Final Judgment and Intermediate Judgment

Book of Mormon Teacher Resource Manual, (2004), 304


Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve. Excerpted from Judge Not and Judging (CES fireside for young adults, 1 Mar. 1998), 1–5.

The Final Judgment

“First, I speak of the final judgment. This is that future occasion in which all of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to be judged according to our works. … I believe that the scriptural command to ‘judge not’ refers most clearly to this final judgment, as in the Book of Mormon declaration that ‘man shall not … judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord’ (Mormon 8:20).

“… I believe this commandment was given because we presume to make final judgments whenever we proclaim that any particular person is going to hell (or to heaven) for a particular act or as of a particular time. When we do this—and there is great temptation to do so—we hurt ourselves and the person we pretend to judge.

“The effect of one mortal’s attempting to pass final judgment on another mortal is analogous to the effect on an athlete and observers if we could proclaim the outcome of an athletic contest with certainty while it was still underway. A similar reason forbids our presuming to make final judgments on the outcome of any person’s lifelong mortal contest. …

“… 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. …

Intermediate Judgments

“In contrast to forbidding mortals to make final judgments, the scriptures require mortals to make what I will call ‘intermediate judgments.’ These judgments are essential to the exercise of personal moral agency. …

“We must, of course, make judgments every day in the exercise of our moral agency, but we must be careful that our judgments of people are intermediate and not final. Thus, our Savior’s teachings contain many commandments we cannot keep without making intermediate judgments of people: ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine’ (Matthew 7:6); ‘Beware of false prophets. … Ye shall know them by their fruits’ (Matthew 7:15–16); and ‘Go ye out from among the wicked’ (D&C 38:42).

“We all make judgments in choosing our friends, in choosing how we will spend our time and our money, and of course, in choosing an eternal companion. Some of these intermediate judgments are surely among those the Savior referenced when he taught that ‘the weightier matters of the law’ include judgment (Matthew 23:23). …

Making Righteous Intermediate Judgments

“… Let us consider some principles or ingredients that lead to a ‘righteous judgment.’

“First of all, a righteous judgment must, by definition, be intermediate. It will refrain from declaring that a person has been assured of exaltation or from dismissing a person as being irrevocably bound for hellfire. It will refrain from declaring that a person has forfeited all opportunity for exaltation or even all opportunity for a useful role in the work of the Lord. The gospel is a gospel of hope, and none of us is authorized to deny the power of the Atonement to bring about a cleansing of individual sins, forgiveness, and a reformation of life on appropriate conditions.

“Second, a righteous judgment will be guided by the Spirit of the Lord, not by anger, revenge, jealousy, or self-interest. …

“Third, to be righteous, an intermediate judgment must be within our stewardship. We should not presume to exercise and act upon judgments that are outside our personal responsibilities. …

“A fourth principle of a righteous intermediate judgment of a person is that we should, if possible, refrain from judging until we have adequate knowledge of the facts. …

“… Sometimes urgent circumstances require us to make preliminary judgments before we can get all of the facts we desire for our decision-making. …

“… In such circumstances we do the best we can, relying ultimately on the teaching in modern scripture that we should put our ‘trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously’ (D&C 11:12).

“A fifth principle of a righteous intermediate judgment is that whenever possible we will refrain from judging people and only judge situations. …

“A final ingredient or principle of a righteous judgment is that it will apply righteous standards. If we apply unrighteous standards, our judgment will be unrighteous. By falling short of righteous standards, we place ourselves in jeopardy of being judged by incorrect or unrighteous standards ourselves. The fundamental scripture on the whole subject of not judging contains this warning: ‘For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again’ (Matthew 7:2; see also 3 Nephi 14:2).”