In my work with college-aged students, I frequently get asked the question, “How can I trust people more?” And, while I’m no expert, I have learned some thoughts and suggestions over the years myself that I typically offer to them as a means of encouragement. Not long ago, however, a student asked me a much harder question – one that I had difficulty answering initially. This student asked me, “Why trust people?”
The student was not interested in learning about how to trust people until having a decent reason why we should trust people in the first place. The longer I spoke with the student, I realized the importance of the question (and the inadequacy of my answers). After the conversation, I was left with some questions of my own. I felt convinced that we ought to trust other people, but I had a hard time articulating why.
So, after a few days of processing and doing some quick research, these are three basic principles that I realized. Hopefully they can be helpful as we each seek to answer this question for ourselves.
1. People should not be trusted
Surprisingly, the Bible doesn’t talk about trust as much as you think that it would.[i] The overwhelming majority of Scriptures about trust are aimed at pointing our trust towards The Lord and away from possessions, power, and (especially) other people.[ii]
The Text is almost completely silent on the subject of how two human beings who have a sinful nature can develop a relationship of trust between one another. In fact, the only place the Scripture tells us to place our trust is in The Lord; we are never commanded to trust other people.[iii]
Throughout the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, people are described as wicked, unjust, lovers of self, malicious, prideful, corrupt, murderous, deceitful, manipulative, unfaithful, and altogether foolish. Even in the New Testament we have plenty of examples of Christians who aren’t trustworthy.[iv]
So, it seems to be completely rational to believe and operate under the assumption that people should not be trusted. No matter how good a person’s track record may be, there is no guarantee that any one person will remain trustworthy in each and every instance of his life. The Lord is the only One who is worthy of our trust, so we should place it in Him completely. Man has nothing to offer us but heartache and destruction.
Trusting another human being – no matter what his or her track record – seems to be an irrational (even reckless) course of action.
2. People can be trusted
On the other hand, the Bible speaks of men who are regarded as trustworthy. It outlines characteristics so that a trustworthy person can be recognized and placed in a position of leadership. In spite of their failures, characters like Abraham, Moses, David, and Paul are held up as men after God’s own heart. They lead God’s people in His way of righteousness in spite of their own humanity (and they are grateful for it).
In fact, once we get to the Book of Acts and the birth of the church, we find plenty of examples of men leading in such a way that the church prospers and God is glorified by it. Were it not for these men (Peter, Paul, James, Barnabas, Stephen, Apollos, and Timothy) the church would not have gotten off the ground. None of these men acted corruptly nor did they use their influence for their own selfish gain. Furthermore, each of these men stay the course & remain faithful to The Lord until they die of old age or become martyrs for the faith.
So, while it seems reckless to trust any human being at all, we have sufficient evidence that there are some people who at least can be trusted. We are given character qualities to look for and promote in these people (perhaps with the expectation that we will be comfortable trusting them if they embody such characteristics).[v] The Bible doesn’t seem to consider trusting such men to be reckless or illogical. In fact, these leaders are worthy of honor, respect, and obedience (simultaneously the Bible makes no assumption that the behavior of these men will be without sin).
While it seems to go against every logical reason we understand, it seems that in the New Testament we begin to have sufficient evidence that people can be trusted.
3. People must be trusted
The most convincing argument for trusting other people comes not from whether or not a person is trustworthy, but from the consequences of trusting no one. Even if we have been deeply hurt by another human being or disenfranchised by the injustice of a corporation, we are not to give up on our trusting of other people. When suspicion, mistrust, withdrawal, isolation, and cynicism seem like the trustworthy option, we will find that sin – not righteousness – is at our doorstep.
We know that our Enemy is always at work to divide and isolate Christians from Jesus and from one another. He will make sure bitterness remains unconfessed so that reconciliation seems impossible and self-justification can reign instead. He will work hard to use mistrust to keep believers divided and isolated from one another so that they think that they, themselves, are the only safe place they have left. There, not only does trust seem impossible, but so also does redemption. It is a place of hopelessness – just his kind of paradise.
The only logical reason that we not only can trust untrustworthy people, but that we must work to trust them is this: if we give up on trusting people, we give up on the possibility of redemption altogether.
If I give up on redemption for someone who has broken my trust, I simultaneously give up on my own hope of redemption.
Working to trust someone again – no matter how badly they may have broken our trust before – is a tremendous demonstration of the reality of the Gospel and faith in God who can still lead a person out of darkness and into the light.
Trusting an untrustworthy person is something we do every day.[vi] Why are we pretending that it’s so difficult to do?
Instead of looking for reasons to condemn, we should be looking for opportunities for redemption (not because we’re naïve, but because we believe in the power of the Gospel that can save the sinner and reconcile enemies). Instead of looking for reasons to isolate ourselves from untrustworthy people, we should be looking for chances to achieve unity once again (not because we condone untrustworthy behavior, but because we believe that the power of the Gospel is able to transform any life, any time, any where). Instead of assuming that broken trust will never be the same, we should be expecting that rebuilt trust will be stronger than the broken trust ever could have been (not because our hurt wasn’t real or our pain wasn’t legitimate, but because we believe in the healing power of the Gospel – not just for the sinner, but also the victim of the sin).
In the messed up and broken relationships between untrustworthy human beings lies the very place where the Gospel is the most relevant and powerful. Where broken trust has destroyed relationships and inflicted pain, there the Gospel gives us hope of rebuilding. When we work to trust others, we are joining in the power of the Gospel that is also working to make all things new.
[i] Upon quick glance, there are only 128 occurrences of the English word “trust” (and its variants) in the NASB. Remarkably, out of those uses, it is only found 7 times in the New Testament. There are certainly other passages that discuss the topic without using the English word, but the results are surprising nevertheless.
[ii] See Psalm 5:9, 41:9, 118:8; Proverbs 25:19; Jeremiah 17:5-7; Isaiah 2:22; Romans 3:10-18
[iii] While we are not commanded to trust other people, we are commanded to submit, obey, love, serve, show hospitality, etc. to other people. It could be argued that each of those imperatives requires a certain measure of trust to be able to execute. Nevertheless, there is no direct command to trust another human being.
[iv] See Matthew 26:74; Acts 5:1-11, 15:38-39; 1 Corinthians 5; Galatians 2:11-13; 1 Timothy 1:18-20
[v] See Exodus 18:21; Daniel 6:4; Proverbs 11:13; Luke 16:10, 19:17; 1 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; Titus 2:9-10
[vi] This is perhaps the most ironic part of the entire situation: we may not trust other people, but we live in a world where trusting of other people is absolutely necessary for life. We trust that the pilot of our airplane can actually fly it, we trust that the people at the water company haven’t put the wrong chemicals in the water when we turn on the tap, we trust that our doctor actually cares about our well being, etc. etc. The strange reality is that we are far more trusting of people (even those of us who have significant trust issues) than we are of God – who is infinitely more trustworthy than any human being.