Coronavirus and the Carnival of Judgment, Part 1By Dave Harvey
June 8, 2020
Three days ago, I ran into a Starbucks to pick up my drink. The store had four other patrons: two masked customers awaiting their drinks and two unmasked people who followed me in. Yours truly had unconsciously left my mask hanging, in all of its sanitary splendor, upon my rear-view mirror. When I returned to my car, I discovered someone had pasted my car with spit.
Not to lose you with a graphic description, but if spittle can be charted between an infant’s drool and the saliva produced by a trucker with four cans of chaw, this person was a gold medalist in the latter category. I think this guy may have stained my paint.
While I can’t be certain of this person’s motives, it’s probable that this saliva-shot was a statement of protest over my unmasked face. You see, whether we’re talking about politics, church-state relations, face masks, social distancing, medical data, or pandemic stats, self-righteous behavior is in full bloom this Spring. Differences over debatable matters flood our hearts with moral imperatives. Then, they bubble-up within us, and come frothing like a waterfall over our lips. To put it plainly, there’s a soul-sickening pandemic breaking out with greater consequences than Covid-19. It’s sinful judgment. And we’re spitting it at each other with alarming conviction. Now, I could not see this patron’s heart, but that isn’t essential to my illustration. It just proves my point. Either he was judging me, or I’m judging him.
Regardless, welcome to the carnival.
The Heart of Judgment
Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matt 7:1–2). Jesus is not saying that his people should never be found assessing, evaluating, or discerning the words, actions, and attitudes of others. The church is called to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16), not a gathering of simple dimwits.
But Jesus knew that judging comes naturally to us; we walk out the door each day with our antennas up—evaluating, interpreting, and forming opinions about what drives other people. Kimm and I are currently shopping for a used car. The axiom of “let the buyer beware” means that we make judgments about whether or not a dealership or sales person is credible. Indiscriminate naivety could land us in a lemon. But there’s a vast gulf between our daily need to discern and our sinful bent for assuming the worst.
Judging turns sinful and evil when we ascribe bad motives to another person without a legitimate cause. When we demonize intentions, there’s always a cost. The judgment carnival pitches a tent in our heart. Discernment warps; our souls shrink. As Asaph described, “you give your mouth free rein for evil” (Ps. 50:19). People get ugly. Angry. Bitter. Even wrathful.
Many of us can see our tendency to assume the worst most clearly when we’re driving. Rather than graciously assuming the best about a person who just pulled out in front of us—maybe he’s a new driver, she’s just being inattentive, their kids are distracting them, or they just made a dumb mistake—we instead let the road rage rise. We shift gears and become indignant about the other driver’s motives: “That preening idiot intentionally pulled out, because he thinks he’s better than me. This is personal. It’s a threat—an actual assault on my dignity. I hate him!”
Maybe that’s a little exaggerated. But not by much.
We sinfully judge when we conclude that we know others’ motives. We say, “I know your heart” with a knowing smirk. Our opinion becomes fact—the only possible perspective one could have on this experience. We assume—or perhaps the operative phrase is “we ascend to”—a place of presumed divinity. Swapping places with God, we pretend to be omniscient in our discernment of the thoughts and intentions of others. Our take becomes God’s truth.
Ascendance, however, comes at a steep cost. The more confident we are in our judgments of others, the more blinded our view of ourselves. We assign to ourselves every role in the court: judge, jury, and executioner. And the verdict on others is always the same: guilty! To add insult to irony, the unknowing defendant is not even a part of the process. There’s no deposition, no testimony from the one charged, no fair hearing. It’s just our verdict. The case is always open-and-shut.
I’m not exactly sure what happened on the morning the spit hit my car. Maybe it was random. Perhaps a bear with bad lungs lumbered by, or a hang glider cleared her throat while sailing over Starbucks. But the probabilities lie elsewhere. Someone probably saw my mask-less face and interpreted that as me cavalierly flipping the bird to their safety. If that were the case, then I ceased to be a fellow customer and was downgraded to a selfish, me-centered prima donna who needed to be taught a lesson.