A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Is judging a sin?

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I have been pondering the “judge” term as it’s used in our culture. I think we fear committing the sin of judging. But is it the judging we are supposed to avoid — the evaluating a person’s actions and determining if they are right or wrong? I don’t think it is. I think what we should avoid is being haughty when we realize that a person is doing wrong. As I examine myself, I feel this is what is in my head: there is a temptation to feel superior to the person who is in sin. That’s where I feel the danger lies, at least for me. So I often ask people if it’s the judgement we should avoid, or the haughtiness after we gain understanding of the fact that a person is not obeying Christ. Because of this, I use the word haughty in such discussions.

In my advocacy work, these kinds of conversations often come up because as normal healthy neurotics (I am using the term as Dr. George Simon would, at least I hope I am) we fear being judgmental and unforgiving and bitter and all the other things that people accuse us of — that we often accuse ourselves of as we’re learning to enforce boundaries with unsafe people. It took time for me to learn that it isn’t haughty or unforgiving of me to implement boundaries; rather, I implement boundaries because I must be careful, be safe, and because abusers do not have healthy consciences, they are therefore unsafe.

I have forgiven. I continue to forgive. I pray that the abusers I know surrender to Christ. I know that they haven’t and because of that, I enforce boundaries that don’t match what our culture tells us Christian behavior should look like, namely, acting like nothing ever happened. I have been so blessed to read Mending the Soul [affiliate link*] and to have Dr. Tracy’s perspective of praying that abusers will feel shame for what they’ve done and come to repentance. I recognize that most abusers hates shame. I have learned that this is a common behavior among narcissists. One author labels such projection as shame dumping. Ah! The perfect term for it. Great visual. I have seen abusers flip out when ashamed and find a way that those around them should’ve stopped the shame from coming on them. So I know that for them to even feel shame, not dump it on those near them, and really own it will take an act of God. But he is God! And I can pray. Here is the excerpt from Mending the Soul* that I am referencing:

Prayerfully Hand Shame Back to the Abuser One of the most empowering things an abuse survivor can do is to prayerfully hand shame back to his or her abuser. Theologians rarely discuss this concept, but it’s a frequent biblical theme. Biblical writers often asked God to shame their abusive enemies. Most likely, this meant asking God to do two things:

  1. cause the abuser to be overwhelmed with shame for his or her sin so that they would repent, and
  2. bring utter destruction on the abuser if he or she didn’t repent.

Asking God to utterly destroy an unrepentant abuser is not an unchristian prayer. Abuse victims experience tremendous injustice, but God is a God of justice. Humans long for justice and innately rebel with the cry “That’s not fair” when they don’t receive it. In fact, the Bible tells us that the prospect of God’s bringing full and final justice on the heads of unrepentant evil people is what allows us to endure injustice in this life without becoming bitter (2 Timothy 4:14; 1 Peter 2:23). Christians are not to seek revenge, not because it’s an inappropriate desire, but because they don’t have the power or the authority to properly exact justice on abusers. Paul admonished the Roman believers not to take revenge on their enemies but to let God do it for them (Romans 12:19). His retribution on evildoers will be perfect and inescapable. Thus, it’s biblical to pray that our abusers will be filled with shame so that they may repent and that they’ll be punished and destroyed if they do not. Practically, abuse survivors can apply this principle by writing down the name(s) of their unrepentant abusers. They should then regularly pray over the list, asking God to engulf these individuals with shame so that they will repent, and to bring divine judgment on them if they do not repent. Tracy, Steven R. (2009-05-26). Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse (Kindle Locations 1756-1770). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. (For additional thoughts from our readers regarding this quote, you may want to visit our post, Thursday Thought – Prayerfully Hand Shame Back to the Abuser – which also focuses on this quote.)

I find this advice more comforting than Piper’s improvements to the Golden Rule and the Lord’s Prayer. First of all, I find it much easier to pray for the eternal souls of my enemies/persecutors/irritating people in my life than the temporal physical needs in their lives. Are there really people who pray that God will prosper their enemies here on earth but neglect to pray for their souls? I suppose it’s possible. I’ve never met them. And then there’s the whole guilt-mongering aspect of Piper’s instructions. This advice of Piper’s is bondage to targets of abuse because he doesn’t acknowledge the pain the abusers have inflicted and God’s wrath against them because of it. For a guy who tweets about God’s judgement falling on the masses in the midst of some of the greatest tragedies of modern time, he sure seems to ignore God’s judgment against wicked when it comes to individual abusers. So I pray for abusers. I pray that God mercifully helps them to feel shame and then to take that shame to the Cross, not to their targets. And I pray that I won’t feel haughty in this, that I will walk in God’s grace and embrace the God given sense of justice, of right and wrong, that helps lead us all to acknowledge and honor Him. It’s not wrong to judge between right and wrong. It’s healthy and honoring to our Savior. And it’s merciful to sinners when we call sin SIN. Participating in minimizing sin is cruel. Call it sin. Avoid haughtiness, not judging.

*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.

29 Comments

  1. One time I prayed for a friend’s husband who had been abusive toward her. She went home and found him on his knees crying and praying. Later she asked me what I had prayed. It was this, that he would be grieved with a godly sorrow unto repentance.

    ” For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” 2nd Cor 7:10

    I’ve found in my walk with the Lord that godly sorrow must precede repentance in a person, (even ourselves at times when we mess up). How can a person repent of something they are not sorry for?

    God honors His Word when we pray HIs Word. How awesome is that. However, He will still not violate a person’s will, but He can sure bring some pressure to bare on a rebellious heart.

    • Hi Scarlett, hope you don’t mind but I feel I must mention that God does not always answer our prayers just the way we asked him to. I’m pretty sure you’d agree with me on that. The reason I say it is because when you said

      God honors His Word when we pray His Word.

      it struck me that it could be heard by some readers as a condemnation of them. Especially those of us who have been in Word of Faith churches, we may have been taught that if we pray the Word, God WILL always give us what we’ve asked because we’ve used his Word in our petition. My own experience of that kind of teaching is that it makes people feel guilty when their prayers are not answered. And the ‘explanation’ usually given in Word of Faith churches for unanswered prayer is that you don’t have enough faith, or you have some secret sin that you need to renounce. This, as I’m sure you know, ends up laying a whole bunch of false guilt on victims.

      Sorry if that sounds school-marmish. I know you probably just wrote those words in enthusiasm and praise for God… 🙂

      • Scarlett

        I understand what you’re saying Barbara, but I do not personally believe God will always give us what we’ve asked for. If He did, I wouldn’t have had to go through some of the firey trials I’ve gone through or even going through at the present. I’ve prayed that same prayer plenty of times with mixed results. In the case of an abuser…he or she still has free will to go ahead and abuse, if he or she can get away with it, if there is no remorse or repentance. The Lord never forces anyone against his or her will. I’m sorry if what I said came across that way, because I personally know how confusing and painful it is to be in the middle of an abusive relationship.

      • no worries, Scarlett 🙂 🙂

  2. Annie

    The word judging like so many words have been corrupted. So I do find it helpful to be reminded that I have a right and duty to call out right and wrong.

    • Annie, we should not judge but we can acknowledge what is wrong. We do have the right to do that.

  3. 7stelle

    This is excellent!

    I have been convicted of being haughty. I knew somewhere I was doing wrong so I didn’t have a clear conscience to enforce any boundaries.

    And it also highlighted 2 things of his behavior that have been very destructive to me and they go in this order:
    — “abusers flip out when ashamed”
    —“acting like nothing ever happened”

    It started even while dating. He was doing wrong and when I said he shouldn’t be doing such a thing he BLASTED!!! me and defended the sin. When I walked away—2 days later there is a gift delivered to my apartment. And here started the abuse cycle in my life. Even though he *said* *later* it was wrong, I have strong doubts he was truly sorry, because this particular sin was reoccurring and the shame dumping continued with other issues. And it always left me off balance when he would go BERSERK! and then 5 minutes later talk calmly and ask things like, “when will dinner be ready?” I have yet to hear him say—without prompting, asking frequently and even begging him to say, ‘I was wrong and I’m sorry.’ So many unrepentant sins that it has driven to the point of wanting a divorce.

    • 7stelle,
      This had happened in my marriage too. It was a constant circle, going around and around … the abuse followed by him saying he was sorry … only to repeat the abuse …

  4. Still Reforming

    I have long thought that contemporary chastisement to “not judge” stems from Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” In context, it goes on to state “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

    But I am rarely comfortable when I hear that “do not judge” verse used because it often strikes me as somewhat simplistic, ignoring facts or relevant details in any given situation. As you pointed out, someone may just be exercising wise discernment (such as in establishing boundaries). Obviously, there is a place for judging on some level in society, so it can’t be the mere fact of judging that is the issue. There would be no justice were we not accountable to the courts and ultimately the only righteous Judge of judges.

    I have sometimes wondered if perhaps in part the verse has to do with not judging someone in my own heart or mind to hell, since that is the Lord’s domain alone. But in context (with that second verse) that thinking may not make sense, since the Lord’s judgement is based on His will and pleasure alone, not on how I or any person would judge another.

    • Jessica

      Well, and that’s just one verse lifted from the context of the whole counsel of Scripture. In John 7:24 it says to “judge not according to appearances, but with righteous judgment.” And even in the Matthew 7 passage, it’s qualified with “for in the same way you judge others, you will be judged”– I’m okay with that if I’m passing judgment on somebody else’s coercive control/abusive behavior. Go ahead and judge me according to the same standard. The Matthew 7 passage is a warning to people who are religiously smug, preoccupied with the sins of others while pretending they themselves don’t have any. It’s not an exhortation to throw out one’s discernment and refrain from calling evil what it is.

    • I completely agree.

  5. SeeClearerNow (prev NotHeard)

    Thankyou SO much for this post Ellie. I really needed it. Had tears of relief as I read it! It’s extremely timely for me as I just had news of a disappointing turn in the court case.

  6. Sasanka

    Ellie, that was amazing. It feels so great to hear the pure and simple truth. So validating.
    The abusers and their enablers always say God does not want anyone to go to hell. So they assume they are safe, as long as they prayed the sinner’s prayer and are ‘nice’ when they want (need to) be. (Huge difference between being ‘nice’ and ‘kind/good’ as I learned here 🙂 Thank you, Jesus.
    It is amazing how they do not realize they are fooling themselves. God will not be mocked. He looks at the heart. And he does not think like ‘man’ thinks. I guess these people think they are more ‘loving’ than God himself even!! Just like divorce is not bad neither is revenge! God is a divorcee. He is also a God of Revenge because He is a God of Justice. And He is God of Justice because He is God of LOVE! Hello Abusers!!!
    Now careful I don’t get too haughty..so easy to feel great about understanding. Understanding is nothing without Love. And how good to know the real God love is to pray for their repentance and salvation, however if they refuse, I can take comfort that my God will deal with it for me. And He does NOT condemn me for the overwhelming feelings of injustice and desire for a just consequence for them.
    Thank you for this amazing post and links, Ellie!

  7. bright sunshinin' day

    Thank you, Ellie, for bringing to light, not half, but the WHOLE counsel of God.

    The following quote from Mending the Soul sums up what truth found in Scripture re prayer:

    “Biblical writers often asked God to shame their abusive enemies. Most likely, this meant asking God to do two things:
    1) cause the abuser to be overwhelmed with shame for his or her sin so that they would repent, and
    2) bring utter destruction on the abuser if he or she didn’t repent”

    Unlike Piper’s lopsided advice, this is how we SHOULD be praying.

  8. Anewanon

    I LOVE to amass one-liners to help keep me set straight and to not get entangled in confusion and strife with a fool or a wicked one. And the pearl from this article is:

    I am NOT being unforgiving; I am learning to enforce boundaries with unsafe people.

    YESSSSSS!

  9. Ellie,
    It is interesting what you are saying about judging. I remember that my ex-husband always had something negative to say about every one and I constantly had to ask him to stop.
    Yet, there is a difference between judging or acknowledging someone’s weaknesses. I will use this information not to judge but for my protection when having to communicate with such a person. Well, I like to study people … it is amazing what one learns from it.

    As to boundaries, it really gives us freedom. In my marriage, I had to fight for it. After the divorce, I felt liberated!

  10. What about 1st Corinthians 5:12:
    “For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not you judge them that are within?”

    Is not the true believer admonished by the apostle Paul to judge those matters “within the church”, and not to judge those matters outside the church?
    So doesn’t that put us in a position to bring light to matters that are within the church, and expose areas of darkness that don’t line up with Gods Word?
    Isn’t this just what we are doing when we call out the behavior of a wolf in sheeps clothing?
    “We are the church”, and we are being faithful to God’s Word by exposing the evil that tries to mask itself as good, and resides in the church.

    • Yes I agree, standsfortruth; we ARE to judge those within the church. The whole notion and practice of Biblical Discipline is based on that.

      Discussions like this can easily become difficult if we don’t make clear what we mean by ‘judge’.

      1. In one sense, the word means ‘discern’ — particularly discerning truth from error, false doctrine from true doctrine, hypocritical behaviour and attitudes from genuinely Christian behaviour and attitudes. I think the Bible tells us we must engage in this kind of judgement: it’s part of being wise as serpents, and not throwing our pearls before swine lest they turn and trample us.

      2. In another sense, ‘judge’ means ‘state with certain knowledge the eternal destiny of a given individual (whether they will end up in heaven or hell)’. Only God has the capacity to make that kind of judgement, since only He is eternal and omniscient, aware of the end from the beginning.

      3. In another sense, ‘judge’ has the sense of ‘sensing someone’s heart motives’. We flawed humans can, at times, indeed, quite often, have a pretty good intimation of this kind of knowledge, especially when we are making the judgement on the basis of the person’s characteristic, repeated, habitual character and conduct. And sometimes the judgements we make of this kind are supplemented, or even initiated, by a gift of the Spirit: a word of knowledge, a discernment of spirits, a word of wisdom (1 Corinthians 12).

      4. In another sense, ‘judge’ means ‘unfairly criticise and calumniate’. That kind of judgement can often be distinguished by the haughty feeling a person has when doing it. And that is the kind of judgement — we could call it ‘Pharisaic judgement’ — which we are told not to engage in.

      But woe to us when we neglect — or flee — from the first and third kinds of judgement in this list. If we do, we become foolish sheep apt to be led by any tin-pot prophet or Pharisaic tyrant.

      • Yes I agree Barbara, it all comes down to the motive in our heart when we shed the light of truth on any evil that projects itsself as good within the church.
        Many of us have no position in the church because the church did not want to believe our testamony, as it countered what they wanted to believe, regarding our abusive relationships.
        Being willing to defend what we know is right in the eyes of God, so as to protect and defend the innocent, and the oppressed is what we are instructed to do.
        We are not interested in judging others to establish a position of pioused superiority, so we can appear more holy than others, (the pharisitic mindset.)
        Nor are we motivated by any church position that would give us a position of power over others.
        Our motives have to do with the heart of the matter which is what serving Christ is all about

  11. Anewanon

    So what are we to do with Matt 5:44 and Lk 6:28???

    But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you…?

    Is ….. praying (1) for the abuser to be overwhelmed with shame for his or her sin so that they would repent, and 2) for God to bring utter destruction on the abuser if he or she didn’t repent …. LOVING them? … Blessing them? … Doing good to them?

    I suppose it could be. I am not being sarcastic here, I really would like some input or feedback. Thank you.

    • Very valid questions, anewanon, and I honour you for being a Berean. 🙂

      I am aware that we DO need at least one more substantive post on the ‘love your enemies’ principle and how to apply it in domestic abuse situations. I promised a while ago to write such a post, but what with looking after my Dad and all the otehr stuff I do, it’s still on my To Do list. Sorry.

      In the mean time, here are some posts that may at least partially address your questions. I have compiled this list in a bit of a rush, so if my picks are not spot on, please forgive me.

      Praying for God’s Justice

      Love covers a multitude of sins, but not all.

      Distinguishing Enemies From Brothers, And How We Deal Differently With Each

      The Lord is Merciful and Gracious: but He Does Not Forgive His Enemies

      To pray for our abusers… or not? (we don’t need to pray for the sin that leads to death)

      Lord, Do Not Forgive Them, For They Know Exactly What They Are Doing

      What Does Forgiveness Require?

      Christians are Very Confused About Forgiveness

      Abuse and Anger: Is it a Sin to Be Angry Toward Our Abuser?

      How Perverted Notions of “Martyrdom” Promote Abuse in the Church

    • Valerie

      I think our culture has selfishly adopted a false definition of love. It falsely tells us that to love someone means we only do what pleases them. It means that we overlook sin in the name of love. We seem to put our false definition of love as the highest aim — higher than glorifying God. Isn’t this also how we have falsely decided to define God’s love? It’s what has allowed the cancerous teaching about same sex marriage and other forms of ungodliness…all under the guise of “love”. Doing good to your abuser doesn’t mean you selflessly make them a casserole. Doing good to your abuser might mean calling the police to have them arrested if necessary. Blessing them doesn’t mean you hope they get a promotion at work when they are still living in rebellion to God.

      One of the turning points in my marriage was one day when the Spirit spoke to my heart and asked, “What IS good?” as I was considering the verse that talks about not withholding good when it is in our ability to provide it. It was then that I realized I had a distorted view of “good”. Is it good to give someone a ride? Sure. Is it good to give an alcoholic a ride to a bar? Well, obviously not. So what’s the distinction? We must know scripture enough to know what is the highest good for another. The highest good for anyone is to be brought to repentance. Paul turned the man over to satan SO THAT he might be saved (1 Cor 5:5). Blessing and good never disregard God’s principles of sowing and reaping. I have frequently prayed for God’s blessings for those who have aided me in a biblical way. In my prayer I have asked God to bless them as they have blessed me. Nowhere in scripture do I see we are asked to pray that someone be blessed by being supernaturally shielded from the consequences of their actions.

      It seems if everyone saw repentance as the highest good for another we would respond to people in a much different way- esp to people who abuse and have been taken captive (allowed themselves by quenching the Spirit and hardening their hearts) to do the devil’s will (2 Tim 2:26).

      • Hope

        Thank you Valerie, I often have difficulty with the distinction between “good” and “nice”, but this fine explanation has helped clarify for me. I need to read this every day until I have it thoroughly incorporated into my mind and heart.

  12. Hope

    This idea may be a little far-fetched, but has anyone here ever wondered of Piper is abusive? His attitude sure seems so. He seems controlling (you WILL stay married!), sets himself up as the authority on marriage and Christian marriage in particular, and dismissive of abuse, trivializing it… He sure seems abusive to me.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Hope – We would not come out and say a person is an abuser without hard, fast evidence. But we do know that there are many abusers who are pastors and church leaders and yes, book writers. When someone just presses on in refusing to grant justice to abuse victims, when they say things publicly that minimize the seriousness of abuse, when they insist upon and teach that God does not permit divorce for any reason at all, then surely they are opening themselves up to people wondering just who in the world they are, anyway?

  13. Hope

    Thank you Pastor Crippen, I do wonder. I have met people that I hope and I think are Christians (mainly because they claim to be), but their God is very, very different from mine. The issue of abuse brings a lot of things to light in the churches (and in people), doesn’t it? I didn’t even have this word in my vocabulary until this year. Come to find out, the reason I don’t recognize myself any more, the reason I have been so miserable, the reason I can never measure up and be acceptable, the reason my children are hurt, etc. is because I am one of the abused. And yes, my non-husband has accused me of being judgmental when I confront, and for a long time I thought he was right!
    Thank you for this site!

    • Jeff Crippen

      Hope – another synonym for abuse is EVIL. If we consider the Bible’s teaching about the nature and methods of evil, we find that evil lies, it murders, it accuses, it destroys, and all the while doing these things, it HIDES. That is why you are seeing that you don’t recognize yourself – because evil has been eroding your very personhood. It has robbed you of joy. It has been telling you in many different ways that you are worthless. And all the time, you couldn’t see it. Not because you are stupid, but because evil is quite cunning, like the serpent in Eden. But now its days of hiding are over. The Lord is giving you light and truth. Turns out you aren’t sinfully judging at all, but seeing and speaking truth. Evil hates that. It hates the light.

  14. M&M

    Thank-you Ellie, this actually helped me with a topic that you didn’t directly mention-when the abuser is genuinely a victim of another worse abuser. 17 years after leaving, I still couldn’t decide if I should see the abuser as a victim or a perpetrator. Both were true, but which should determine my attitude and future decisions? After reading this blog, I felt that the perpetrator side needs to repent before the victim side can heal. Therefore, praying for repentance (and judgment if they don’t) is not the opposite of praying for healing. It’s praying that they repent first and then begin healing, but unless there is huge evidence of repentance I stay away.

    And I love the judgmental lamp.

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