This evening I was poking around in the scriptures when I came across this verse. Jesus said,
"Don't judge by appearances. Judge by what is right." (John 7:24, CEV)
This verse set off a chain of thoughts in my mind. The context is important. Here, Jesus was defending himself against the religious folks in his day who didn't like that he had healed someone on the Sabbath. It wasn't that Jesus was telling them that there was no scriptural basis for their disapproval of his actions. Instead, he highlights that that their understanding of God's word did not come from a relationship with God directly, but from inherited tradition:
"Moses commanded you to circumcise your sons. But it wasn't really Moses who gave you this command. It was your ancestors..." (John 7:22)
It seems the kneejerk reaction in dead (as in unconnected from God) religion is to automatically decide an issue by comparing it to the tradition of the elders which has been handed down. As Jesus taught on another occasion, these traditions are not only sometimes wrong, but they also contradict the commandments of God. This fact is unfathomable to the devout Pharisees of ancient and modern times. After all, how could the tradition that has brought them so much of what they appreciate in life contain spiritual poison? The fact is, most people are wholly unable to discern between truth and error, neither of which normally comes in homogenous chunks. Error does not come in homogenous chunks because no one would believe it if it did. Truth does not come in homogenous chucks both because the recipient is always an imperfect vessel incapable of perfect reception and also because, more often than not, it is not God himself but some imperfect vessel who acts as a messenger to convey the message.
We really ought to obey Jesus' command and not judge by appearances, but judge by what is right. And what is right? There is no way to tell without asking God. Dismissing someone's claims or actions out of hand as evil or apostate is anti-Christ.
Of Christ (or the one mighty and strong, or both, depending on your reading of the passage), Isaiah said:
1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
2 And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;
3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
5 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. (Isaiah 11, KJV)
I prefer the Gileadi translation:
1 A shoot will spring up from the stock of Jesse and a branch from its graft bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of Jehovah will rest upon him—the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of valor, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah.
3 His intuition will be guided by the fear of Jehovah; he will not judge by what his eyes see, nor establish proof by what his ears hear.
4 He will judge the poor with righteousness, and with equity arbitrate for the lowly in the land; he will smite the earth with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be as a band about his waist, faithfulness a girdle round his loins. (Isaiah 11, Gileadi Translation)
Men of God do not judge after what they see, or what they hear. They obtain revelation from God on the matter.