This is a concept that I’ve heard for years. It sounds wonderful. It cuts down on the urge to gossip because you tend to disbelieve anything that’s not good or decent. But lately I have come to realize that always “believing the best” can be extremely dangerous.
Anyone with an infant or toddler can tell you that you don’t have to teach a kid to misbehave. People have basic tendencies to sneak, to cheat, to lie, to self-preserve, to meet their own desires first and by any means necessary. We are taught to restrain ourselves, to be honest, to serve others before we serve ourselves. That is not to say that we are entirely evil; just that we lean in that direction.
I am not recommending that we let the pendulum swing to the other side and “believe the worst” instead. We have to look at the world and the people in it with God’s eyes: with deep love, and with a keen awareness of man’s nearly endless potential to sin. The danger comes when we insist on “believing the best” when sin is alive and active. We wind up fooled by sin to the point that we leave one another in its clutches.
In the past year, Pete and I have been faced with incomprehensible sin in the lives of one of our dearest friends. Sins that have left me nauseated and dizzy, shaking my head, saying, “No! That simply cannot be true. It’s too awful!” I–and many others–have tried so hard to “believe the best” that we ignored obvious signs of what was happening, back when something might have been done to interrupt the downward spiral; we kept silent, when speaking out might have rescued two (not entirely innocent) victims whose lives have been nearly shattered because of our friend’s actions.
I have searched my New American Standard and can find no admonition to “believe the best.” Instead, I find warnings about the pervasiveness of sin (it’s compared with yeast–have you ever tried to remove the yeast from a batch of dough?). I find warnings about the destructiveness of sin. And I find these words of Jesus, in His benediction to the twelve disciples: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mark 10:17). Even the innocent dove knows better than to sit still, smiling, when the fox approaches.