Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Benefit of Doubt

If there were ever a group of people who should second guess their impulsive judgments about others it should be Christ followers. We know what forgiveness is. We know we are not enemies. We know all of us have something to learn. We know all of us are flawed. We know the "ideal self" is myth. We know none of us sees things clearly. We know everyone is a critic and everyone has a critic. We know people love to talk about everyone's failures but their own. We know pride is nothing more than an elaborate cover-up for our insecurities. We know evil runs through every single one of us. We know God will finish what He started. And, most of all, we know Christ.

Of course, it's hard to extend the benefit of the doubt when you're licking your wounds. I'd rather operate with the assurance that I know what I saw, I know what I heard, I know what I felt. It's hard to argue with me when I'm talking about myself. But, then, I think of him. And, how he said, "father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing." The ultimate benefit of the doubt.

Maybe next time I'll say to myself, "he didn't mean it, and, even if he did, I don't know." Sure will save me a lot of grief. Rummaging through past hurts and sorting out possible motives only contributes to my delusion of certainty. Instead, I should live with the benefit of doubt.


JDTapp said...

In his book Future Grace, John Piper notes that when someone wrongs you there are one of two things true:
1. He is an unbeliever and his sin is what separates him from God. His punishment is hell.

2. He is a believer and Christ has already paid for his sin, so I should trust in Christ's payment and not try to make him pay myself.

Based on that, when I feel I've been slighted or wronged, I've developed a mantra: "I know, and God knows, and that's enough for me."

Matt E. said...

Perhaps to Piper's list of one of two things that are true we could add:
* The person is shackled by a mental illness or by deep emotional trauma and by no fault of his/her own acted in such a way to wrong me.
* I am the sinner, the other is in the right, and my vision of fairness is still distorted by the Fall.
* I simply misunderstood the person's intentions, and "sin" is not necessarily in the equation (except, perhaps, if we understand sin as a root cause for our failed communication).
* And I'm sure there are more possibilities.

I am suspicious of systems that introduce certainty (a la Piper's one of two things that are true) into issues like this. There are simply too many factors in play in any given moment of existence for us to judge accurately.

For this reason, I appreciate Dr. Reeves' proposed approach: "he didn't mean it, and, even if he did, I don't know." Now, whether I will faithfully live this out in practice is another thing...

Melissa Fitzpatrick said...

I've been thinking a lot about this post. I think it is profound because there is something so cruciform & extravagant about living deliberately with the benefit of doubt. There is a relinquishing of rights involved with this idea that reminds me of Jesus. Thanks for this post.