On Judging

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
Give, and it will be given to you.

—Luke 6:37

In April, a woman named Susan Boyle appeared on a reality television show called Britain’s Got Talent. What happened next made her a sensation, and as a result, probably many of you have heard her story.

If you saw her at the grocery store, Ms. Boyle would be utterly unremarkable, but on television, she stands out. Although she is not ugly, she is overweight. Her hairstyle is unflattering and her clothes are plain. When Ms. Boyle first came out on stage to announce her song, the three judges and the audience were uniformly skeptical about her. There was open derision when she spoke of her goal to have a singing career like Elaine Paige. All that changed when Ms. Boyle began to sing. Only seconds into her performance, the audience began to applaud. When she finished, the judges not only praised her talent but also apologized to her for prejudging it on the basis of her appearance.

In the brief time since her appearance on Britain’s Got Talent, Ms. Boyle has appeared on several TV morning shows here in America. Copies of her performance quickly became the “most popular” videos on YouTube, racking up, as I write, an astonishing total of more than 100 million views. (Compare that to 50 million viewers for the final episode of M*A*S*H, or less than 40 million for a typical Super Bowl broadcast.)

Also in April, the columnist and TV commentator George Will wrote an opinion piece entitled “Blue Jean Nation.” Briefly, Mr. Will said it is a bad thing that so many people wear blue jeans today. I wasn’t convinced by Will’s argument. I’m sure that, 200 years ago, people looked at Beau Brummel’s suit and tie, only to wonder at the depths to which culture had sunk. That’s not to say I would encourage anyone going to a job interview to wear blue jeans, unless the nature of the work required them.

I’m interested, nevertheless, in Will’s column, coming as it does the same week as the lesson in judging (or rather, not judging) people by their appearance came to us from Britain.

(There’s an old joke about a man whose clothing weren’t up to the standard of the church he visited. The pastor encouraged him to “talk to God” about what sort of clothing would be more appropriate. Next Sunday, the man was back again, dressed as shabbily as before. The pastor asked him if he’d spoken to God about it, and the man replied, “Well, Pastor, I surely did, and God told me it had been so long since he was here, he wasn’t sure any more what sort of clothes you were wearing these days.”)

Do we judge people? Is clothing more important to us than it is to God? How about other aspects of someone’s appearance, like tattoos and body piercings? What about their age? Do we look at people with white hair and wrinkles, and assume there’s nothing for them to do but run out the clock?

Our Creator has given each of us wonderful gifts. When we look at people, do we see them according to the world’s standards, or God’s? Do we see every person as infinitely valuable and uniquely talented?

And what about ourselves? Are you and I living up to our God-given potential, or do we allow the world’s expectations to shape us?

In fact, Scripture teaches us not to judge. As Susan Boyle’s story reminds us, only God knows how far any one of us can soar.

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