But what is trust? Trust is a relationship between persons that disposes one to believe the other will do a particular thing or meet a particular standard. And it’s eroding at an alarming pace. And sustaining trust is incredibly difficult in a diverse society like ours because people with different perspectives naturally have trouble seeing others as trustworthy. We are tempted to see those who differ from us as harboring moral or intellectual vice. This is what Kevin Vallier, a Christian political philosopher at Bowling Green State University, has called the illusion of culpable dissent. He describes it as holding “others morally responsible for disagreeing with us despite having limited access to their reasons for believing as they do.”
But why does all this matter? I’ll get straight to the point. I think the answer is threefold.
First: No society or culture can function without trust.
Second: No person can flourish without trust.
Third: No Christian can fulfill the commands of the Christian faith without trust.
Let me expand on each briefly before offering a few ways to overcome this (often-devastating) problem.
Trust and Society, Flourishing, and the Christian Faith
I’ll begin with the broadest category of societal trust. Fundamentally, a lack of trust in society erodes nearly everything the liberal order holds dear: democracy, economic growth and equality, and the rule of law. It also destroys friendship, which is the bedrock of a functioning society.
And surely, we all have seen the negative consequences of this distrust whether it be COVID, political elections, or the war in Ukraine. Few people trust one other, and the lack of trust creates polarization which creates less trust, and so on. In the end, distrust leads our societies to fight one another — neighbor against neighbor, hating one another, seeking even to co-opt shared institutions to defeat the “enemy.”
Trust is not only fundamental to a functioning society but to human nature in general. A lack of trust destroys love and friendship and harms psychological wellbeing. Withholding trust can be dehumanizing. You can see this in the most basic of interpersonal relationships. A lack of trust typically ends the relationship. Trust is the foundation of any functioning relationship.
Trust is also woven throughout the Christian Scriptures. Trust is the foundation of God’s working with humankind. It is the essence of his faithful lovingkindness. It is the bedrock of his promises and covenants. It is the reason the Bible can so often tell us to “fear not”: we can trust the God of the universe to fulfill his word. As the author of Hebrews reminds us continually, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and it is impossible for him to lie. It is the Psalmist’s constant foundation in the time of storms — it is in God that he trusts. It is why he won’t be put to shame (e.g., Psalm 25:2; 91:2).
Put simply, without trust we would have no stability in our Christian lives. But trust is also a calling for each individual Christian. It is the essence of faith. And it is something we must show to our brothers and sisters lest we bite and devour one another (Galatians 5:15). We are called to live in harmony with one another and if possible, so far as it depends on us, to live peaceable with all (Romans 12:16, 18).
But let’s be honest: our trust hasn’t only been shaken at the societal level but even in the local church itself. Look at #churchtoo and the almost daily news reports of church abuse. These problems aren’t going away. Trust is eroding everywhere we turn.