This post comes about three years too late. Miley Cyrus released her hit song “We Can’t Stop” in 2013. Being a full-grown adult man, I just got around to hearing it, and not entirely on purpose. Driving for Uber part-time, I encountered the song on a Google Music playlist that I have going during bar close — “Every Summer Dance Party.”
Whenever it comes around in the rotation, “We Can’t Stop” always catches my ear. It’s a catchy tune. But the lyrics are what grab me.
It’s our party we can do what we want
It’s our party we can say what we want
It’s our party we can love who we want
We can kiss who we want
We can sing what we want
That opening sets the tone for the whole piece. It’s a ballad to unapologetic hedonism. That hardly distinguishes it from most pop music. I might dismiss it without further thought but for this bit here.
To my home girls here with the big butt
Shaking it like we at a strip club
Remember only God can judge ya
Forget the haters ’cause somebody loves ya
Only God can judge. That sentiment has merit, but only in a particular context.
Only God can apply the ultimate standard. He is the ultimate standard. His judgement determines our eternal disposition. No one else can welcome you to heaven or send you to hell. Therefore, Jesus says in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
That passage has often been cited out of context and applied incorrectly, as Cyrus tacitly does in her song. Jesus was not prohibiting judgment as such. Throughout scripture, we see many exhortations toward the judgment of others. We are to judge whether someone provides healthy association. We are to judge whether a fellow believer requires church discipline. Civil authorities are to judge between good and evil and deal with offenders accordingly.
The specific judgment Christ spoke to was the eternal judgment that belongs solely to God. He continued in verses 2 and 3:
For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
Christ illustrated this point further in his parable of the unforgiving debtor. Having been forgiven a debt amounting to millions of modern-day dollars, the debtor nonetheless proved unforgiving in his disposition toward another who owed him little. For this hypocrisy, the unforgiving debtor was punished severely. Every believer in the work of Christ has been forgiven much, and should therefore be forgiving toward others. That is why Christ said “judge not.”
Were Cyrus making the same point, I would laud it. Clearly, she’s not. Cyrus instead joins many before her in misapplying the “judge not” sentiment as a license to “do what we want.” She sings “only God can judge ya,” as if that ought to be of comfort to the unrepentant sinner. On the contrary, it should be a source of paralyzing terror. God can judge ya, and He will. How do you expect that will go?
The “only God can judge me” meme has become pervasive in the modern spiritual-but-not-religious culture. There is an important sense in which the sentiment proves true. We should not concern ourselves with the judgment of men when we act in accordance with God’s will. But that is the only context in which we should take comfort from God’s ultimate authority as our judge. We should never consider his regard as license to “do what we want.”