The Benefit of the Doubt

1 Corinthians 13:7 records the words, “Love believes all things.”  This phrase records a revolutionary principle for living in relationship with others.  One might think that it pictures a gullible person who will believe anything that he or she is told.  Rather, the idea is that of our working at giving the one loved the benefit of the doubt (see Broadman Commentary on 1 Corinthians).  

Someone hurts you and what do you do?  You assign hurtful motives to the person who has hurt you.  This is very natural.  The tendency is to assign hurtful intentions in difficult situations (see Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Stone, Patton, and Heen).  But most of the time – I would guess 99 percent of the time – the friend or acquaintance will not have had bad intentions toward us.  Whether they have or not, Jesus would have us rock the world by responding to people with sacrificial love (Matthew 5:41-43).  This rocks the world, because it is so counter cultural to the normal scheme of things.  People take note of it and wonder why we would respond to their bad intentions with such kindness.  And, of course, Jesus is the answer.  For the other 99 percent, when we respond by giving the benefit of the doubt, we will likely discover or confirm that bad intentions did not exist and the relationship continues to grow.  

Sacrificial love is hard work though.  The more difficult the situation or hurt, the more mental and spiritual work necessary to try to imagine an understandable reason for the action.  But with God’s help, in the exercise of your faith in, love for, and best hopes for this offending person, you will find your way to understand that no harm was intended at all.

© W. Stephen Williams 2006