Scriptures teach when to judge, when not to judge

There are two kinds of judging: "final judgments, which we are forbidden to make, and intermediate judgments which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles," Elder Dallin H. Oaks said March 1.

Speaking at a Church Educational System fireside, Elder Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve said: "I have been puzzled that some scriptures command us not to judge, and others instruct us that we should judge and even teach us how to do it. I am convinced that these seemingly contradictory directions are consistent when we view them with the perspective of eternity."More than 15,000 college-age young adults attended the fireside, held in the BYU Marriott Center. Also in attendance were Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Seventy and BYU president, and his wife, Marilyn. Thousands more watched the proceedings telecast live via the Church satellite system throughout North America and the Caribbean. The talk will also be translated into other languages and distributed in various areas of the world.

Speaking of final judgment, Elder Oaks said there will be a future occasion when every person will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, to be judged according to his or her works.

"Latter-day Saints understand the final judgment as the time when all men will receive their personal dominions in the mansions prepared for them in various kingdoms of glory," he said. "I believe that the scriptural command to judge not refers most clearly to this final judgment."

He explained that Church members should refrain from making final judgments of people because they lack the knowledge and the wisdom to do so.

"We would even apply the wrong standards," he said. "The world's way is to judge competitively, between winners and losers. The Lord's way of final judgment will be to apply His perfect knowledge of the law a person has received and to judge on the basis of that person's circumstances, motives, and actions throughout his or her entire life."

Elder Oaks noted that even the Savior, during His mortal ministry, refrained from making final judgments, as in the case of the woman taken in adultery.

"From all of this we see that final judgment is the Lord's and that mortals must refrain from judging any human being in the final sense of concluding or proclaiming that they are irretrievably bound for hell or have lost all hope for exaltation."

Speaking of the second type of judgment, Elder Oaks said in contrast to forbidding mortals to make final judgments, the scriptures require mortals to make intermediate judgments.

"During His mortal ministry the Savior made and acted upon many intermediate judgments, such as when He told the Samaritan woman of her sinful life, when he rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, and when he commented on the comparative merit of the offerings of the rich men and of the widow's mites," said Elder Oaks.

Church leaders, he continued, are specifically commanded to judge. The Savior also commanded individuals to be judges, both of circumstances and of other people.

"We all make judgments in choosing our friends, in choosing how we will spend our time and our money, and of course, in choosing an eternal companion," he noted.

He said the scriptures not only command or contemplate that all men will make intermediate judgments, they also give some guidance - some governing principles - in how to do so. Elder Oaks said several principles or ingredients that lead to a "righteous judgment" include:

A righteous judgment must, by definition, be intermediate.

"It will refrain from declaring that a person has forfeited all opportunity for exaltation or even all opportunity for a useful role in the work of the Lord," he said. "The gospel is a gospel of hope, and none of us is authorized to deny the power of the atonement to bring about a cleansing of individual sins, forgiveness, and a reformation of life on appropriate conditions."

A righteous judgment will be guided by the Spirit of the Lord, not by anger, revenge, jealousy, or self-interest. "The Savior taught that one of the missions of the Comforter He would send would be to assist in judgment of the world by guiding the faithful into all truth," Elder Oaks said.

To be righteous, an intermediate judgment must be within the judge's stewardship. "We should not presume to exercise and act upon judgments that are outside our personal responsibilities," he said.

Whenever possible, a righteous intermediate judgment is not made until there is an adequate knowledge of the facts.

Elder Oaks added, however, that there are times when urgent circumstances require Church members to make preliminary judgments before they can get all of the facts they desire for decision-making. "If a person you have trusted with your property has been indicted for embezzlement, would you continue to leave him in charge of your life savings?" he questioned. "In such circumstances we do the best we can, relying ultimately on the teaching in modern scripture that we should put our trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good - yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously."

Whenever possible, a righteous intermediate judgment refrains from judging people and only judges situations. "This is essential whenever we attempt to act upon different standards than others with whom we must associate - at home, at work, or in the community."

A final ingredient or principle of a righteous judgment is the applying of righteous standards. "If we apply unrighteous standards, our judgment will be unrighteous," he said. "By falling short of righteous standards, we place ourselves in jeopardy of being judged by incorrect or unrighteous standards ourselves."

Finally, Elder Oaks said Church members must remember the command to forgive. "Forgiveness is a companion principle to the commandment that in final judgments we judge not, and in intermediate judgments we judge righteously."

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