From a young age, I have always been fascinated by books. One of my favorite pastimes is visiting different bookstores and perusing books of various subjects. I equate my spending time in a bookstore to a little child in a candy shop trying to decide which of all the candies is his favorite, and which of his favorites he will be able to buy with the allowance he has been given. Like the little child, I find myself mulling over which book or books I am able to buy and not exceed my spending limit.
The decision of which books to buy and which ones to buy at a later date is not always easy, I may select several books and put them in my shopping basket, but before I reach the checkout counter, I look at my selections carefully to choose the one or ones that I believe I would be most interested in reading. To help me make that decision, I glean as much information as I can about the books that I plan to buy by reading the front, inside, and back covers of each. Sometimes the title of the book alone is enough to spark my interest to buy it. Other times it is the short synopsis of the book on the inside or back cover of the book that will wet my appetite enough to buy it. Whatever the case, I find that my decision to buy a book is generally influenced by what is written on its cover. I have discovered, however, that sometimes what is written on the cover of a book is spot on about what the book is about, but there have been a few instances when I found that the cover was nothing more than a pretentious façade to entice people to buy the volume only to discover that the contents may not be exactly what was expected.
And so it seems that the cover of a book alone may not necessarily show its true contents. In the same vein, we should not live under the pretense of believing that we know everything there is to know about a person judging solely by his or her outward appearance. Just as we must open the cover of a book and look at its contents to learn what it is about, we must take the time to get to know a person and the true content of his or her character, and then we may find that our previous judgments of that person were unwarranted. The cover, or the outward appearance of a person may show some things about a person, but it is the content of their character that defines who they are.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where people find it easy to judge others for one reason or another. Oftentimes the judgments that they make are superficial, not factual. For some, it is easier to be critical and condemning of another, than to try to understand and help lift up another. These are they who incessantly point out the flaws in others, but fail to acknowledge their own. Matthew 7:1-5 teaches:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam [is] in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
The scriptures also exhort us, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37), and “judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). In the exercise of our moral agency, we each make some sort of judgment every day. We make judgments about who we choose as friends, what career path we will follow, how we will spend our time and money, and for those who are single and seeking a mate, judgments are made about who the right choice for a mate would be. However, we must use caution that our judgments of people are intermediate and not final, and that the judgments we make are righteous judgments. Righteous judgments will be guided by the Spirit of the Lord, not by anger, revenge, jealousy, or self-interest. Moroni 7:15-16 in the Book of Mormon teaches:
15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks. in a talk delivered at Brigham Young University on 1 March 1998 titled “”Judge Not” and Judging,” taught that “there are two kinds of judging: final judgments, which we are forbidden to make, and intermediate judgments, which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles.” He further admonished, “these judgments are essential to the exercise of personal moral agency. Our scriptural accounts of the Savior’s mortal life provide the pattern. He declared, “I have many things to say and to judge of you” (John 8:26) and “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see”(John 9:39). He continued by commentating that, “the Savior also commanded individuals to be judges, both of circumstances and of other people. Through the prophet Moses, the Lord commanded Israel, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour” (Leviticus 19:15)”.
Doctrine and Covenants 1:10 reminds us that the day will come when “the Lord shall come to recompense unto every man according to his work, and measure to every man according to the measure which he has measured to his fellow man.” Therefore, if the Lord uses His own criteria for judging us, we are assured of a just and merciful judgment (Psalms 103:8; John 5:30). The question that then begs an answer is, “Are we confident enough with the criteria we use in judging others that we are willing to have the Lord judge us according to our criteria and not His own?” Do we want Him to judge us in the same way we judge others? If not, then perhaps we should be less hasty to criticize and condemn others.
The summation of the matter is this: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:1-3) “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of [his] brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” (James 4:11-12)