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Who can measure sin?

Our knowledge of self and others

If you’ve studied a little psychology you may be familiar with a handy tool called the Johari window. It uses a simple diagram to show how much we can know about ourselves and others. Where the lines described as ‘unknown to self’ and ‘unknown to others’ intersect lives the mysterious region of the totally unknown. Somewhere in my early childhood lies a dim sense of an episode where I felt deserted and alone. I don’t know its origins, nor do I think there’s anyone still living who can explain it for me. It dwells in the unknown.

Jesus and judgement

Jesus’ saying, “Judge not, that you be not judged”, is recorded in Mt 7.1 and Lk 6.37. These are the words of a great master of human behaviour and its subtlest motivations. Even he stood silent before the paradoxes of our unpredictability. Did he choose Judas to be an apostle knowing that he’d turn out to be the betrayer? I don’t think so.

The complexity of human behaviour

Many of our actions have a multitude of outcomes, some predictable, some not. Often there are elements of risk, a need to make a balanced guess, like letting a teenage son drive alone at night for the first time. Such uncertainty is truer when weighing up motivations. Which one of us is bold enough to say, “I always know fully and precisely what lies behind every one of my actions”? Why then do we feel so confident in judging the motives of others? In evaluating others don’t we often read our own worst failings in their deeds?

Judging the motives of others is quite different from evaluating their skills, abilities and the value of their inputs, which is something we may do well. In judging motives, are we not stepping into a flickering and changing landscape faintly shadow-lit? We may be astray in preferring to impute good motives to others but are we not then closer to Jesus who also said, “Be merciful as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6.36).

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