On Saturday, when I was running some errands, a guy in a gigantic black Ford Extinction (or whatever they're called) was in a hurry to make a right turn, and decided to pretend there was a lane next to me. He went into this imaginary lane to make his extremely urgent and important emergency right turn, and just about took off my passenger mirror in the process.
Pan left to Suzanne, sitting in her car with little black squiggles smoking out of the top of her head, like the ones that hover above you in Wii Sports Resort if you miss a shot at table tennis. In less then a minute, I built a complete case in my head about what a total and complete jerk this guy was, based on two observations: (1) he drove a gigantic black SUV, and (2) he got too close to me when he turned right.
After I calmed down, I realized I didn't really know very much about him.
Maybe he had a big SUV because he has a big family, or because he's tall, or because his work gives him one, or maybe just because he thinks they are nice, and when he was younger he always wanted one, and now he's excited he can actually have one.
And maybe he chose black because it is a nice basic and non-flashy color, or maybe he parks under a tree that drops black junk on it and so it blends in better, or maybe his wife chose the color, or maybe that's the color the dealer had on the lot.
Why do I have it in my head that if somebody has a big huge black SUV, they're a pushy jerk? That is a stereotype, and it's not always true. It's true sometimes, but there are pushy jerks driving green Honda CRVs (which is what I drive), also.
And maybe he was making that right turn because he really WAS in a hurry. Maybe it was a new SUV because his wife is pregnant with triplets and they were ON THE WAY THAT SECOND. Maybe he was just zoned out for a minute, and made a bad choice. I do that, too. And there is a really good chance he was not as close to me as I thought he was. I always think everything is closer or farther away than it is, because I am spatially challenged.
The fact is that I had no proof that this guy was a jerk ... or even that he was temporarily acting jerkily. From where I sat, that right-hand turn seemed like a bad move, but I took it so far so quickly in my head, and imputed motive and character he probably didn't have.
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received related to the day-to-day mechanics of the Christian walk is, "Give people the benefit of the doubt."
I sometimes (okay, often) jump to conclusions. I jump to a conclusion, it's often incorrect, I lay it as my foundation, and then I start building on top of this foundation that is incorrect. Before you know it, I have created an entire scenario or universe inside my head that is NOT TRUE AT ALL. You know how it is when you quilt or lay tile, and get one row off, and it gets more off with each successive row. I decide something, and I'm wrong, but then I keep going, and I get even wronger and wronger. And wronger.
Sometimes, I'm right. A couple years ago, a guy backed into me in the parking lot at Ralph's, and he was, in fact, a complete and utter jerk. Our brief conversation established that, and the police and insurance company confirmed my belief. But I still would not have been justified in flipping out at him, as I would very much have liked to.
In Ephesians, Paul tells us how believers should treat fellow believers:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV)
In 2 Corinthians, he talks about how we should treat unbelievers, and in so doing, bring glory to God:
We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. (2 Corinthians 6:3-8 ESV)
My passenger mirror (or even my entire car) is not more important in any given situation than is my mandate to speak and act like I am a child of the King.
So whether that guy turning right on Saturday was a fellow believer or not, and whether he actually took off my passenger mirror or not, and whether he was as jerky as the parking lot guy or not, I have a pretty clear idea of how I should have reacted. In this case, he wouldn't have heard my reaction good or bad (unless I rolled down the window and screamed obscenities at him), but it's good for my heart when I react to things in a Godly way, even if nobody knows I'm reacting in a Godly way. :)
We're not here to glorify ourselves. We're not here to have perfect, carefree lives, and skip through each day unblemished. My reactions to people reflect on my God. When I give them "the benefit of the doubt", what I'm really doing is showing to them the same grace that God has shown to me. How many times in my life have I (metaphorically)(and possibly literally) driven my obnoxious, gigantic car into somebody's lane and almost smashed them? How often and how liberally has God forgiven me and shown me His glorious grace?
In light of the cross of Christ, how should we respond to "heat" in our lives?
... in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20 ESV)