, a leader vulnerably shared about how their overly critical, judgmental attitude would rise up when they felt insecure about themselves. That’s relatable, isn’t it? I know that if I don’t like where I am in life, I become a judgment factory — pumping out overly critical judgments left and right.

It’d be wise to evaluate our judgments in the context of what state we are in. We probably aren’t having the most sober evaluations of others if we’re riddled with insecurity, emotional hurt, or pride. In an insecure state, every word that lands on you or action done to you, whether it was intended to or not, will be perceived as a potential attack. In a prideful state, every critique that comes your way is dismissed and unheard because you believe your own voice is the only one worth listening to.

Apart from being evident within myself, most unwarranted judgment I’ve received from others came from a place of insecurity within their own life. If not insecurity then pride — an excessive trust in oneself and an unwillingness to listen to anyone’s opinion apart from their own.

Correct Assessment, Condemning Judgment

Another way we justify our judgmental attitudes towards others is when we are correct about our assumptions. What do I mean? Let’s say you predict a certain outcome and it comes true; we allow this correct assessment to justify our judgmental attitude. For example, if your sibling failed you like you thought they would or a spouse didn’t keep their promise like you feared they would.

These predictions coming to fruition can create an “I told you so!” attitude. A judgmental attitude that says, “I knew you’d never change!” and “I shouldn’t have expected anything from you!” There’s nothing wrong with feeling hurt, disappointed, and angry when someone fails us, but it is not our place to limit people and declare that they can never change. It’s not our place to give up hoping for people.

Killing our Judgmentalism

As Christians, we always keep hoping for people because we have a God of hope. We look at the Bible and see that God used people like Moses the murderer, Saul the persecutor, King David the adulterer and murder, and so on, to do great things that made an eternal impact. We look at how God continued to love and bless his people in the Old Testament when they were unfaithful and idolatrous. We look at our own lives and see how God has changed us from who we were into who we are becoming.

We are to never stop hoping for the best in people because we know our God has and will continue to be in the business of transforming people’s lives.

Additionally, we read about how our role in this world is not to condemn people, but to love people. We remember when Jesus said the two most important commandments are to love God and love people (Mark 12:28-34). We remember when Jesus said God did not send him into the world to condemn but to save people (John 3:17). And we remember James tells us that judgment is not our job but God’s job.

“There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12)

The most effective way to refrain from judgmentally condemning someone is remembering the cross. God saw our ugly, offensive, selfish thoughts and actions but still loves and forgives us. Not only did he accept me, but he did so at the expense of his own Son. Instead of judging me, God had Jesus receive my judgment in order that I might be set free of the charges of my wrong doing.

If God is willing to express that level of love and acceptance to me, knowing full well every evil desire I’ve ever had and ever will have, then I am enabled to love and accept others in the midst of their wrong doing. Remembering this fact enables all Christians to see others’s shortcomings as areas in need of growth rather than grounds to condemn.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)


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