Is it ok to judge people? Is Hell a real place?

UPDATE: I thought I’d better explain what’s in this post at the top. First, I show where Hell is mentioned in the gospels. Second, I talk about whether can Christians should judge non-Christians. Finally, I talk about why judging can actually be the loving thing to do.

Where is Hell in the New Testament?

Here’s a few Bible verses where Jesus talks about Hell.

  1. Matthew 5:22
    But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca, ‘ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
  2. Matthew 5:29
    If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
  3. Matthew 5:30
    And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
  4. Matthew 10:28
    Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
  5. Matthew 18:9
    And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
  6. Matthew 23:33
    “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
  7. Mark 9:43
    If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.
  8. Mark 9:45
    And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.
  9. Mark 9:47
    And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,
  10. Luke 12:5
    But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
  11. Luke 16:23
    In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side

I don’t mind if people disagree with those verses on historical grounds – maybe because they are not early enough or not multiply attested enough, although I think they are historically reliable. What bothers me is when a person throws verses out because they just don’t like them. I don’t think that having an intuition or a feeling is grounds for throwing out Bible verses.

Who to judge and how to judge

Did you know that it is forbidden to judge non-Christians using Christian moral standards?

1 Cor 5:9-13:

9I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—

10not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.

11But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

12What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?

13God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

I think this text explains what judging is. If you “judge” someone, it seems to mean disagreeing with them or it could even mean avoiding them. For example, I often speak against single motherhood and day care in front of people who are single mothers and who use day care – I just disagree with them.

I think that Christians can vote for political candidates who are pro-life and pro-marriage and pro-liberty. But the verse above says that but you can’t force individual non-Christians to act like Christians against their own free will. You can judge other Christians, but be careful how you do that if you actually want them to listen to you. Have a relationship with them first, and then talk about moral issues in the abstract. People get defensive unless you make the discussion about the evidence, not about their personal lives.

And of course you can disagree with people of other religions about which religion is true when tested against history and the external world, but again, it’s best to appeal to logic and evidence. E.g. – the big bang, which falsifies a whole stack of world religions and cults, and is testable scientifically.

Why judging is wonderful and you should do it, too

I wonder if you all remember a while back when I linked to all the chapters of Theodore Dalrymple’s famous book “Life at the Bottom”, which is about the worldview of the British lower class. It’s also about how rich, well-meaning secular leftists hurt the poor by enacting public policies that reward bad behavior and punish good behavior. Dalrymple is a psychiatrist in a hospital, so he sees it all firsthand.

This is from the introduction to the book:

The disastrous pattern of human relationships that exists in the underclass is also becoming common higher up the social scale. With increasing frequency I am consulted by nurses, who for the most part come from and were themselves traditionally members of (at least after Florence Nightingale) the respectable lower middle class, who have illegitimate children by men who first abuse and then abandon them. This abuse and later abandonment is usually all too predictable from the man’s previous history and character; but the nurses who have been treated in this way say they refrained from making a judgment about him because it is wrong to make judgments. But if they do not make a judgment about the man with whom they are going to live and by whom they are going to have a child, about what are they ever going to make a judgment?

“It just didn’t work out,” they say, the “it” in question being the relationship that they conceive of having an existence independent of the two people who form it, and that exerts an influence on their on their lives rather like an astral projection. Life is fate.

I think that young people today prefer moral relativists as mates, because they are afraid of being judged and rejected by people who are too serious about religion and morality, especially the old kind of morality that was focused on chastity, sobriety, worship, charity, etc. The problem is that if a young person chooses someone who doesn’t take religion and morality seriously, then that person can’t rely on their partner to behave morally and to exercise moral leadership in the home.

Here’s another one of my favorite passages from the “Tough Love” chapter, in which he describes how he easily he can detect whether a particular male patient has violent tendencies or not, on sight. But female victims of domestic violence – and even the hospital nurses – cannot or will not recognize the signs that a man is violent.

All the more surprising is it to me, therefore, that the nurses perceive things differently. They do not see a man’s violence in his face, his gestures, his deportment, and his bodily adornments, even though they have the same experience of the patients as I. They hear the same stories, they see the same signs, but they do not make the same judgments. What’s more, they seem never to learn; for experience—like chance, in the famous dictum of Louis Pasteur—favors only the mind prepared. And when I guess at a glance that a man is an inveterate wife beater (I use the term “wife” loosely), they are appalled at the harshness of my judgment, even when it proves right once more.

This is not a matter of merely theoretical interest to the nurses, for many of them in their private lives have themselves been the compliant victims of violent men. For example, the lover of one of the senior nurses, an attractive and lively young woman, recently held her at gunpoint and threatened her with death, after having repeatedly blacked her eye during the previous months. I met him once when he came looking for her in the hospital: he was just the kind of ferocious young egotist to whom I would give a wide berth in the broadest daylight.

Why are the nurses so reluctant to come to the most inescapable of conclusions? Their training tells them, quite rightly, that it is their duty to care for everyone without regard for personal merit or deserts; but for them, there is no difference between suspending judgment for certain restricted purposes and making no judgment at all in any circumstances whatsoever. It is as if they were more afraid of passing an adverse verdict on someone than of getting a punch in the face—a likely enough consequence, incidentally, of their failure of discernment. Since it is scarcely possible to recognize a wife beater without inwardly condemning him, it is safer not to recognize him as one in the first place.

This failure of recognition is almost universal among my violently abused women patients, but its function for them is somewhat different from what it is for the nurses. The nurses need to retain a certain positive regard for their patients in order to do their job. But for the abused women, the failure to perceive in advance the violence of their chosen men serves to absolve them of all responsibility for whatever happens thereafter, allowing them to think of themselves as victims alone rather than the victims and accomplices they are. Moreover, it licenses them to obey their impulses and whims, allowing them to suppose that sexual attractiveness is the measure of all things and that prudence in the selection of a male companion is neither possible nor desirable.

Often, their imprudence would be laughable, were it not tragic: many times in my ward I’ve watched liaisons form between an abused female patient and an abusing male patient within half an hour of their striking up an acquaintance. By now, I can often predict the formation of such a liaison—and predict that it will as certainly end in violence as that the sun will rise tomorrow.

At first, of course, my female patients deny that the violence of their men was foreseeable. But when I ask them whether they think I would have recognized it in advance, the great majority—nine out of ten—reply, yes, of course. And when asked how they think I would have done so, they enumerate precisely the factors that would have led me to that conclusion. So their blindness is willful.

Just remember not to judge people for the purpose of hurting them. Judge others for the purpose of helping them to set up boundaries that will protect them from actions that might hurt them or those around them, and impose costs on the whole society to repair the damage. The best thing to do is to discuss moral issues in the abstract.

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10 thoughts on “Is it ok to judge people? Is Hell a real place?”

  1. You must have misquoted all those verses, because they don’t make sense in Rob Bell’s “Hell is just what we experience here on earth if we aren’t really nice like him” theology. I mean, those verses make it sound like Hell is a real place where you go after you die, and for eternity!

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  2. ^ ;)

    Another useful verse to discuss on this is the one most quoted by those with a passing knowledge of, “judge not lest ye be judged.”

    This is in the context of the speck and the log, which commands that you take care of yourself *first* and *then* take care of your brother. Further, what follows the favorite “your bible says you can’t judge so nyeh!” quote is a ‘for’ clause: For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (NIV)

    The measure we judge others should always be the measure that we will be judged against no matter what: That by the clear commands of scripture, especially as understood in the light of the grace of Jesus. We must be weary of adding to the law our own commandments, placing burdens on others that we ourselves can’t bear, but we must also not take away from the commands we have been given, in an effort to nice-ify the bible or lived out Christian discipleship.

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  3. Moral relativism may be part of it and it’s definitely a rationalization but it could also be something more fundamental. The male role as protector is ingrained in these womens’ minds. Many of these women see the jerk qualities in a guy as useful for protecting them against what they perceive as a likely greater threat (home intruder or whatnot). It’s sort of like Terminator. We built a violent robot to save us from others and it works against us.

    Here’s an interesting blog post from a statistician about women and tough men.
    http://inductivist.blogspot.com/2011/03/fearful-women-love-tough-men.html

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    1. The thing is… why trust a guy with no rationally grounded, articulated morality – and a track record of putting that morality into effect in relationships? When I am interested in a woman, the first thing I do is have my two best friends write her summaries of our 10+ year relationships and how I mentored them and the difference it made. These are famous guys, involved in big stuff. And then I mentor them in the relationship with books and long, eye-contact discussions. So they have the reference letters and the experience of being loved and led that way. They have to fit me to the husband/father role based on that.

      And what I have found in SOME cases is that actual information (facts) are not as impressed as a chiseled jaw and broad shoulders. It’s all decided on emotions and first impressions. (Note: there are exceptional women who are feisty and don’t evaluate like that – I know two of them!)

      When I say SOME, I mean ALL, but Mary will get mad if I say ALL. it isn’t really ALL, but I like saying ALL.

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  4. One of the problems with the “judge not” crowd is that there is a distinct difference between judging a person and judging a behavior. Christians can judge all behavior, whether it is by an unbeliever or not. e.g. We can say theft is wrong whether it is a believer or unbeliever who is the thief. In like manner, we can say adultery is wrong, we can say homosexuality is wrong, etc. Behavior can always be judged according to the standard God has set.

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    1. When it comes to persons, we are all equally made in the image of God, for an equal purpose. In that sense, everyone is important and significant, no matter what they have done, because God made them all for the same purpose – to know him and love him and serve him.

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  5. An excellent post! And I’m very pleased to see you saying “SOME”. ;-)

    If we fail to exercise right judgment we are actually UNloving because we let people think that they’re on the right track when we know they’re headed in the wrong direction. I am very grateful for times when people have challenged me and helped me get back on track. I owe it to others to do the same. If I fail to do so, the consequences are serious. “…my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)

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