In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther’s explanation of the eighth commandment – you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor – provides helpful guidance. It reads: “We are to fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 1161). Following Luther’s guidance requires us to move beyond the automatic survival-based judging of our emotional brain to the slower learning and choices of our thinking brain.
Luther invites us to interpret our neighbor’s actions in the best possible light. At an interpersonal level, this could mean giving a child, partner, or colleague the benefit of the doubt. At a societal level, it could mean making a commitment to listen and learn about others who are different from us – particularly people of other faiths. It also means trying to understand others as they want to be understood.
This message is excerpted from “Snap judgment” by Bev Stratton in the April 2018 Gather magazine. Today we commemorate Benedict the African, confessor, 1589.
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