I once recommended a famous book in the Catholic literature, The Imitation of Christ, to a good friend. This book was written about five hundred years ago by a monk called Thomas a Kempis. This book consists of the meditations on the life and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. This book has become so valuable that it is considered second only to the Bible as a guide and inspiration. There are many short chapters in this book. The following is the fourth chapter of Book One of The Imitation of Christ with a title called 'Prudence in Action':
The Fourth Chapter
PRUDENCE IN ACTION
“Do not yield to every impulse and suggestion but consider things carefully and patiently in the light of God's will. For very often, sad to say, we are so weak that we believe and speak evil of others rather than good. Perfect men, however, do not readily believe every talebearer, because they know that human frailty is prone to evil and is likely to appear in speech.
Not to act rashly or to cling obstinately to one's opinion, not to believe everything people say or to spread abroad the gossip one has heard, is great wisdom.
Take counsel with a wise and conscientious man. Seek the advice of your betters in preference to following your own inclinations.
A good life makes a man wise according to God and gives him experience in many things, for the more humble he is and the more subject to God, the wiser and the more at peace he will be in all things.”
It is our human nature that we are quick to judge others. If we really want to be an imitation of Christ, we need to remember that Jesus wants everyone to be redeemed. How that person whom we judge accepts the redemption offered to him/her is between God and that person. We do not know what is in the mind of that person.
“Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
We do not have the right to judge others because we do not know what is in the heart of anyone but ourselves. We should rather need to take care of what is in our own heart and leave the judgement of others to God alone. We need also to bear in mind that all are guilty. In the eyes of God, when we judge others, a guilty person is judging another guilty person. And more often, our rash judgement of others is based on false perception, misguided information, or misunderstanding; or even worse, we often judge others when our pride is hurt or when we are jealous.
Gossip is one of the tools used by the devil. It hurts both the perpetrator and the victim. It hurts the perpetrator because every time when we sin, our soul is weakened. Our soul becomes more open to all manners of sin. When we spread the gossip about someone, we subconsciously believe we are holier than that person. Although the desire to gossip is a human trait, do we really need to gossip to make us look holier? And even if the content of the gossip is true, but more often it is not, do we have the right to spread the news to all who will listen? Is this loving each other as Christ loves us?
When Jesus asked the crowd to “Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her” (John 8: 7), all walked away. When we love one another as Jesus loves us, we must recognize that there is sin in everyone. The dirt of sin offends the infinite purity of God.
Sin is never justifiable. The truest of love does not compromise, excuse, or justify sin. To find an excuse for speaking evil of others is to find an excuse for pride, which is the root of all sins; or jealousy, or selfishness.
We often judge others imprudently because of jealousy, and sometimes ‘spiritual jealousy’. Sometimes we wrongly believe that ‘we love God so much that we are more special, or blessed, or holier than others’, and when we painfully find that ‘we are not more special, or blessed, or holier than others, or it appears that there is someone who is more special, or more blessed, or holier than we’, then we are hurt. To alleviate the pain derived from this painful discovery, we spread gossips, libels, or scandal against the person that has hurt our pride.
‘No matter how high a mountain is, there is always another mountain higher’, as the Chinese saying goes. We all should learn a good lesson from this Chinese proverb. Similarly, no matter how much we pray, how much we do for others, there are always others who pray or do more and with a purer heart. No matter how many spiritual gifts we seem to have received and want to use them for God’s glory, there are always others who have been entrusted with more spiritual gifts and through whom God has been glorified more. No matter how others praise us for the good deeds we do, all the good comes from God and what is left for us to be proud of?
People who habitually judge others love themselves more than God. This kind of self love is love without prudence. It is human love that falls short of giving to God the acknowledgement of His infinite beauty and purity against which any sort of ‘satisfaction of self love’ appears as filth.