Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Trust and Community

"Do not plan evil against your neighbor,
who dwells trustingly beside you."
(Proverbs 3:29)

Proverbs 3:29 points out that plotting evil against a neighbor is not only wrong because it breaks God's law, but also because it severs the bonds of community and betrays the trust your neighbor has placed in you. Community is built on trust. For people to dwell together, they must trust those around them to some degree. Perhaps they do so reluctantly and minimally, only because such trust is a necessary part of living in a community. Perhaps they do so willingly - perhaps they even move to a community because they trust the people there. A certain degree of trust is necessary for people to merely have homes close to each other, and the more they interact together as a community, the more trust is required. When people do not trust each other, they become increasingly distant and the community breaks down. 

Our society suffers from a lack of trust. Suspicion of other people is very high and plays a role in many issues such as race relations, law enforcement, zoning laws, schools, politics, and COVID-related issues. I believe this lack of trust has also created fertile ground for conspiracy theories - once you are already convinced that a group is deceptive and malicious, it is easier to believe speculative theories about their nefarious deeds and plans. These theories then further erode trust in other people and make it easier to believe increasing far-fetched claims. 

To be suspicious is not necessarily wrong. Sometimes suspicion is justified and sometimes it is not. Sometimes a little suspicion is justified and sometimes a lot of suspicion is called for. To be totally without suspicion is to be naive, simple, and unprotected. But even if at times suspicion is a necessary evil, it is yet an evil - it makes life difficult for those who are suspected and hinders the community from working together as a society. And it is an evil which is wreaking havoc on our communities.

Unfortunately, trust is not built very well by merely telling people to stop being suspicious of everyone. Blanket condemnation of suspicion tends to provoke more suspicion, since it seems to call for blind trust. To restore the bonds of community, we need to be about the work of building trust. We should be working to show ourselves to be honest and dependable people who seek the well-being of our neighbor and the common good. And of course, we must be working to actually be honest and dependable people who seek the well-being of our neighbor and the common good, otherwise we only further the suspicion of hypocrisy which we are seeking to heal. Not only must we not plan evil against our trusting neighbors, but we must devise plans for their good, seeking the welfare of the community where we live and praying on its behalf (Jer. 29:7).  

Likewise, to restore the bonds of community, we must also hold our suspicions to a minimum, treating them as a necessary evil at best. Be slow to believe accusations against other people and groups of people, as well as negative characterizations of them. Do not spread "conspiracy theories," by which I mean speculative theories which are harmful to the reputations of others. Beware of judging others hastily. Instead, treat others the way you would wish to be treated. While exercising discernment, treat those who are superior in age, skill, and authority with a basic attitude of humility rather than hostile suspicion. Give honor to whom honor is due. Love your enemies by keeping your suspicion to an appropriate level rather than demonizing your enemies and putting everyone into two camps: completely trustworthy or not trustworthy at all. These are all biblical principles and they are essential for the functioning of any community. 

Building trust is important in the family, church, and commonwealth if these organizations are to function well. May we build trust in the body of Christ by pursuing and demonstrating our unity in love and in the truth. May we also built trust within our cities, counties, and neighborhoods by being trustworthy and charitable neighbors who demonstrate a shared commitment to the common good. We will still need to guard ourselves against harm in this fallen world, but in doing so may we not cut ourselves off in cynical isolation. 

No comments: