The Benefit of the Doubt

As he scanned the incoming crowd, the guest speaker eyed one particular couple.

She smiled graciously. It was apparent she was glad to be there. Her husband, on the other hand, looked clearly pained. He didn’t speak to anyone coming in but simply took his seat.

As the speaker began his message, he couldn’t help but notice this same couple, sitting close to the front. The wife was alert and engaged, listening carefully to every word. She took notes. Her husband started out listening but after about fifteen minutes, the preacher noticed the man’s head tilting downward, his eyes closed.

How sad, the speaker thought. This godly woman had brought her non-Christian husband to the service – his reluctance overcome by her gentle pleadings. And now he embarrasses her – and offends the preacher – by falling asleep mid-sermon. The following afternoon, the husband did the same thing. He fell asleep a third time that evening, not lasting even ten minutes.

Finally, during a break in the conference before the final message, the woman approached the guest speaker. He prepared himself to commend her determination to see her unsaved husband converted and to comfort her in her embarrassing distress at his obvious spiritual indifference.

“I want to apologize for my husband,” the woman began. “I’m sure you’ve noticed he’s had trouble staying awake during your messages. Please don’t take this personally.”

She explained:

“You see, my husband is suffering from terminal cancer and the medicine he’s taking makes him drowsy. Although he’s very sick, he’s been a big fan of yours for years. When he learned that you were speaking this week, he insisted that we come and hear you and said that God would speak to our hearts. And he has. So I want to thank you for your Spirit-filled sermons – and for being patient with my husband.”

Ouch!

Well-known pastor and author Chuck Swindoll tells this story on himself. It’s a lesson – and a sober reminder – for us all.

Appearances are the easiest form of judgment. They require neither investigation nor reflection nor restraint. And, let’s be honest, most of us find some degree of satisfaction in judging others.

Why is that?

Judging others can be a subtle, subconscious attempt at self-justification. We judge so we’ll feel better about ourselves and our own failures – or perhaps our achievements. We realize we may never reach the top rung of the moral ladder. But as long as we know there is someone beneath us – someone guiltier than we are – then we rest a bit easier in our own position. In this sense, judging is the midwife of rationalization. We may be a lot of things but thank God we’re not like her!

Was this not the vain prayer of the Pharisee who went up to the temple? His was a boastful recitation of his own goodness. Without ever knowing the Publican at a distance, the Pharisee judged him anyway – with self-righteous relish.

How deceptive appearances may be.

We think we know when we don’t. We think we’d do this, but we’d be wrong. How easy it is to correct the lives of others when we’re not the ones involved. God told Samuel that not every young man who looks like a king should be a king. “Man looks on the outward appearance,” God warned the prophet. And this is our limitation – our ignorance of both people and situations. “But the Lord looks on the heart.”(I Samuel 16:7,KJV).

We are too often superficial in our judgments. We jump to conclusions and scare the best ones away. When it comes to assessing other people, we delight in knowing what simply isn’t true.

God gets to the core. He peers beneath the surface of things and so his judgments are always just.

It’s important that we ask God for help with this judging business. Jesus says we must. The verse that follows the most famous verse in the Bible is worth an equal remembrance:

“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17, NLT).

“Judge not according to the appearance,” Jesus warns the crowd. (John 24:7, KJV). And in his Sermon on the Mount, he offers us a spiritual and moral quid pro quo:

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37, KJV). But if we insist, in our stubborn pride, on judging and condemning others and refusing to forgive, we betray our Savior’s mission and his mercy.

God does not judge us as we deserve to be judged; instead he is exceedingly gracious. Should we, as his children, be any less kind toward those he also loves?

 “Man judges from a partial view.

None ever yet his brother knew;

The Eternal Eye that sees the whole

May better read the darkened soul,

And find, to outward sense denied,

The flower upon its inmost side!”

John Greenleaf Whittier: The Pressed Gentian

 When we give the benefit of the doubt, let us give it not to the eye but to the heart.

 May God bless you and your family.

 

 

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Filed under Christian World View, Faith, Religion

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