Hit Me With My Best Shot

What’s the absolute worst thing you’ve ever done in your life?

It is possible that it was really, really bad. It is also possible that it wasn’t very bad at all. It is also possible that you haven’t actually done the worst thing you will ever do…yet.

Now that you have that unpleasant thought in your head, have you ever considered putting it on your business card, or posting it on your social media. “Hi, I’m Amy: I lied on my taxes!” Or, “I’m Ron: I beat up a kid in college,” or “I’m John, and I cheated on my wife.”

Most of us would never do that for obvious reasons. We don’t want to be defined by the worst things we do – we want to be known for the best things we do. Can you imagine if your funeral eulogy was simply a rundown of all the bad choices, unkind moments and sinful behavior you done throughout your life. Sounds pretty bad, no?

Many of us have an obvious preference to be known and judged by our best moments, while at the same time judging those around us for their worst. This is unfortunate.

President George W. Bush had his share of judgment as president. He wrote, “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples – while judging ourselves by our best intentions. And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.” (link)

What got me thinking about this is that there is so much going on right now that smacks of this conflict: People applying purity tests and passing judgment on people for their negative behaviors, ignoring the positive things that person may have contributed, while painting themselves as virtuous for calling the sinners out.

One reason this happens so frequently nowadays is called “presentism.” I wrote about it before (link) when I was seeing a lot of people criticizing Columbus on Columbus Day.

Presentism is simply “an attitude toward the past dominated by present-day attitudes and experiences.” (Merriam-Webster)

It is happening all around us. People from our Nation’s history are being judged for attitudes and behaviors that do no coincide with today’s moral relativism.

Take George Washington, for example. Statues erected in his honor are being torn down or removed from public view. Why? Because he and his wife owned slaves. George did not live up to our post-slavery mentality.

Prophets as far back as Nephi understood that the Founders of the USA were guided, protected and assisted by God (1 Ne. 13:16–19.) More modern prophets have made it very clear that George Washington had attributes that should be admired and respected. Just go to the Church website and do a search for “George Washington,” and see how often he is held up for an example of honesty, humility, gratitude, faithfulness, fairness, courage, etc.

But he was mortal, and he was not perfect. And, he held slaves. And, now we see this:

Yes, it breaks my heart to see the vandalism and disrespect towards someone who did so much, and gave so much of himself to establish this Nation – the very Nation that God had a hand in creating.

But this is a bigger problem than vandals tearing down statues, it is a reflection of how judgment can get out of whack.

Can I admire people like Washington and Jefferson for what they accomplished even though they were slaveholders? Absolutely. How? Because I am willing to judge them on the best things they did in their lives, rather than the worst.

Why? Because that is how I would like to be judged.

Remember that question I asked at the top? How would you like to be judged by man and God by that worst thing? I know I wouldn’t. If I were, I probably would have to give up the hope for eternal happiness and family.

Thankfully, God does not want us to condemning people for their worst moments – He made it crystal clear, and even added some consequences for that type of judging:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Judge not, that ye be not judged.

But here’s the kicker:

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (3 Nephi 14:1-2)

You want to judge someone by their single worst action? Go ahead! But be ready for your judgment to be equally focused.

By now, I’m sure you know that this is not meant to be merely a political diatribe, but to focus on a the more important issues that impact our lives and our hearts. We all have past sins and mistakes that we would like to forget – and would like for everyone else to forget as well.

Thankfully, as members of the Church, we have an understanding of the beauty of Christ’s Atonement, and how simply nice he is about our sins:

“Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42)

Isn’t that just plain nice? Wouldn’t that be great if we were all that nice? No married couples weaponizing past mistakes in the heat of an argument. No grudges or unwillingness to forgive. No focusing on the worst, because it has been let go.

When we get caught up in presentism, or simply being judgmental, we are stepping out of line in Christ’s eyes. Eternal Judgment is in the Savior’s hands, and He doesn’t think about these things the way we do:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).

So how does the Lord think about these things? I found a few insights from modern prophets.

Joseph Smith said, “While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard. . . . He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, “not according to what they have not, but according to what they have,” those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will be judged by that law.” [Teachings, p. 218]

So what I will be judged for is different that what you will be judged for – so how am I to judge you when I don’t know what that even means?!

“Thus, we must refrain from making final judgments on people, because we lack the knowledge and the wisdom to do so. We would even apply the wrong standards. The world’s way is to judge competitively between winners and losers. The Lord’s way of final judgment will be to apply his perfect knowledge of the law a person has received and to judge on the basis of that person’s circumstances, motives, and actions throughout his or her entire life.” (Dallin H. Oaks)

Basically, when we pronounce final judgment on someone, we are at risk because we really have no clue what we are talking about. We really are morons in this department.

There is another interesting point, that I find currently applicable, that was buried in a miraculous talk by President Russel M. Ballard on the topic of suicide. He said:

Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth.

When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth. (link)

Do you see the part that has everything to do with today’s accusatory climate? President Ballard believes that the Lord will take into consideration the the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers,” when he judges us.

Well that throws the whole idea of judging someone in the past by today’s standards right out the window! For example: Imagine we were raised by parents who taught us that tithing was something we paid only when we had extra money. As young people we did just that, and then, as we entered adulthood, we paid only when we felt flush.

How will God look at that? I believe he will look at that with mercy.

But here is where it changes: We grow to be adults, and we start digging in and learn that tithing is something we pay because we have faith – not just extra cash lying around. When we come to that realization and we receive that understanding, from then on I imagine God will look at it more seriously, and hold us accountable. Ignorance is no longer in play.

How does that affect George Washington? The culture of his time, and the traditions of his fathers accepted slavery. According to President Ballard, the Lord would take that into consideration when he is judged.

But it seems that parts of our society would not grant the same mercy.

President N. Eldon Tanner taught a similar idea, “It is not possible to judge another fairly unless you know his desires, his faith, and his goals. Because of a different environment, unequal opportunity, and many other things, people are not in the same position.” (link)

It’s not possible to judge each other, or anyone else – accurately. We simply don’t have the knowledge. Especially towards those who we don’t actually know or who come from a different era. It’s a fools errand, and frankly, none of our business.

Last week the statue of Brigham Young on the quad at BYU was defaced twice. A friend of mine predicted that the Church would change the name of Brigham Young University within five years because its namesake had racist beliefs and shared them. I surely hope he is wrong. When I think about Brigham Young I think of the man who was a prophet, saved the Church, orchestrated the westward movement and built Zion. There is so much good to focus on, rather than picking the scabs of some of the culture of his day, or the traditions of his fathers.

I’m not going to pronounce final judgment on George Washington, or Brigham Young. I don’t know how they look at things currently, or what they may have repented of. Nor should I pronounce final judgment on the people attempting to pull down their legacies. That’s Christ’s job, and frankly, I don’t want that job.

It’s not my place – but this is not just me being super spiritual, there is some self interest at play…

When I stand before the Savior, I hope to be judged by the good that I have done, and the mercy that I have shown. I don’t want to be defined by my worst traits and actions, especially if I have repented and tried to improve.

I surely don’t want the Lord to respond to me by saying, “Remember that time you judged my prophet Brigham Young as being a racist and then you vandalized his statue? Let’s use the same degree of mercy as a guideline for this interview. Ready?

If receiving God’s mercy requires that I give others – past and present – the benefit of the doubt and not judge them on their worst moments or traits, then so be it.

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Comments

  1. Been pondering presentism even before these recent events. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could see 200 years into the future? How would people living then be judging us in their presentism? something that in our present culture we can’t foresee because it’s “normal” to us? Making up something at random, what if they despised us because we polluted the environment with gas powered automobiles instead of using public transportation or walking? Or because we eat meat? Or… well, this is just a couple of possibilities I can think of in this time frame, but who knows? We could say that our employment is too far away to walk, and there isn’t public transportation, but that doesn’t matter to them, because in their culture, it’s wrong and wasteful. Same thing with those who are in the past from us. What they did was normal to them. And we know that all of us as humans have faults and flaws. So let’s cut the people in the past some slack and stop judging. (I don’t think I’ve expressed this very well, but best I could do.)

  2. I’m glad you can put into words what is in my heart but I have a difficult time saying

  3. Oh how I “Amen” this post!

    I have been pondering on the judgment we as human beings seem so prone to inflict upon one another. I was thinking recently about human goodness, in terms of comparison to the absolute goodness of God. My mind turned to the comparison of the degrees of glory—the stars, the moon, and the sun.

    As I understand, we are, as inhabitants of this earthly realm, somewhere between telestial and terrestrial in terms of our actual goodness. (I don’t have a reference for this belief, it’s just something I’ve formulated from my personal study and revelation). I looked up the light each emits, in terms of lumens. (The measurements varied slightly, but for the purpose of this exercise, a rough estimate sufficed). The stars: .002 lumens. The moon: .05 lumens. The sun:….(pause for effect)…25,000 LUMENS!! So if we plot it visually, and we say one lumen=one millimeter, the stars and moon are less than one millimeter apart, and the sun…25 meters away.

    We are, in terms of absolute goodness, indistinguishable from each other when compared to the perfection of the Savior, and RIDICULOUSLY far from it. And He is willing to bridge the gap between our sorry states of “star/moon glory” to share in His “sun glory.” What does He ask of us? To try our bests to go TOWARD His glory, sealing our intent by making covenants to do so. His grace, made possible through His Atonement, makes bridging that gap possible. And He is there to provide an example and mentorship through the guidance of Scripture (ancient and modern) and the Gift of the Holy Ghost, to help us try again (and again) when we get turned around and go the wrong way.

    So anyway, this visual analogy has helped me when I feel the urge to think badly of someone else, and instead to feel enormous gratitude for God, the Plan, the Savior, Covenants, and the Holy Ghost. I testify of God’s incomprehensible love for us, and His infinite ability to save and glorify. I am grateful to be able to participate in “His work and His glory” as I love and serve through obedience and sacrifice. And I am tremendously grateful for others who likewise serve—as ordained prophets, apostles, leaders, and teachers. I include in gratitude any who use their gifts and skills to gather Israel and build Zion, such as blog writers like yourself. ????

  4. This is a great reminder. We should take the attitude that Moroni asked us to have: “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.” Washington and Jefferson paved the way for society to develop so we can much more easily recognize how bad racism is. Would we have been as good as them if we were born in their circumstances? It’s hard to know.

  5. Thank you SO much for this post. It really helps us as members of the Lord’s church to put things into perspective. I am saving and filing this for future reference.

  6. “If you are prone to criticize or judge, remember, we never see the target a man aims at in life. We see only what he hits.” H. Burke Peterson. Oct 1983 General Conference address

  7. Thank you for your comments. Even Martin Luther King did some wicked practices (e.g. adultery), but he did great things that brought our nation to the true principles of equality and promoted nonviolent demonstrations to being positive changes upon our American society through a correct democratic process as outlined by the U.S. Constitution. So because he made some serious mistakes being a bad example acting as a church minister and hurt his family, so let’s take down his pictures and statues? No way. I admire him for what he has done after the steps of Washington, Jefferson, and so forth, that continues to improve the pursuit of happiness and liberty to this day.

  8. Thanks for your post, Brad.

    As I was partaking of the sacrament today, I was pondering how amazed I am at the Savior comprehending my personal deepest griefs and sorrows, as well as sins and shortcomings, and how amazing that is that He did that for everyone, not just me, The Spirit pointedly reminded me that He has done that for everyone, even the political leaders that I find abhorrent, and even the rioters, looters, (and on and on) whose actions I cannot understand or fathom. I was reminded that while we are not to condone violent and illegal actions.* the Savior’s Atonement is available to all who will come unto Christ, #HearHim, and repent. This was followed by a sweet outpouring of the spirit and reminder of how much I am loved.

    How grateful I am for the gift of the Holy Ghost and the opportunity to be taught by the Spirit. How deeply grateful I am for the Savior, for the gospel, and to be led by living prophets for counsel for OUR day and for OUR time. I am also deeply grateful for the Book of Mormon which so markedly teaches about the political and societal situations that we are currently facing in our day.

    *”Illegal acts such as looting, defacing, or destroying public or private property cannot be tolerated. Never has one wrong been corrected by a second wrong. Evil has never been resolved by more evil.” President Nelson Shares Social Media Post about Racism and Calls for Respect for Human Dignity.

  9. So well expressed! We certainly seem to lack niceness these days — or at least we never see it in the news anymore. I am so glad the newscasters aren’t in charge of final judgment, & I definitely don’t want that job! You have gathered some great quotes reminding me to give others (& myself) grace for our human frailty. (Reminds me of the Maya Angelou quote I’ve seen floating around social media about doing better once we know better.)

  10. Love this perspective and agree you can put into words so eloquently what many of us are thinking. Thank you for your courage to speak it.

  11. Thank you for this Bro. McBride! You are so talented at expressing what so many of us believe!

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