who can we trust?: John 20

read John 20.  “Never trust a man who TELLS you to trust him,” my father used to say.  As if to prove Dad’s point, one of my most sketchy suitors showed up once with a button pinned to the lapel of his shiny Armani suit that read: “TRUST ME!”  The irony was exquisite – I already knew I couldn’t trust that particular man (he had a rap sheet a mile long on the fidelity front).  So why, one wonders, was I even with him.

Good question.

Why do we try to put our trust in certain people when we know, deep down, we can’t trust them?  Here are the possible negative reasons:  it might be some sort of savior complex.  Perhaps they express a dark side we sense in ourselves but are afraid to express.  Perhaps it’s as simple as they’re attractive, and we blind ourselves to the truth because they seem to offer something we think we need.

But perhaps there’s a positive side to trusting people.  Maybe there’s a sense of doing what we are called to do in 1 Corinthians 13 – to “believe all things” of other people – to assume the best about them and keep assuming until one day, finally, magically, they rise above and beyond our (and their) expectations so that we’re both left scratching our heads and marveling at their transcendence?  Ernest Hemingway said: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson seems to have concurred: “Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.”  I like this concept.  It affirms the 1 Corinthians 13 idea that if you assume the best about people, they rise to our expectations.  We can help bring about their best self, by assuming they will reveal it.  In other words, we treat others as we would like to be treated, because we hope that others will assume the best about us, too.

Perhaps the nuanced distinction lies not in not trusting humans, but not putting our trust in them.  The idea is that if we put our trust in God, He fills us even when others disappoint.  We are not crushed to the point of despair when the Madoffs run off with our money – because we didn’t keep our deepest treasure with any money manager.  Similarly, we are not crushed to the point of despair, or shame beyond the hope of redemption, when we disappoint ourselves – because we didn’t put our trust in ourselves, either.

And when someone disappoints us, the answer lies not in condemning them with a blanket negativity: “you just can’t TRUST that person!!!!”  The answer lies instead in acknowledging that we are all flawed.  We all have limits.  We all have places where we are generally trustworthy, and places where we’re not so reliable.

The answer, therefore, lies in humility, not pride.  It lies in putting our trust in God, rather than in ourselves.  King Solomon said we shouldn’t lean or rely on our own understanding, but instead rely on God.  Proverbs 3:5.  The idea is that we humans can rationalize anything; our thoughts get twisted; our “false gods” – such as thinking we “have” to have something other than God – can trick us.  And through trusting in God, and relying on His strength, He redeems our mistakes; He unmixes our motives; He brings good out of our bad; and He enables us to love others, and ourselves, even in the midst of our humanity.

Job once said he would trust God, even if God killed him: “though He slay me, yet will I wait for and trust Him.”  Job 13:15.  That’s exactly the kind of sentiment that people like Jim Holt, who’s just published a book called Why Does the World Exist: an Existential Detective Story revolt against.  It gives them a visceral reaction.  It makes them recoil.  Holt writes that he thinks the world was created by a being 100% malevolent but only 80% effective.  And Job makes it sound like God calls us to trust Him even when He’s being “malevolent.”  For how are we to trust a God who might slay us?

The short answer is that God who allowed Himself to be slain in order to give us imperfect people life.  There are worse things than death – there’s spiritual death.  The piece missing in a statement like Holt’s is that there is a creature who is 100 % malevolent, but it’s not God.  It’s Satan – the enemy – the liar – the accuser – whose evil stems from pride.  He wanted to be like God.  He wanted to be in charge and to make the rules.  Putting our trust in anyone but God, therefore, isn’t just bad judgment.  It’s the source of evil.  God knows that – He knew when He made us that if He gave us free will, we would choose to disobey Him – so He knew the cost, before the foundation of the world, and He chose to make us anyway – out of Love.

Jesus’ sacrifice is so backwards to our way of thinking that it’s the kind of thing we have to discover over and over again – daily – hourly – minute by minute – in order to be awakened to new life, to God’s way of thinking, to a place where we learn not to put our trust in anything but God, but to love everything, including God.

Because God loves us.  He’s the gardener who lovingly slowly painstakingly pulls out all our weeds.  He’s the one who disappears the moment we think we’ve laid Him to rest in a tomb.  He’s the one who rises again.  He’s the one to whom we run, and cling, and who then urges us on – tells us not to hold on to Him – but to go and tell others, to reach out to the lost, to be healed by Him.  He’s the one who comes to us even when we hide behind closed doors – afraid of Him and other people.  He’s the one who calls us by name, twice, when we’re weeping – because He knows the first time He says our name, we’re crying too hard to hear Him.  He’s the one who asks us to look at His wounds, because He knows that there we will find healing for our own.  He’s the one who says, just as He did to Thomas: touch me.

He’s the one who asks us to trust Him in a dark world.  And in trusting Him, in putting our trust in Him, in letting Him hold our hand, and pull us to our feet, He gives us a straight path, where we can walk out into the world with our heads held high, forgiven for every mixed motive, relying on His strength, not our own, loving others, and knowing we are loved.  Spending time with Him makes our faces glow; it brings a light to our eyes; it lifts our hunched shoulders; it gives us a deep, knowing sense of beauty we can find in no other person, place or thing.  And God opens our eyes to behold wonderful things in other people, places and things.  God enables us to see how even the darkest of people are made in His image.  He shows us how the entire world is charged with the grandeur of God.  He makes all the world unfold, so that even the cooing of a dove makes us melt with the sense that God is singing love songs to us all day long.

In other words, God enables us to love people without having to put our trust in them.

Blessed are those who trust Him, even though we’ve never seen Him.  Perhaps the blessing is that when we trust Him, without having seen Him, we begin to see Him – everywhere.

posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on August 3, 2012