Giving Each Other the Benefit of the Doubt
At the slightest instance of gossip, do we enter into the conversation and pile up our baggage about another person’s character, personality, or appearance? Giving each other the benefit of the doubt means thinking the best of someone and their intentions even when we get the sinking feeling that there are ulterior motives on the horizon. Giving the benefit of the doubt means also bearing with people, loving them well even when in the past they’ve sinned against us. The Scriptures connect the way we perceive others and also give them the benefit of the doubt through various lenses, one of which is the theme of love found in 1 Corinthians 13. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13.4-7,
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
The kindness of God and his kindness have been poured out upon us in Jesus Christ. The love of Christ bore our sins, believed in us, and had the firm hope that his work would be sufficient for our salvation, and in enduring the cross took our sin upon his shoulders and dealt fully with it. Therefore, since this great work has been done for us and in us, overcoming our stubborn rebellion, how much more should we live a life predicated upon these characteristics of love.
When we believe the best of others, we are treating them as God’s image bearers, full of dignity, worth, and demanding our respect. Much more than this, by believing in the good of others, in giving them the benefit of the doubt, we invite them into a relationship with us that is an ongoing partnership. By opening up the lines of communication and trust, we give others the ability to fail without the jackhammer of condemnation from us. But what happens when we give others the benefit of the doubt and they betray us, break our trust, and trample our positive expectation of them?
As this passage indicates, we bear with them in love, we don’t automatically cast them out to the furthest reaches of Maine. There is no reason not to inquire what happened in their lives, in their hearts and busy schedules as to what happened. There is also room to be disappointed or frustrated about broken trust. The question isn’t how we respond internally about the betrayal of trust, but will we forgive them and believe again in the benefit of the doubt toward that person. Our love for that person will endure as we think of the cross and the work of Christ on our behalf as we go forward to meet that person in forgiveness.