There are a lot of errors in our thought and judgment that are fundamental errors at the basis of very serious problems in our existence. One of the more familiar is the fundamental attribution error, which is the consistent bias to favor internal explanations as opposed to external and situational explanations as the reason for a given event or occurrence. We are far likely to consider ourselves consistent in character from situation to situation and far too likely to consider how situations and people and external matters influence our behavior. Yet this is not the only fundamental error that we have to wrestle with, even if it is the most famous.
As someone who reads a lot of books that come from a critical perspective, and as someone for whom a spirit of criticism and analysis comes naturally, there is a fundamental error that I often encounter and that I have to guard myself against regularly, and not always successfully. All too often in life, we set ourselves up to be the judges of others. Whether we seek to write critical essays or books about the Bible or the behavior of someone else, or whether we write reviews of books or music or movies, to engage in such behavior is to set oneself up (or be set up by others) as a judge. Whether someone respects our judgments or not is up to them, but the way in which we cultivate a spirit of criticism can sometimes be of danger to ourselves.
That this is a danger is easy enough to recognize, for we all hate being judged and harshly criticized by others. Few of us, and I am not one of them, are indifferent to what other people think. Yet many of us who are a bit (or more) sensitive to the judgment of others are very critical as well. It is a difficult task to master the balance between honesty and kindness , between being candid and being considerate to the feelings of others. Finding a way to be honest without being offensive, without being so critical that we encourage others to cut us down to size in their own way and in their own time, is a task that requires a significant amount of maturity and hard work.
Yet there is an error even more fundamental than that when it comes to judgment. All too often we come to the Bible and to others with an attitude of being the judges of whether such-and-such fact in the Bible is so, or whether it applies to our times and our situations. This is an error, though. We do not come before God as a judge as to whether He interacts in ways that we can relate to and respect, but rather we come to God as either unrepentant sinners or humble penitents seeking forgiveness for our rebellions against His ways. We come before the standards and ways of God, and before His throne, not as judges deciding whether God is just, but rather as defendants at the bar in need of a good defense and in need of a great deal of mercy for our own failings. When we act as a judge of others, we are insufficiently aware of the standard by which we are being judged.
It can be a painful matter to see how others judge us. We may know exactly why we have certain vulnerabilities and certain weaknesses. We may work very hard to keep those vulnerabilities from hurting ourselves and others to the best of our abilities. Yet none of this will allow us to escape very harsh judgment for those failings that others can see and mercilessly judge. Of course, those who judge us will have their own weaknesses that could be treated harshly, their own hypocrisies, their own struggles at which they flail about without much success. Yet no matter what others struggle with, they will feel greatly better about themselves if they can find a chink in our armor, find an area of spectacular weakness that would prevent us from being fit to judge them in their own eyes. And if we are not wise, we will think the same about them, not necessarily understanding or paying sufficient attention to the fact that we all face an external judge who is without defect, but who is also far more merciful to us than we are to others, or to ourselves.