I originally posted this essay in 2012. I’m rerunning it while I work on some freelance writing. Stay tuned for more on that!
My mother had her identity stolen recently, and she doesn’t even own a computer. Now every teller, every store clerk, every credit card company and even some casual acquaintances are suspect. Someone violated her trust, and she will not easily give it again.
Trust is earned – or is it?
“You have to earn my trust!” It’s the message Americans everywhere are sending telepathically through their television sets as our political conflicts air onscreen. Who hasn’t heard it said to them as a new driver or used that phrase to scold their own child? We want our loved ones and politicians to establish a track record that will help us believe. There’s wisdom and value in that perspective, but there’s also a problem. What is the price of trust? How much is enough to earn it?
Trust makes us vulnerable
When someone says, “Trust me,” they ask for our confidence in a way that makes us vulnerable to pain, treachery, and being made a fool. There is no trust without the possibility of loss. By “earning” our trust, we mean that someone must give us good odds before we take that bet. Like a savvy card shark at an all-night poker game, we want a sure thing. But the risk is never zero.
Trust is a credit card
Imperfect people can never be wholly trustworthy. When you earn something, you receive payment for the work you have already done, but trust is given in exchange for work you have yet to do. Trust can be enticed and invited. It can be justified or betrayed, but only in hindsight. Trust is a credit card, not a debit card; you can’t fund it upfront. We give our trust to an imperfect person with the built-in capacity to fail us. If we are going to wait until it’s been wholly earned, we will never trust anyone.
Trust considers the past
On the flip side, we are not required to trust everyone. In fact, we are warned against it in Scripture (see Psalm 118:8 or 1 Cor. 15:33, for example). If it turns out a retail company was careless with my mother’s financial information, I hope she cuts up their charge card. Trust is a resource we are expected to administer with wisdom, and that makes it more valuable. When deciding to give your trust, consider the past. But consider, too, the unearned favor that has made a difference for you. Trusting another person is always, in some measure, kindness.
Trust is grace
The next time you feel you must earn someone else’s trust, remember that it’s impossible. You are obligated to love them well regardless, but their trust will always contain an element of risk. Their trust is a form of grace. The next time you are tempted to tell someone trust must be earned, tell them, instead, trust is a gift given in imitation of Christ who risked Himself for the sake of relationship with us.
Here’s an interesting sermon on the difference between faith and trust: https://www.ronedmondson.com/2012/07/faith-and-trust-a-sermon-message.html
A blog on trust disappointed: https://www.crosswalk.com/11575641/
I would love it if you would add your thoughts by leaving a comment below.