November 14, 2020

Minds Differ, So Assume the Best

Probably the most important and yet challenging discipline to which the Christian is called is to love with a kind of love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7, NKJV).

This just sounds crazy, on the face of it. 

What in the world does Paul mean?

He doesn’t mean that love is gullible, nor that love believes everything everybody says to be factual. The Amplified Bible conveys the idea like this: “Looking for the best in each one.” For some reason, this is especially hard to do amid political differences. But, easy or not, like it or not, this is how God calls us to conduct ourselves toward one another.

Ellen White interprets Paul’s language to mean the following:  

“Christ-like love places the most favorable construction on the motives and acts of others. It does not needlessly expose their faults; it does not listen eagerly to unfavorable reports, but seeks rather bring to mind the good qualities of others” (The Acts of the Apostles, 319).

Each Person Has a Different Experience

Each person has a different life experience, a different history, a different upbringing, a different education, and a different configuration of mind. Each person has suffered their own particular set of traumas. Each person, therefore, sees what they see, and does not see whatever they do not see, understands what they understand and does not understand what they do not understand. At any given moment, when faced with any given set of options, each one makes the call they think best. It may not actually be the best call, but they believe it is.

This is true of you.

This is true of me. 

And this means that none of us are ever in a position that is so enlightened and so objective that we are qualified to judge anyone else as lacking in goodwill. You simply do not know what all the factors are that have led any given individual to hold whatever conscientious political positions they hold. For starters, all of us are so subjective and limited in our perspectives that we are always in process. This means that whatever you believe to be correct right now, you may not believe to be correct next week, next month, or next year. But one thing is absolutely certain: to the degree that I adopt a demeaning, dismissive, judgmental spirit toward you regarding the position you presently hold, I am potentially solidifying you in your present position and shutting down your capacity for growth.

Are We Too Harsh?

Take this on board: “While very sensitive to the least blame in regard to their own course, many are too severe in dealing with those whom they suppose to be in error. No one was ever reclaimed from a wrong position by censure and reproach, but many are thus driven further from the right path and led to harden their hearts against conviction. A spirit of kindness, a courteous, forbearing deportment may save the erring and hide a multitude of sins” (Patriarchs and Prophets, 519).

As followers of Jesus, whose basic rule of life is love, we are called to the high standard of putting the best possible construction on the motives of others. When we relate to one another in this manner, we create a relational atmosphere that allows each of us to more easily change our opinions for the better.

minds differ so assume the best2

Or think of it like this: if you really believe you are right in your perspective and that I am wrong, the best way to get me to see your point of view and change mine is to relate to me with kindness and respect, even as you differ with me. On the other hand, the best way to get me to dig in my heels and rigidly hold to what you regard to be a wrong position is to relate to me with a dismissive or disrespectful attitude.

Love Believes the Best of Others

The bottom line is simple yet crucially important: each person’s mind is configured differently based on the various factors that make them who they are. If this is true, then the only rational way to relate to those with whom I differ is to believe they are doing the best they can with what they know. When I do this, and only when I do this, it becomes possible for them to hear my differing view and perhaps change their mind.

Remember: love believes the best of others, even while disagreeing with them.

The original version of this commentary was posted on the Light Bearers Ministry site.