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 Corinthians 13:7).
This just sounds crazy, on the face of it.
What in the world does Paul mean?
Well, 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 in the midst of 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 to bring to mind the good qualities of others” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 319).
…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 good will.
Each person has a different experience in life, a different history, a different upbringing, a different education, 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 good will. 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.
Take this onboard:
“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” (Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 519-520).
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.
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.
…the best way to get me to see your point of view and change mine is to relate to me with kindness and respect…
Allow me to give two examples of how individual minds can be persuaded to hold political positions differing from one another while each one is acting out what they believe to be the righteous course of action.
I know a young lady who is in no way, shape, or form, a fan of Donald Trump. In fact, she can’t stand him as a person. And yet, due to her specific configuration of mind and her experience in life, her most passionate sympathies lie in the direction of those who are the victims of sex trafficking. That’s the number one thing she cares about. So, while she believes Donald Trump has conducted himself toward women in a predatory manner, she also believes he is taking action on the legislative level against sex trafficking, and this factor causes her to feel inclined to vote for him over Biden because she believes Biden will not take legislative action against sex trafficking. Yes, you can doubt whether she has her facts straight regarding exactly what kind of legislative action Trump is or is not taking on the matter, but the point is this: with what she thinks she knows, she is making what she believes to be a righteous decision in favor of the group of people she believes are the most vulnerable and victimized. So, then, even if you believe you know some facts that differ from what she believes to be true, you should, I believe, hold her in high esteem as a fellow human being who is doing the best she can with what she knows, even as she proceeds to vote differently than you may vote.
I also know a man whose life experience and particular configuration of mind causes him to be most passionate for two issues: (1) funding for inner city public schools so as to give young black and brown boys and girls a fighting chance to get an education sufficient to elevate them out of the dire straits of inner-city poverty, and (2) reform in the justice system that would put less black and brown people in prison for nonviolent offenses. Therefore, while he believes that Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, is guilty of criminal actions in his business dealings with China and the Ukraine, and that Joe is complicit in those crimes, he is inclined to vote for Joe Biden because he believes that Biden’s particular political orientation has a higher likelihood of meeting the needs of inner city kids and of reforming the justice system. Again, you may believe that there are facts to the contrary, but the point is that he believes he knows otherwise. So even if you think he is misinformed, you should, I believe, hold him in high esteem as a fellow human being who is occupying the highest moral ground he believes he can, even as he proceeds to vote differently than you may vote.
Love believes the best of others, even while disagreeing with them.
The same case could be made on various other issues that any given person believes to be of highest importance amid the myriad of issues that the various politicians claim to champion. For some individuals, the abortion issue is of such massive significance that it is simply impossible for them to vote for a candidate that condones abortion, even if that candidate is desirable on multiple other issues. For other individuals, racial justice is of such vital importance that it is impossible for them to vote for a candidate that is not forthrightly, unequivocally against racism, even if that candidate is desirable on numerous other issues. In each case, each one is operating in the most conscientious and righteous manner they can, given the arrangement of the information in their minds.
The bottom line is simple and 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.
Love believes the best of others, even while disagreeing with them.