Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'C. S. Lewis Overflow'
Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything C.S. Lewis and Narnia Book, due in stores in March 2008, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series.

'Judging' in C. S. Lewis

Whenever you find a man who says he doesn't believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later.

—C. S. Lewis in "The Case for Christianity"

Judging is one of the most controversial and difficult teachings of the Christian faith. On the one hand, Jesus' ministry is full of judgments against sins, especially the sins of pride most often associated with the Pharisees (a sect of "separated ones" who considered themselves keepers of the Jewish faith of His time), and the leaders of the temple who lorded their will over the people rather than serving as God's humble servants, and against hypocrites everywhere. Though there were some Pharisees among Jesus' followers, on the whole the sect's members were His most vocal critics and the subjects of His most vocal condemnations, calling them "whitewashed sepulchers" or tombs (Matthew 23:27) and lovers of outward show (Matthew 12:14).

Jesus also told his followers they were to be sheep rather than goats, metaphors for true and false followers of Him; that the sheep would be let in to His kingdom and the goats turned away. He told His followers that some of them would have to choose between Him and His righteousness and the comforts of families and homes where He was not allowed in, and in every case they were warned they'd be persecuted and considered outsiders—outcasts—by the majority of the people in their generation who despised Him and His preachings of a new kingdom come. Jesus' followers were to be light to the darkness of their times, and the Apostles and apostolic friends who wrote the New Testament took up the same theme, calling the new believers to separate themselves from sins and sinful influences, reiterating Jesus' teaching that His disciples must be in, but not "of" the world.

All of these require making judgments almost moment by moment in the life of discipleship. And yet Jesus said, "Judge not, that you be not judged, for with the judgment that you judge, you yourselves shall be judged: and the yardstick by which you measure others' faults will be used to measure you and your failings" (Matthew 7:1-2). "Judge not, and you shall not be judged: condemn not, and you shall not be condemned; forgive and you shall be forgiven" (Luke 6:37). Even more pointedly, He told His followers to pray, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."

C.S. Lewis, attuned with the teachings already cited, also judges many types of sin and general types of sinners in his writings. False ministers, who claim to represent Christ and His Church but are teaching their own distortions of New Testament teachings, come in for special treatment in Lewis's fiction and nonfiction both. In his major novel, That Hideous Strength, he presents an apostate former clergyman who preaches that the utopian political kingdom he has given his life to is the "True Resurrection." In his essay, "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism," Lewis describes "a theology which denies the historicity of nearly everything in the Gospels to which Christian life and affections and thought have been fastened for nearly two millenia...." And yet in his writings on pride and humility discussed earlier in this series, Lewis warns against judging and failing to forgive "those who trespass against us."

Obviously, there are two forms of judging, one a judgment based on pride, conceit, and self-glorification, and a "righteous" judgment that enables us to discern and follow the program of the sheep while concluding that the program of the goats is unwise and unacceptable. Righteous judgment can love sinners while despising sins, without dissimulation or confusing the two; the forbidden type of judgment can't separate the person from the failing, and in doing so condemns him- or herself by his own approach to testing others.

Luke's version of "judge not" gives a clue to the difference by expanding it to "condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven." There's the discernment of a bad spirit in another that should be avoided for the sake of your own spiritual health, which even the Apostle Paul exercised and taught his followers to imitate, and there's a once-and-for-all condemnation of someone else to the extent of not being willing to forgive or even hear any confession of repentance and promise to try harder. The latter course, as Jesus told Peter, is never acceptable to the Christian, who must forgive "seventy times seven," and always pray for the redemption of the sheep inclined to stray.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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Today's chuckle

My town takes jury selection very seriously. So much so that when it sends questionnaires to perspective jurors, every question is expected to be answered in full—plain and simple, no ifs, ands or buts.

This was evidenced by the juror's questionnaire I was sent. It asked, "Do you speak, read and understand English? If no, explain."

Thought for today

You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness.

C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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