If that is what it is, then yes. I am guided only by what a thing is.
— Peter Kreeft, The Unaborted Socrates
I have always been rather perplexed by people who are shocked when you make a negative judgment about someone’s character. They become extremely upset, these people, when you air your convictions about Bill being a bad character. They are appalled. Some of them go into respiratory distress. “You can’t go about making judgments like that!” they cry in consternation. “What gives you the right to make a judgment like that?”
Well… what gives you the right to make the judgments about Bill that you’re making? Certainly, when you tell me he’s a fine upstanding gent, you are passing judgment on him yourself. Your judgment differs from mine only in that yours is positive and mine is negative.
But that’s the point. It’s okay to pass judgment if you only say nice things. It’s just downright mean and nasty to point out that Bill is a liar and a manipulator. You can’t pass negative judgments because… well, because that’s how things are. Saying nice things is always going to be better than saying mean things.
Ah! I think not!
Exactly what is a judgment, anyway, and why is it better to make a nice one than a harsh one? My definition of judgment is this: A judgment is a statement from you regarding your interpretation of the facts presented; in effect, what you believe to be the truth. And what logically follows is that a judgment can only be labeled good or bad in light of how it lines up with the facts of reality. A positive judgment, following this line of reasoning, can be a bad judgment if it ignores the blindingly obvious, and a negative judgment is a good one if it is consistent with what is real. It all depends wholly on the truth.
The truth, now… that’s a hard concept to chew on. People don’t like it, you know. They never have. Some are so consumed with a passionate loathing for it that they commit stunning atrocities on the public weal in the effort to get rid of it. Others just kind of shut their eyes and ensconce themselves in their little floaty bubbles if willful ignorance, where all they have to think about is puppies and kitties and unicorns… the sweet things of life. The truth affects people in all different ways. Some like it. Others get headaches. The trouble with the truth is that it’s so darned unpleasant sometimes. For example, do you remember Bill? Bill is not a good man. This is a fact. Bill is a lying thief who will smile dazzlingly at you while flipping your wallet from your pocket and into his own. That is the reality about Bill’s character. The truth. It’s not very nice to say these things about Bill; in fact, it could be downright hurtful. That is why people do not appreciate it. The truth, in this instance, is very ugly.
One class of people likes to use “love” as their excuse to brush the truth aside like an annoying insect. “Love,” they declaim portentously, “covers a multitude of sins. And it hopes all things. And it thinks no evil. So you see, you must blind yourself to Bill’s dangerous villainy and treat him as a snowy white angel.” But what these people do not like to include is that inconvenient little part about love rejoicing in the truth. Because it most certainly does. True love cannot exist apart from God, and what part of godliness glories in deceit? What fellowship has truth with lies? God loves truth and wisdom. He is truth and wisdom. I think the real problem here is that this class of people does not honestly believe that truth is the only way to righteousness. They like to place love on a pedestal, but they forget that truth ought to be even higher.
Pop quiz, ladies and gentlemen: what is far better than rubies, gold, and silver? Is it a) Love, b) Happiness, or c) Wisdom? If you answered Wisdom, give yourself a pat on the back (and if I were present while you read this I would give you a piece of gum as well). You are correct. So what is wisdom? Wisdom, I believe, is knowledge of truth. It is crystal clear that God values wisdom immensely. He appreciates it. He views it as a good thing. And so I want to know why some people think they are cleverer than God in placing their warped ideas about love higher than wisdom. It seems to me that this is folly to the highest degree.
Back to the judgments: What makes a positive judgment better (or, indeed, any different at all) than a negative one? I’ve said it before, and I will say it again (and again and again and again until it lodges itself in your brain and you dream about it for weeks): A good judgment is the one that reflects truth. So… Bill’s character. We have established that it is an undeniable fact that Bill is bad news and a blot on the landscape. So why is it that some persist in refusing to acknowledge this? What is up with all these attempts to smother the truth, to shut our ears to Wisdom’s cry? It is hideously wrong and immensely damaging, but their philosophy is that truth is a very bad thing if it interferes with love. And so the question I put to you is this: Does ignoring the truth really, honestly ever have good repercussions? Can you have a genuinely good relationship with someone you are determined not to think ill of, no matter what fruits they exhibit? Maybe… just maybe… the truth is the truth for a reason. Do you understand what I am saying to you? Possibly, the chain of events that has really (in other words, truly) unfolded itself before your eyes is spelling out a message from God. And with eyes of wisdom, you are supposed to see this message clearly and read it for what it is. It’s probably hideously unpleasant, but if it comes from God, what profit is there in digging your heels in and refusing to look?
People like to say that relationships are hard, but what they mean is that it is difficult for them to ignore their brother’s sins and follies. Now, it is true that love covers a multitude of sins. But love does not try to shove truth out of the way. Do you rejoice in something you can’t stand the sight of? Relationships are hard for two reasons: a) humans are a highly unpleasant bunch and b) they don’t like to think ill of someone when they need to. There are some people in this world who are just plain bad news. They are not good. They are whirling storms of destruction. And there are those who do not want to admit that, and they certainly don’t want you to. But you must admit it. Passing judgment on those destructive people is a very good thing if it galvanizes you or others into taking the proper steps to protect yourself and your family.
People will shout at you and become enormously enraged. They will tell you to shut up and sit down and never speak to them of the matter again— but by all means, pass your negative judgments. Pass ‘em until the cows come home. If they’re truthful judgments, they’re good judgments. I shall tell you something very heartening about good judgments— they’re worth far more than all the rubies on the Taj Mahal.
And that’s a lot of rubies.