The benefit of the doubt

“The person who really knows how to fight is the person that walks away from a fight.”

That’s what my karate instructor said back in 1988. I was 16 years old, a newly licensed teenager driver. In addition to taking regular trips to the gas station to buy myself candy bars, one of the first things I did after gaining my independence was join a karate dojo. I wanted to get in shape and learn self-defense, but this was not what I expected.

My sensei was a good man. He’d served in the military, taught an Olympic medalist, earned a PhD, and even trained green berets to fight barefoot in the snow (he had pictures). But this now-septuagenarian, a fierce but gentle warrior, had a philosophy that echoed Bruce Lee’s “art of fighting without fighting”: Don’t fight.

His reasoning was that he loved and cared for others. I remember sitting bewildered as I was learning these things. To not fight when you can – this was the higher road. Knowing how to hurt a person, but choosing not to do it because you cared for them, this was something deep. Looking like a lamb, when you could easily be a lion, was the better choice. Giving a person the benefit of the doubt was the noble way.

These were the lessons Dr. Kimmey kept putting in my head, and as I walk further and further down the pilgrimage of my Christian faith, I am learning that they apply on that journey as well.

The Scripture says that love thinks no evil of another. I believe this means that a person who truly loves is a person who gives others the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the reason a person is driving so slowly is because they have a hot cup of coffee in their right hand. Maybe the reason the lady ahead of me in line is moving so slowly is that she is mentally handicapped. Maybe the reason my neighbor is so antisocial is that he’s going through a bitter divorce.

The Old Testament story of Abram and Lot speaks to this. In Genesis 13 we find these two men in a conflict. They are both highly successful farmers; their flocks and herds are overcrowding the land, which is causing strife between the two. Rather than fight it out, Abram chooses to defer to his relative.

“Please let there be no strife between you and me, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; take your pick of the land, and I will move my flocks elsewhere.”

Lot moves east, Abram heads west, and everyone is happy.

This is a simple and beautiful model for us today as we experience conflict with others. Abram does a number of things to bring about peace and give Lot the benefit of the doubt.

First, he initiates a resolution to the conflict. When we see a conflict arise, we have a choice to either add to it or attempt to resolve it. Abram values resolution over his personal gain, and he takes action.

Next, he prefers his brother. That is, he allows Lot to choose what he would and defers to him. Sometimes the way to peace really is to let someone else speak their mind, smile, and walk away without getting the last word.

Finally, Abram makes the best of what he has in the aftermath. After their separation, Abram settles for second choice and blooms where he is planted. Interestingly, later in the text we find Abram more and more taking good care of his relative, post-conflict.

In these trying times there are only a few things that are important. Money, influence, and being right are not among them. We live in a time when, if we are wise, we will place great value on this one thing: People. People have worth and should be treated as such.

So be encouraged in this today. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Let them off the hook. Don’t keep a list of your grievances toward them, but instead choose to think the best of them. Forgive as you would like to be forgiven and keep your heart open. Doing so will put us in the company of those beautiful and loving people that have learned how to prove our love for God by loving others well.

This Week’s Calendar

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Our Community

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