The Destructive Nature of Assumptions

Assumptions get people into trouble, and yet we all do it. We often do it unknowingly. We witness a brief moment in another person’s life or hear part of a story, and then we fill in the gaps in our mind. We may not think about it again until the moment the assumption is undone. This can be embarrassing or even destructive depending on the nature of the assumption.

How do we avoid these awkward and painful situations that are caused by our assumptions? If assuming is something we naturally do, then how can we address this aspect of our lives? There is one simple principle we can follow. Always assume the best. Give people the benefit of the doubt. What gets us in trouble is we often assume the worst.

The Bible addresses this issue. Assumption is a nice word for judging. When we assume something about someone else, we are making a judgment about them. Matthew 7:1 is a popular verse in our culture. People like the fact that Jesus said, “Do not judge” but they fail to understand the context of his statement. What Jesus is prohibiting in Matthew 7:1 is a particular kind of judgment. We are not to judge unfairly. We are to follow the golden rule and treat others the way we would like to be treated (Matt. 7:12). We are not to be hypocritical (Matt. 7:3-5).

A few verses after Jesus’ command not to judge, he gives instructions regarding making a judgment based on the fruits of a person’s life (Matt. 7:15-20). If a person is consistently producing bad fruit, then this says something about the person. It is not the last word, but it is something that needs to be considered. If a person is consistently producing good fruit, then this also says something about the person. They are trustworthy. They are striving to do what is right.

What does this have to do with the assumptions we make?

We form long-lasting relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but these relationships can easily be damaged or destroyed by making one bad assumption. For example, one Christian may read a Facebook post or hear a comment they interpret as being dangerous or even heretical, and they immediately put the other Christian on blast. In this situation, the person is giving more weight to a single comment than the entirety of the relationship. This is an unfair judgment. It’s possible the person making the comments could not have been very clear, misspoke, or maybe they weren’t having a good day. What we know about a person (their fruits) should be more important and hold more influence than one comment. Our brothers and sisters in Christ deserve the benefit of the doubt. We should always assume the best about other Christians.

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Paul defines love. What we learn from his definition is that love is not so much an emotion, as we tend to think it is, but it is how we act. Love is the behavior we are to display towards others. We are to be patient and kind. We are not to insist on our way. We are to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. This last part of the definition in verse 7 can be a little tricky to interpret. The meaning is not perfectly clear, but I believe it has to do with this business of assuming. We are to believe the best about a person until we know otherwise. We are to give more weight to relationships than to soundbites. We are to hope for the best. This is what it means to love people.

Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.

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