Benefit of the Doubt

A while back, I met this girl that I thought wasn’t very friendly. She gave off an attitude I didn’t quite like, and normally whenever I feel that way about someone I stay away from them. “I don’t need that kind of energy” I tell myself. But in this situation, God showed me how wicked my heart was towards her. I was quick to judge, which made me no better than her. God told me to talk to her regardless of how I felt, so I did. In doing so, I discovered her dad had just passed away. She spoke to me about how she had been trying to deal with it, how she felt angry all the time and didn’t know what to do. This was an extremely humbling experience for me. I had always heard the saying, “be kind to people, you never know what they may be going through.” But I never truly understood it until then.

benefit of the doubt

Unkind people are unkind for a reason. When I think about myself, I notice that I’m my most loving self when I’m truly happy, or having a really good day. And when my day isn’t going so great, it’s easier for me to snap at people.

People act the way they do for reasons that make sense to them. Rather than judging their actions, we should seek to understand them. And when we can’t understand them, we should seek to love them regardless.

Have you ever judged someone for doing something, or for acting a certain way, then you went ahead and did the exact same thing? It’s truly humbling. It’s very easy for us to attribute others’ mistakes to their personalities rather than the situation, and attribute our mistakes to the situation rather than our personalities. In psychology, this is called the fundamental attribution error. It’s a bias that everyone faces, but it’s important to correct this.

As humans we like to make sense of everything, and we judge based on what we see. Many years ago, there was a girl in school that was a known thief. She would steal anything and everything from people, you could never leave your things around her. I remember it made me so mad. How can you be stealing from people? How do you sleep at night? I would always vent to my mum and each time she would tell me, “Not everyone grew up like you. Not everyone was raised the way you were raised.” I still wasn’t convinced, but later I discovered that she grew up in an abusive family where she felt unloved, and I guess stealing was her way of dealing with her reality. Does this excuse what she did? No, it doesn’t. But it definitely explains it. 

give someone the benefit of the doubt

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV.

“To see the best in others . . . . This does not mean that love is gullible, but that it does not think the worst (as is the way of the world). It retains its faith. Love is not deceived . . . but it is always ready to give the benefit of the doubt.” - Leon Morris in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries

Giving others the benefit of the doubt extends to our personal relationships. Maybe your sister said those horrible things because she feels hurt by you. Perhaps your friend forgot to consider your needs not because he’s self-centred, but because he had a lot on his mind. A lot of times, things aren’t as they seem.

But let’s assume that things are exactly as they seem. Your loved one meant to hurt you. That stranger is actually a horrible person. Rather than this truth justifying your judgement, it should expand your grace. You may have every right to be mad, but choose to be loving instead. When we give people the benefit of the doubt, we’re able to humble ourselves and put their feelings above our own (read my previous blog post here on humility).

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Pick up the book and actually read it. Get to know people. And even in situations where your judgement is valid, choose to give the benefit of the doubt. Ask God to help you to see others the way he sees them, and love people the way he loves them.

“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” - Ephesians 4:1-3 NLT