There is the sinful tendency we have of rash judgment. Too often we take offense at things when none was given or intended. Sometimes we get hurt because we simply misunderstand what a person is saying or doing. At other times we presume to know their motives. So for example, if a person takes a little longer to respond than we would like, we think they don’t care, or that their answer is “no.” But maybe the real problem is less personal toward us and they are dealing with a family crisis or there is a deadline at work. Rash judgements often cause us a lot of pain, and others to when we jump to conclusions and say or do harsh things in response to something that isn’t even true.
And even prior to the sinful drive of rash judgement, we have an often troublesome human tendency to “size things up” too quickly, before we really have all the information and can carefully sift, separate and distinguish. And thus we sometimes make poor decisions with out all the information we need.
There is yet another tendency to make conclusions that are too sweeping or simplistic, given the limited information we have. We do this regarding both people and situations.
Regarding the character of people, too often we like to assess them quickly and put them into one category or another. Thus, we may conclude that “Jane is a really wonderful person!” based on very few interactions with her or very limited information. We do this a great deal with the famous personalities and “heroes” of our culture, seeing them in broad and simplistic ways. In fact we usually know very little of them, other than what we see in a rather cursory and public way. In lionizing and idealizing people, we are often setting ourselves up for deep disappointment. And this disappointment is rooted in our rushed and simplistic judgments about people. The fact is, people are generally a mixed bag, often possessed of great gifts, and also afflicted by human weakness and personal flaws. Scripture says, No one is good but God alone. (Mk 10:18 inter al). It also says, For God regards all men as sinners, that he may have mercy on all (Rom 11:23). This the human condition, gifted but flawed.
Not all things are as they first appear. And no one should be regarded simplistically. We are usually a complicated mix of gifts and struggles. Discernment regarding people therefore ought to proceed with careful deliberation wherein we resist the urge to quickly size up and categorize people, and exercise careful discernment that is on-going, charitable and sober.
The rush to judgment is to be avoided. I have, in the past, been prone to criticize some of the judgments and decisions of the Church, and in particular, my diocesan leadership and religious superiors. Yet, in some of the matters about which I was most critical, I have come to discover that I did not have all the facts, and that my judgment was both rash and wrong. We often think we know the whole story. And often we do not.
Some (including me) have also criticized the Church for not operating in the fast speed zone of the modern world. We often want quick and bold statements to be issued. We desire rapid responses and bold initiatives made to every issue and crisis that emerges. Of themselves, these desires are not wrong. But they need to be balanced with an appreciation that discernment is often accomplished at slower speeds than we demand or wish. A more rapid response may sometimes be desired and even necessary. But there is something to be said about following the priority of the important rather than, merely, the priority of the urgent. And careful consideration and discernment is important and has its place.
In the Scriptures:
- There is the story of Samuel who was sent by God to find and anoint a King among Jesse’s sons. Arriving and seeing the eldest and strongest of the sons, Samuel was quick to conclude he must be the one: But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:6). Samuel was eventually led to anoint the youngest and least likely of the brothers, David.
- Call no one blessed before his death, for by his end shall a man be known. (Sir 11:28)
- And Paul cautions Timothy: Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure…Remember, the sins of some men are obvious, leading them to certain judgment. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later. (1 Tim 5:22,24)
- So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! (2 Cor 5:16)
Disclaimer – Discernment should be seen as a middle ground between quickly claiming we know too much, and claiming we can know nothing at all. Discernment is not an affirmation that there is no truth to be found, or that we are locked away in a purely subjective and relativistic world where no judgments can be made at all. Rather it is a caution from making sweeping, simplistic or rash judgments that are not based on things we really know. It is a call to sobriety, for people and situations are often more complicated than we first grasp, and it takes time to make proper assessments.
To discern: to sift, separate, or distinguish.
Enjoy this video; it is touching but also instructive. Sometimes we take offense or rejection, when none is given.