Judging, Loneliness, & the Recovery of Community – Pt. 2

In part 1, I highlighted five kinds of bad judgment, and explored the various ways that these judgments affect our lives. In this post, I’d like to explore two kinds of good judgment and explain how these judgments can actually nourish relationships, protect and strengthen communities, and rescue people who are alienated from a creeping and haunting loneliness.

When Judgment is Good

The first, and perhaps simplest form of good judgment, is judgment as a true statement about the way things really are. One of the most difficult seasons in life are those seasons in which no one is able to speak with authority as to the way things really are.[1] These frustrating seasons arise all the time: In the workplace, owner and employee dispute over a wage that will adequately compensate the worker while also securing the financial viability of the company. In the home, husbands and wives dispute about whether present expenditures will end up undermining future goals. In the sphere of environmental concern, citizens dispute over the balance between the rights of an ecosystem and the rights of the people who rely on the ecosystem. In the sphere of national concern, nations dispute on how to confront the relentless scourge of terrorism without drawing their nations into perpetual cycles of conflict. Yet, in each of these disputes, there’s an urgent need for a shared source of authority – someone that can render a judgment about the way things really are:[2] A fair wage is this…A reasonable budget is this…A balanced environmental policy is this…An sustainable counter-terrorism policy is this…In each of these disputes, a genuine desire arises for someone to render a judgment about the way things really are, because apart from these kinds of judgments, our workplace, family, and national communities would simply be dysfunctional.

The second form of good judgment might sound patently absurd or silly at first, but it’s an essential aspect of living well in community. This second kind of judgment is judgment as exclusion.  In writing this,  I realize that the abuse of “exclusion” has freighted this word with a virtual tsunami of negative connotations. To then couple this word with “judgment” (and then regard the practice as good) might sound like I’m trying to retrofit a cow patty for human consumption. Be patient and read on.

The primary context in which this judgment takes place is when someone is excluded from a community because the community has been or will be violated at a fundamental level. This kind of judgment takes place all the time – and is essential for the preservation of any flourishing community. [3] For example, perhaps an employee makes repeated and unwanted sexual advances on one of his fellow co-workers. Because his actions have undermined the very nature and foundation of his company,[4] he ought to be judged[5] and excluded from his workplace community.[6] Or perhaps another employee has repeatedly stolen money or property from his company. Again, because he has violated his company at a fundamental level,[7] he should be judged[8] and excluded from his workplace community. By engaging in this kind of judgment, people actually help secure the well-being of their own communities. Although it’s tragic that communities are violated in this way,[9] this kind of judgment must be made to preserve the very nature of the community.

This distinction is vitally important to understand, because apart from a meaningful grip on the nature of this judgment, you’ll neither make coherent sense of the Bible’s storyline – nor bear confident witness to the nature of God. Why? Because there are so many passages in the Word that unapologetically narrate judgment as exclusion that you simply can’t avoid them. Often this exclusion is narrated in terms of a divinely enforced alienation (or exile) from the land. In the OT alone, we see this judgment occurring in at least: Gen. 3, 4, 6-9, 11; Ex. 1-15; Josh.; Judg.; Ruth; 2 King, 17, 25; Isa. – Mal. The NT is really no different: Matt. 8:11-12; Luke 13:1-5; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5-6; Rev. 21:1-8.

One of the core assumptions that run through each of these accounts is that the disposition of sin is so viral, that as its nature and essence begins to blossom, it aims at the destruction of community. Furthermore, this attempted ruin of community isn’t just directed at other people, it’s ultimately aimed at the triune God, who is the source of community. Indeed, one of the principle reasons that the passages above are so bewildering to contemporary readers, is that they fail to discern how deeply the disposition of sin aims both at the ruin of community and the ruin of God. The cross didn’t just show up out of thin air. In it’s human verdict, it was simply an expression of what Adam (and all who are in him) had wanted to do to God all along; and as long as we flatter ourselves that the heinousness sin is defined in relationship to us alone, we will applaud ourselves when we exclude, while simultaneously denying this same right to God. Mis-assess the nature of sin, and you will mis-assess both the nature of community and the nature of God.

Incredibly, there are seasons where even committed atheists will catch a glimpse of the tragedy of mis-assessing the nature of sin. Prior to committing suicide, Hobart Mowrer, an atheist, former instructor at Yale and Harvard, and former president of the APA, said:

“For several decades we psychologists have looked upon the whole matter of sin and moral accountability as a great incubus and we have acclaimed our freedom from it as epic making. But at length we have discovered to be free in this sense to have the excuse of being sick rather than being sinful is to also court the danger of becoming lost. In becoming amoral, ethically neutral and free, we have cut the very roots of our being, lost our deepest sense of selfhood and identity. And with neurotics themselves, asking, “Who am I? What is my deepest destiny? And what does living really mean?”[10] (HT: Phillip November)

At this point, one of the real questions that might be asked is, “Why do either of these two judgments have anything to do with nourishing relationships, protecting and strengthening communities, and rescuing those who are alienated from a creeping and haunting loneliness?”

Everyone who aims at the recovery of community will make specific assumptions about the role that true statement and exclusion play in the recovery of community. To the extent that we flatter ourselves that God’s own judgments are perverse, unnecessary, non-existent, unknowable, or irrelevant, we interject a lie into the very center of our attempts at the recovery of community. The recovery of community begins with the recovery of a disturbing degree of honesty (Isa. 9); and when rightly understood, both of these judgments invite us to acknowledge that we need a solution to the loss of community that utterly transcends what we can do on our own:

“Apart from an assurance that sin can be forgiven – something that utterly transcends what human reason can find out on its own – no human being dares to be completely honest with himself.”[11]

In part 3, I’ll explore how the practice of redemptive judgment relates to loneliness and the recovery of community.

[1] Or more specifically, there is no one present to whom disputing parties can look to for a judgment regarding the best course of action.

[2] In order for this kind of judgment to work well, it should be accompanied by active expressions of compassion by the one making the judgment.

[3] The following scenario would be an example of a good kind of judgment that transpires when the community has been violated at a fundamental level. An example of a good kind of judgment that transpires when the community will be violated at a fundamental level is when a man violently expels a burglar from his house (who had been bent on violating the man’s family).

[4] Surely, one of the fundamental commitments of any decent company is to provide an environment in which the women can feel as though they are not being treated as sex objects.

[5] i.e. his actions are confronted and regarded as inappropriate (whether he wants such confrontation or not)…

[6] Interestingly, if a company (or any community for that matter) does not remove such an individual by exercising this form of judgment, the very essence of the community will be destroyed. In this case, a company’s refusal to confront and judge this man will result in a continued culture of sexual harassment – and the subsequent destruction of the workplace community.

[7] I regard this as a fundamental violation, because one of the fundamental commitments of any company is to make a profit so that they can survive. Any company that regularly fails to make judgments in these situations will soon find themselves out of business.

[8] That is, he should be told that his behavior is wrong and why it is wrong (whether he wants such confrontation or not).

[9] And that people come to the place where they must be ejected from a community.

[10] Hobart Mowrer, “Sin, the Lesser of Two Evils,” American Psychologist, 15 (1960): 301-304.

[11] J. Budziszewski, Evangelicals in the Public Square (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 34.


About pastoralpensees

I have been happily married to my wife since 2000 and have two young sons. In 2012, I graduated from Covenant Theological Seminary with an MDiv,, and I would like to engage in pastoral ministry in a local church.
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Christ & Culture, One Step Closer to the Gospel and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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