Paul teaches us about Biblical love in 1 Corinthians 13, which includes the challenging phrase “love believes all things.” We have reviewed the phrase in a previous post and concluded that Paul is calling us to believe the best about others. We have also sought to explore several practical ways to apply to this concept of “believing the best about others.” In this post I want to explore why this is so hard. Why is it so tempting to dismiss one another, believe the worst, or make terrible accusations of one another? While there are a number of contributing external factors that complicate believing the best, ultimately we don’t believe the best about one another because we are each selfish.
Opinion bias is a deceitful motive. We are easily convinced by arguments and people that we are already inclined to believe. We are also predisposed to dislike and disagree with anyone whom we have categorically chosen to disregard. In other words, it’s not that we can’t believe the best about others, it’s that we chose not to when the person or the issue is something we don’t want to like. It’s selfishness.
Let’s explore some examples here. If you already like President Donald Trump then it seems that articles defending/minimizing his actions, behaviors, tweets, and past will be convincing to you. There is no writer who will be able to persuade you that he is an indecent and immoral man unfit for the office of President of the United States of America. Some can, then, be persuaded to believe the best about others. On the flip side, if you are convinced that the organization Black Lives Matter is justified and exactly what we need at this moment in history then no amount of accusation, or evidence that reveals immorality in that organization or its leaders will be convincing to you. You choose to see some good apart from the associated wrong. Now, there is an actual right and wrong, and there is an objective reality regarding both of these examples, but my point is that we can personally find ways to overlook those wrongs and justify support. In other words, we are not incapable of believing the best. We can choose to overlook faults, even sins, and see greater strengths in individuals, companies, products, organizations, and political parties when we want to. The determining factor is our own selfish agendas.
We choose not to believe the best about one another when doing so conflicts with our own agenda, emotions, and biases. We love ourselves and our “rightness” too much to believe the best about others. What often happens is we feel validated and justified in our frustrations with someone else and “believing the best” about them is not emotionally satisfying. We assign the worst motivations to them and believe the worst about them because we don’t like their arguments, their personality, or their agenda. We see this happen often in the online world. Someone makes an argument for subject “A” and those who are opposed to “A” accuse him of abandoning the gospel, redefining faithfulness, intentionally misinterpreting Scripture, etc. Now, in some cases those are completely fair accusations; so, how do we determine if we are being driven by selfishness in our critiques? We start by evaluating our motives and habits.
Let’s look at a few questions to assess whether we are being selfish when we critique others:
- Do I only every critique people with whom I already disagree? If the only people I ever critique as being in the wrong are people with whom I already disagree then I am probably just being selfish. God’s Word teaches us that “judgment begins with the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17) and that we are not to judge outsiders, but to judge ourselves (1 Cor. 5:12). There is a principle of being primarily critical of ourselves and our “teams” that the Bible sets. If you are never critical of your own camp then you may be operating too much on your biases.
- Do I attack people or raise questions about arguments? Selfish criticisms focus on individuals and attack them instead of their arguments. We call people names, mock them, and spew hatred for them personally instead of addressing the issues that are of concern. We do not treat people as made in the image of God and deserving of respect and possessing inherent dignity. If we cannot disagree with someone and treat them with respect while doing so, then we are being selfish in our disagreements. Because, after all, putting people down makes us feel better – it does not “give grace to the hearer” (Eph. 4:29).
- Do I refuse to listen to arguments? The Scriptures put a lot of emphasis on the importance of listening. This does not mean that we have to agree with everyone, but we do need to seek to understand one another and hear from one another. When we refuse to believe the best about others we convince ourselves that this person could not possibly have a reasonable argument for their views, position, or opinion. One who loves others must be willing to listen to them. Proverbs warns us that the one who “isolates himself seeks his own desire” (Prov. 18:1). When we live in an echo chamber of opinion bias we are being selfish.
- Do I isolate people from the general pattern of their character? Finally, we refuse to believe the best when we take isolated incidents and treat people as if they represent the whole of who they are and what they believe. We need to allow our knowledge of and relationship with people color our awareness of disagreeable statements they make. When I isolate people from the pattern of their character I am assuming that this thing I dislike is more representative of who they are than all the other interactions I have had with them. I am actually allowing my own selfishness in this moment to overtake the relationship. I have become so frustrated with the disagreeable issue that I no longer want to treat them based on our previous interactions. My agenda trumps our relationship.
Selfishness lies at the root of our refusal to believe the best. We can choose to believe the best in all sorts of situations, even to the point that it is sometimes naive or dismissive of real issues. When our own agendas, biases, and desires are at stake, however, by loving others then we struggle to believe the best. Godly Christians, however, will seek the interests of others more than their own (Phi. 2:4). We can believe the best about one another because that’s what love does.