Every skeptic has the same favorite Bible verse. “Judge not, lest you be judged also. (Mat 7:1)” It’s weaponized and wielded as a means to shut down dissenting opinions of believers when they are, apparently, being too harsh. Is there legitimacy to it?
Before we decipher, it’s important to first see what Jesus is not saying. Later in the same chapter Jesus tells His listeners that they will know someone “by their fruits.” In other words, one can judge someone’s content by the product of their behavior, similar to how one would determine a tree by its fruit. So He is not saying, categorically, to not judge.
What this seems to mean is that there is legitimacy in judging a person’s actions. Where one gets into trouble is when he judges an individual or that person’s intents. I have full license to judge what a person does, but I ought to exercise restraint in judging them or their motives.
I’ve personally discovered another element that complicates matters, and this complication helps to reveal why judging others turns into self-judgement. Really there are two elements that tie together.
The first is that human beings have a tendency to project. We spend a lot of time with ourselves and become accustomed with our flaws and insecurities- whether we realize it or not. This develops into an acute awareness (or imaginary projection) of character flaws or intentions in others that we actually (perhaps unknowingly) observe in ourselves. Also, we may make assumptions about others that are informed by insecurities wrought in us through prior experiences. In both cases, we are projecting onto someone else a version of themselves that has been created in or informed by our own subconscious.
Secondly, God conveys throughout Scripture the notion of cosmic fairness. If we do not forgive others, He says that He will not forgive us. By what standards we judge others, we will be judged also. Our judgement is obscured. Only God is licensed and able to fairly judge a person or their intentions.
Do not judge, because when you condemn others you are actually condemning yourself (via both psychological projection and the cosmic fairness principal) and also because you are not omniscient or innocent. Only God is both fully morally upright and omniscient. Only He is qualified to judge.
But you have every right to judge a person’s actions, and when someone is made uncomfortable by that, they don’t prove that you are judgemental. They only prove that they condemn themselves with their own actions. Whenever one scornfully wields Scripture as a weapon, they wield it against themselves.