Monday, April 27, 2009

Giving People the Right to Judge

The noted Swedish diplomat, Dag Hammersköld, says: "He who has placed himself in God's hand stands free vis-a-vis men: he is entirely at his ease with them, because he has granted them the right to judge." What a liberating thought! And from a diplomat, whose job it is to . . . well, be diplomatic. I wonder if his insight grew out of years of worrying about saying the right thing, and finally seeing the futility of trying to please everyone.

Why do we work so hard to make sure people judge us positively? I'm not talking about just being kind to others and doing the right thing, but seeing to it that everyone has a good image of us. Why is it so devastating when that image shatters? There are at least two reasons: First, we think that people have the power to shape our circumstances, and second, we look to them for ego gratification.

Hammerskjöld says that we can yield ourselves so fully to God that nobody has the power to harm us apart from his will. Bosses, customers, editors, or readers may seem powerful to us--people we need to please, but if our lives belong to Christ, he uses them to further his purposes in our lives (and vice versa). Their power is an illusion we must shatter by faith. God is all-powerful in our lives when we surrender to him. Several times, I've seen God bless a difficult act of faith and obedience in spectacular ways, even when the outcome required an unlikely decision by powerful people. So if we are wise, we will seek to please God above all else, remembering that he is our ultimate judge and provider.

But this works both ways, of course. God sees everything I do and knows the motive behind every act. By now I've learned that God doesn't let me get away with anything. I remember one time when a drama camp coach had treated my son harshly, and he was very upset. We live in a great community where teachers and coaches really value the kids, so this kind of thing hardly ever happens. I stayed calm and explained to him that not all people are easy to deal with, and I encouraged him to determine what part was his fault, while not letting her tirade get to him. He accepted my lesson and went on his merry way.

But I hadn't put the matter behind me. I sat down at the computer, having morphed into Mama Bear With a Keyboard. I wouldn't complain to her boss, just express "concern." I would be gracious, reasonable, understanding . . . while driving in the dagger with deadly precision. Nobody would even think I had done anything wrong.

Nobody, that is, except the Person who was watching over my shoulder, daring me: "You go right ahead and send that email, Anette. See if it'll be worth it." I sighed and realized once again that God doesn't just disappear when his existence is inconvenient. He protects us from others, but more than that, he protects us from ourselves.

In addition to worrying that others have power over us, we care about people's opinions because they affect our image of ourselves. But when we look to others for ego gratification, they become like a mirror. So we're just gazing back at ourselves. No wonder it's possible to be lonely in a crowd. We start thinking of other people this way in early childhood. All elementary school students know exactly where they fall in the social hierarchy. High school is cutthroat, and social competition can lead kids to do despicable things to each other. When we grow up and social convention dictate that we act politely, we often do that out of pride as well.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says: "Without Christ we would not know our brother, nor could we come to him. The way is blocked by our own ego." If we're honest with ourselves, we know what he's talking about. It's hard to really know someone else if we're busy thinking about ourselves and how we come across. But I think most of us want to relate to others without competition, and without worrying about this, that, and the other thing. We want the blockage to be completely gone.

1 John 1:7 says. "If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another." It's only through Christ, by walking in his light, that we have true fellowship. He alone is the prism through which we can see our brothers and sisters and not our own ego.

People have less power over us than we think, and the ego is meant to be shattered. Once we realize that, we will be able to please our true Judge first, and let the other judgments fall where they may.