There’s a big difference between making a judgment and judging someone’s soul.

Is it okay for me to use my mind and simply make a judgment? If I notice it’s raining, I make a judgment: “I should bring my umbrella.” If it’s snowing, I make a judgment: “I should wear my winter coat.” Am I a mean, bigoted person if I do this? Of course not. God gave me a mind. He wants me to use it.

Similarly, can I use my mind to make a judgment about someone else’s actions? If I see my toddler about to run into the street, can I make the judgment “That’s not good for her. She might get hit by a car”? Or if I see her about to touch a hot burner on the stove, can I use my mind and make the judgment, “That’s not good for her. She will get burned.” If I do this, I’m not saying she’s a horrible person. I’m just observing that she is about to do something that will cause her great harm.

Let’s take this a step further. Can I use my mind and make a judgment about someone else’s moral actions? Let’s say there’s a young female college student who is sleeping around with one man after another each week. Can I use my mind and make the judgment, “That’s not good for her”? Can I make the judgment, “She’s not going to be happy living this way. She’s never going to find the lasting love she longs for”? Of course.

But let’s be clear: I’m not judging her soul if I do that. She may be doing something objectively wrong, but I don’t know her personal situation before God. I don’t know her background, her situation, or her intentions. Who am I to judge? A soul’s status before God is something between that person and God alone. Various factors in people’s lives may impair their free choices in such a way that limits their culpability or moral guilt.[1] As Pope Francis explains, “Each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries which no one can fully know from without.”[2] Perhaps this young woman has never experienced authentic love. Maybe she was sexually abused. Maybe she has always been taught that this is what it means to be a liberated woman. Such a woman needs to know my compassion, not just a lecture on the moral law.

At the same time—and this is absolutely crucial—if I care about her at all, should I say something to her about what she’s doing? If she is a close friend or family member, for example, should I talk to her about it? I wouldn’t be judging her soul—that’s between her and God alone. But to love is to will the good of another, to seek what’s best for the other person. And if I truly love this person, then it’s the loving thing to show her the better way. Certainly I should do this prudently, in the right time and in the right way, and with great gentleness, humility, and compassion. But it is not loving to sit back and never want to share the truth with her.

Imagine if I see my 2-year-old daughter about to touch the hot stove and I say to myself, “Well, I wouldn’t do that. But I don’t want to be judgmental. Whatever makes her happy…” Or imagine if my toddler is about to run into the street and I say to her, “Oh well…if that works for you! … I personally wouldn’t do that, but I don’t want to impose my views on you.  It’s your life. Let’s just coexist.”  Would that be a loving thing to do?  Absolutely not.

This article is based on Edward Sri’s newest book, Who Am I to Judge?–Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love.

[1] See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735.

[2] Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 172.