Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Caution vs. Mercy

There are some parts of dealing with people that are difficult. Sometimes you hear bad things about someone that you’re not sure whether it’s true or not and it causes you to pause and doubt—your friendship, their reliability & trustworthiness, their word. This is especially true when someone has a past, that perhaps in Christ they have sought forgiveness for. How do we respond? How should the Church respond? What if there is money/stewardship involved?

They could be guilty; it could be a misunderstanding or other circumstances. How do you know for sure? What do you do, especially if you don’t know for sure?

Option 1—Err on the side of Caution—assume the concerns are true, that you should doubt until proven otherwise. One of the motivators for this option is that you don’t want to be had—that you don’t want to contribute to someone getting away with something, especially at your expense.

Option 2—Err on the side of Mercy—this gives the person the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. You put yourself at risk of being had and let down… and you accept that as a possibility.

Compare it to Pascal’s Wager—

Under Option 1—if you’re right and they are guilty, then you have protected yourself while seeing to it they are held accountable. The only real loss is for the one in the wrong. You even feel good about yourself because you haven’t fallen for it.

If, however, you are wrong and they are not guilty—you have protected yourself but probably lost a friend or a relationship. The loss is for all involved—and you appear unforgiving and judgmental.

Under Option 2—if you’re wrong and they are guilty, then whatever aid, encouragement, support you have given has proven untrustworthy and you’ve been let down. You may even look bad for supporting them—guilt by association. There is loss by both but of a different kind—you look like a sap for trusting them again. You take the loss and hope they will be held accountable.

If you’re right and they are not guilty, then whatever aid, encouragement, support you have given will be greatly appreciated. You have ministered to someone in their time of need and false accusation and they will probably never forget you for it. A relationship is strengthened through adversity.

Children tend to be Option 2 until they grow up and learn otherwise. I believe Option 1 is our more natural adult tendency. Should it be for believers? How are we to be wise as serpents yet gentle as doves?

How does Christ change us? How should we as Christians respond? How should the Church respond? When money gets involved… what do we do?


I tend to lean more to Option 2—I’d rather risk looking like a sap and take the loss. I believe they will be accountable. I lean this way especially when I consider how much I’ve made God look like a sap for wanting anything to do with me.

What are your thoughts? Which option do you trend to?

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