Love Always Trusts (1 Corinthians 13:7)
by Ted Schroder
“Love believes all things” or “always trusts.” The inference is that if you love someone you will “always believe in him.” (Living Bible) Love is always ready to believe the best about people. This is not regarded as a virtue by most experienced people. To believe the best about people, to give them the benefit of the doubt, smacks of naiveté or gullibility. The more knowledge we have about human nature, the more we are inclined to be suspicious of people. Even Jesus did not trust himself to the crowds for he knew what was in a man. (John 2:24,25) Knowing that we are all fallen creatures, inheritors of sin, we are only too well aware of our failings and how we can be disappointed in others. How do you reconcile these widely differing attitudes? Love surely is perceptive, able to recognize what is going on without being deceived. Yet love, says the apostle Paul, will always, i.e. generally, unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, give the benefit of the doubt, because it can never assume that the worst is true.
Thomas, after the death of Jesus, assumed that the worst was true. (John 20:24,25) He missed out on Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the other disciples. When his friends told him that they had seen the Lord, risen from the dead, he did not believe them. Why? These were trusted friends with whom he had spent the past three years. They were telling him about what they had experienced but he wasn’t buying it. He mistrusted them, and in so doing he did them an injustice. He did not think well of them. They had knowledge which he chose to reject. He was unable to love his friends by trusting them. Instead he rejected their testimony, and their integrity. By mistrusting them he distanced himself from them. Love identifies with others through trust, whereas mistrust backs away from others.
Mistrust is all too well aware of the possibility of different interpretations of people’s actions. We believe well or ill of people according to the way we want to think about them. That leads us to ignore any evidence to the contrary. When we are skeptical of people we take pride in our knowledge and experience. We realize that someone’s apparent virtue may be a sham; that we cannot simply infer the reality of a person’s character from their appearance. We withhold judgment until we have more information. We protect ourselves against the possibility of being deceived, not by believing all things, but by believing nothing. This is what Thomas does.
We are free to interpret evidence, data, information, clues, one way or another. The interpretation we make, the conclusions we draw, reveal what our fundamental outlook on life is. The malicious person puts the worst construction on any actions. The mistrustful refuses to draw any conclusion at all. But the one who loves is free to interpret the actions lovingly.
The one who loves differs from the naïve or inexperienced person in that she is fully aware of all the possible interpretations that could be placed on anyone’s actions. Faced with this objective uncertainty, the lover chooses to believe, and by so doing reveals the love that is in her. The cynic, who has precisely the same objective knowledge, chooses not to believe, and thus reveals her mistrust.
Knowledge or experience of others is neutral. What we do with that knowledge or experience reveals our inclination. Belief or mistrust is a choice we make with the information we have. We all fear making a mistake – either by believing too well of a person, or believing too ill of a person. Juries in court cases have to make decisions about these things all the time. Imagine if we found ourselves in heaven and missed seeing someone we had expected to find there; or seeing with amazement a person whom we would have excluded, and became aware that what we thought might have been the very thing that would have excluded him made him superior to us! Love includes people more than it excludes. Love spends more time peopling heaven than condemning people to hell. Jesus said, “whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:50)
Such a choice as to what to believe about a person is always a risk. Love is willing to take a risk with others.
Skepticism, cynicism, or agnosticism, is the unwillingness to take risks. The person who will believe nothing, who will not believe in the good, begins to believe only in evil. “To believe nothing is the beginning of being evil, for it shows that one has no good in him.” (Kierkegaard) Goodness is bound up with the willingness to trust, so the refusal to trust is a defiance of the good, and is therefore a turning to evil. Love, by contrast, believes all things; it puts the best construction on all actions. Love believes that the good is still possible for anyone, even those who now seem to be the worst of people.
We inhabit a political and media culture of worldly-wise cynicism and suspicion of the motives of others. It would be true to say that we are brainwashed by the mantra to never trust others, to never believe what others say. Exposing corruption is necessary in our society. Such is our sinfulness, that if we didn’t fear being found out, we would be tempted to cut corners, pad tax deductions and expense accounts, accept bribes, and divert company funds to our own use. As a society we have laws because we cannot trust others. Yet we don’t want that attitude to marinate our hearts so that we are always denigrating and denying the good in others.
I have never forgotten the wisdom of a blacksmith, Arthur Thomas, I knew as a child, who worked on a gold dredge, repeating these words: “I hate those guys who criticize and minimize, those other guys whose enterprise has made them rise, above those guys who criticize and minimize.”
Since we cannot know everything about others, there is always room for alternative views of any phenomenon, and therefore room for generous as much as cynical interpretations. We can be self-deceived by our own suspicions. Always looking for ulterior motives in others leads us to mistrust everyone and damages the ability to form loving relationships. Many single people are afraid to make a commitment to another in marriage because they expect too much of a spouse. Thomas distanced himself from his friends by his mistrust of them. It took an experience of Jesus to overcome his mistrust.
Love always trusts. Love is not skeptical but trusting. Love is not agnostic but believing. Love trusts the experience of love in other people. We can choose whether we want to trust or mistrust in life. We begin life as children with a natural attitude of trust. We are taught to mistrust others through our childhood into adulthood. We are educated to be skeptical, to suspend belief until we see enough evidence to warrant it. When we have had our trust abused by someone we love it will take time for that trust to be restored. Love comes to us in Jesus, through the love of others, and invites us to trust, to believe again. To trust, to believe isn’t something we can just do, like snapping our fingers. We cannot just shut our eyes and wish to believe, like magic. To trust means being able to risk, being able to lean on someone bigger and better than yourself, who can support you.
Jesus came to Thomas, who was overwhelmed by the love of God, and said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) The lover is a believer. If we know we are loved by God, we are able to trust God, and to trust others. (I am indebted to Kierkegaard’s, Works of Love, and Anthony Rudd in the International Kierkegaard Commentary, Vol.16 Works of Love, for material used in this presentation.)
April 15, 2007
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