Assume the Best of Others

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Resilient Love in an Age of Suspicion

I didn’t see the sin until I saw the effect it began to have on my wife. Once vivacious, childlike, radiant, she began to joke less impulsively and laugh less freely. She grew quieter, less energetic, less herself. My beautiful lily drooped before me.

As any husband would, I wanted to help. What had caused the change, I inquired one day. I soon unearthed the source I hadn’t expected: me. My general cynicism toward people — like weeds in a lawn — did not stay just with me. My suspicion was becoming hers.

Cynicism and suspicion, I know firsthand, crawl into our minds and make us traitors to ourselves, dangers to our families, and toxins to our churches. Our suspicions can make us strike at those dearest to us. They contain a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more we suspect, the more reasons we find to suspect; the more we distrust, the more reasons we find to distrust. Every creak of the floor becomes a burglar.

Thinking the worst of our loved ones or our neighbors is unjust and often unreliable, and it passes too easily unnoticed. Yet if our sins have been (unimaginably) forgiven by God — and in Christ, they have been — then we have been set free to lay down our subtle suspicions, our default distrust, and to assume the best of others.

Love in an Age of Suspicion

As fallen men and women, sin’s bent naturally tempts us to say in the spirit of King Lear, “I am a man more sinned against than sinning.” Without being taught, we easily see most of our problems “out there,” with other people. Their sin against me, not my sin against a holy God, troubles me most. And when this is our focus, we are quick to speak and slow to listen, quick to write off and slow to bear with, quick to suspect and slow to forgive.

Yet, set that spirit against the spirit of love, the spirit of Christ, the spirit of the Christian:

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. (1 Corinthians 13:4–7)

The spirit of the age assumes the worst of his neighbor’s confusing comment. The spirit of a Christian assumes the reasonable best of his neighbor, interpreting him how he wants to be interpreted.

The spirit of the flesh is wronged by a church member and gossips or comments passive-aggressively online. The spirit of a Christian checks for logs in his own eye (Matthew 7:3–5) — mindful that he is a “man sinning more than sinned against” — charitably limits his judgments to what he can clearly perceive, and then wants to approach the person and discusses it with him directly as a brother (Matthew 18:15).

Instead of envying someone else’s influence or wealth, instead of being arrogant and rude, instead of husbands papishly insisting on their own ways or wives being irritable and resentful, Christian love is empowered and equipped to be different — in the family, the church, and the world. When suspicion chokes out laughter and distrust destroys friendships, the people of God ought to glow in our cynical world — bearing all things, hoping all things, believing all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).

This community of love, grace, and forbearance grows slowly, but surely. Imperfectly, with detours and setbacks along the road, but actually and increasingly. This is the inheritance of God’s Spirit-indwelt people and what makes us a witness to a watching, clawing world: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Free to Assume the Best

So, what do they see? Do they see families submitted to Christ’s rule of love and forgiveness, social media feeds surprisingly free from quick judgments, imperfect communities filled with hope and kindness, churches that bear each other’s burdens and who quickly give the benefit of the doubt to their fellow members for whom Christ died? Or do they see more of the same division, distrust, disunity?

“It would be better to be deceived a hundred times,” Charles Spurgeon declares to his students, “than to live a life of suspicion” (Lectures to My Students, 327). Doesn’t this strike you as true? Better to miss the possible offense in her email, the possible insult in his actions, the possible slight in that text or tweet. More often than not, it is better to overlook the possible racism, the possible sexism, the possible insensitivity, rudeness, and sin — even where it could exist. Where sin is apparent, things may change, but suspicion would have us confront possible sins with the same conviction and severity as obvious ones.

We really have been freed by Christ to hope the best, to assume the best of others’ intentions, and to leave the secret sins of others to their Creator. This is the love that covers a multitude of sins, actual or imagined; this is that glory of a godly person who passes over affronts: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).

Children of Day

As Christians, we have been bought with a price; we are no longer our own; we live for Christ. Spurgeon points his students to this as the antidote:

Brethren, shun this vice [of habitual suspicion] by renouncing the love of self. Judge it to be a small matter what men think or say of you, and care only for their treatment of your Lord. (328)

How am I treated, how am I being empowered, how am I being understood, seen, and known is not the business of the Christian life. How we are regarded — while not unimportant — is not all in all anymore. How they speak of us behind our backs, how they treat us in the unseen chambers of their mind, whether they like us or not, or what so-and-so really intended is too groveling a thing to consume a born-again life.

While the self-important — and thus self-imprisoned — deaden the beautiful flowers around them, Christ lifts drooping lilies and teaches us to hope all things, especially with other believers. Loving God with all and our neighbors as ourselves gives sunlight and blessing to our relationships, fresh meat and drink to our own souls, and obedience and honor to the name of Christ.

Are you suspicious of others? We all have lived long enough “passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). Christ bids us out of the shadows of suspicion, to live in the sunshine as children of the day, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). This is air from above — air that will keep us healthy and unified in this polluted and suspicious age.

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