Don’t Judge This Book by Its Cover

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Bookshelf of old books

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. – Matthew 8:1, 2

One of my favorite pastimes is spending time browsing through the different books in a bookstore. Even as a boy there was always something about a good book that fascinated me. To this day, for me to spend time in a bookstore is like a little child spending time in a candy store. Like the little child knows that he cannot have all of his favorite candy and has to choose which candy he really wants, I too find myself having to make the choice of which book or books I really want to buy at that time.

Making the choice of which books to buy and which ones to leave behind until another time is not always an easy one. I may look at several books, and even put them in my shopping basket, but when it is time to check out, I look at the books that I have selected and make my last decision of which to buy. Usually I base my decision on the information that I can glean about the book from its front, inside, and back covers. Sometimes it is the title of the book that will spark my interest about what the book is about. Sometimes it is the short synopsis of the book that can be found on the inside or back cover of the book that interest me enough to want to know more about the book. Whatever the case, I find that my judgment as to which book or books to buy becomes based solely on the covers of the particular book.

Just as the cover of a book does not tell us everything we need to know about the book, neither can the outward appearance of a person tell us everything we need to know about that person. Just as we must open the cover of a book and read its contents to learn more of what the book is about, we must take the time to get to know a person to learn more about him or her. The cover of a book can give us some insight about what the book might be about, but it is the actual contents of the book that tell the true story. In the same way, our “covers” or outward appearances may disclose somewhat of who we are, but the thing that reveals who we truly are is the content of our character.

We live in a world where people find it easy to judge others for one reason or another. Oftentimes they base those judgments on what they see on the surface and not on actual facts. Some people find it easier to criticize and condemn another than to understand and help lift another. They are quick to point out the faults in others, but become blinded to the fact that they have faults of their own.

In Matthew 7:1-5 we learn:

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.

Luke 6:37 teaches us, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” And John 7:24 reminds us to “judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”

In a talk given on 1 March 1998 at Brigham Young University titled “”Judge Not” and Judging”, Elder Dallin H. Oaks 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.”

Concerning intermediate judgments, Elder Oaks taught that, “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).”

Elder Oaks further taught 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” (Lev. 19:15).”

We all make judgments every day in the exercise of our moral agency. We make judgments in choosing our friends, in choosing our profession, in choosing how we will spend our time and money, and in choosing our eternal companion. However, we must exercise caution and ensure that our judgments of people are intermediate and not lasting, and that the judgments we make are righteous judgments. Righteous judgments are guided by the Spirit of the Lord, not by anger, revenge, jealousy, or self-interest. The Book of Mormon, in Moroni 7:15-16  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.

In John 16:8-13 the Savior taught that one of the missions of the Comforter He would send would be to aid in judging the world by guiding the faithful “into all truth”:

8 And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
9 Of sin, because they believe not on me;
10 Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more;
11 Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.
12 I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.
13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, [that] shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

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, the criteria we use in judging others may be applied by the Lord in judging us. Thus, we may actually be judging ourselves when we judge others, in the sense that we are establishing the measure of justice and mercy that will be measured to us in the final judgment. Further clarification of this is given in the Book of Mormon as recorded in Alma 41:12–15:

12 And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature?
13 O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again aevil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful.
14 Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.
15 For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.

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). 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 rather than His own? Do we want Him to judge us in the same way we judge others? If not, then perhaps we should be hesitant 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)