June 25, 2020 by Tim O’Connor
It seems that the reservoir of trust in our society is quickly drying up. Name an institution (the Church included), and one of the interminable polls we are bombarded with will tell you that the percentage of people having confidence in it has dropped to low numbers. We are also atomized (frayed and broken families; lessened communal involvements) and politically and culturally polarized. Add in all the upheavals of recent months against the backdrop of serious looming collective challenges just over the horizon, and the result is widespread anxiety, tending for some into desperation and for others into paranoia. It’s quite a mess!
Oddly enough, history suggests that the biggest danger in a moment such as ours is…a breakout of collective trust! God made us to be relational, highly interdependent creatures, so trust is a necessary feature of the human condition. It can erode, but where it has done so across a whole society, the hunger for its restoration remains. Given a simple message seemingly fitted to the times, and a stirring of highly committed people typically headed by one or more highly charismatic individuals, a sizeable segment of formerly cynical people will rally around surprisingly quickly. In best case scenarios, the result is needed reform and renewal, and strengthened communal bonds. In worst-case scenarios, it leads to violence against perceived enemies of the cause, ending in totalitarian nightmares of one flavor or another. What makes for the difference?
That question is not easily answered, but for the people of God these words from Psalm 118 are pertinent:
8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in man.
9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes.
The psalmist neatly distills a message running through the Old and New Testaments: there is no person or cause arising from the ‘crooked timber of humanity’ that we can lean upon, fully trusting in the purity of their righteousness. Quite the reverse: we should expect to see brokenness on closer scrutiny. And whether we see it or not, all our interactions should be informed by the knowledge that it ever lives there, in and among us, whether the ‘us’ be the society at large, a political party or movement, our family, or even the church.
This unsentimental message avoids cynicism through its second part: take refuge in the LORD. Placing unreserved trust and confident hope in Him alone, we are protected from fevered idealism, which always lead to crushing disillusion, and are freed to accept the inevitable failings of ourselves and those we band together with. We can insist upon robust accountability – from our most inspiring leaders, our close friends, and ourselves– to curb the damage from those anticipated failings. We become patient, accepting that even the best of undertakings consist in two steps forward, one step back. And we avoid despair, knowing that every good thing that has been attained thus far was imbued with the grace of God, and that grace will lead us home.