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© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

I will put the conclusion of this article at the beginning: that there are two ‘bottom lines’ regarding trust -

That we are instructed by the Scripture to trust in God, not in man.
That, of necessity, we have to trust one another.

These two conclusions appear to exist in tension with each other.

God alone is worthy of our trust.

Here are some very insightful comments from Karl Barth:

“ ‘I believe’ means ‘I trust’. No more must I dream of trusting in myself, I no longer require to justify myself, to excuse myself, to attempt to save and preserve myself. This most profound effort of man to trust to himself, to see himself as in the right, has become pointless. I believe – not in myself – I believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

So also trust in any sort of authorities, who might offer themselves to me as trustworthy, as an anchor which I ought to hold on to, has become frail and superfluous. … We are given the freedom to trust in Him who deserves our trust: freedom to trust in Him who in distinction from all other authorities is and will remain faithful.

We ourselves will never be true to ourselves. Our human path is … a path from one disloyalty to another… In God alone there is faithfulness, and faith is the trust that we may hold to Him, to His promise and to His guidance. To hold to God is to rely on the fact that God is there for me, and to live in this certainty. …

Because God is for us, we may also be for Him. Because He has given Himself to us, we may also in gratitude give Him the trifle which we have to give. To hold to God thus always means that we receive everything wholly from God and so are wholly active for Him.” P18,19 Dogmatics in Outline, SCM, 1966.

“To believe is the freedom to trust in Him quite alone ...” P21.

In these few lines Barth has captured some very significant biblical truths:

God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is the only worthy object of our faith.

To trust God outlaws any thought of trusting in myself.

To trust God outlaws any thought of trusting in any other authorities.

This trust in God liberates/redeems us/sets us free from

Having ever again to trust ourselves, justify ourselves, promote ourselves etc
Having ever again to rely or depend on anyone else.

Barth also comments on the context in which we trust God:

“ … that the believer in God’s Word may hold on to this Word in everything, in spite of all that contradicts it. … God is hidden from us outside his Word. But He is manifest to us in Jesus Christ. If we look past Him, we must not be surprised if we fail to find God and experience errors and disillusionments, if the world seems dark to us. When we believe we believe in spite of God’s hiddenness.” P20.

This trust in which we trust God is in the context of imperfection, and the accompanying failures and disappointments: an imperfect world, an imperfect church, and our imperfect selves. We trust God in spite of all of this. And, because of all of this, we trust God alone.

Although in the Genesis 1 and 2 setting there was implicit interpersonal trust, yet between Genesis 3 and Revelation 20, as the Scripture teaches, God alone is the worthy object of our trust:

“Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.” Psalm 40:4

“In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust, I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?” Psalm 56:10,11.

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man
It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.” Psalm 118:8,9

Because we trust in God alone, we ought not to expect of one another that same trustworthiness and faithfulness that is found only in God.

We have to trust each other

Yet we are caught in the unavoidable necessity of trusting one another, while we are still trapped here between Genesis 3 and Revelation 20 – while we are still sinners saved only by grace:

While we fail to honour God as we ought.

While we fail to live up to each other’s expectations.

While we disappoint each other.

While we misunderstand each other.

While we question each other’s motives and each other’s priorities.

While we are still so self-centred and earth-bound that our perceptions are twisted and biased.

While we fear rejection by one another and dread the loss of esteem.

While we have the high potential to unwittingly or deliberately hurt each other deeply .

While we almost automatically filter our words and our actions in our attempts to either please or impress others.

As Christians we have to determine what interpersonal trust means for us.

Whatever else it is, we can say at least two things about it:

It is not the same kind or degree of trust as our trust in God. That is absolute and unconditional. Our interpersonal trust can only, even at best, be limited, relative and conditional.

It cannot ignore our common weakness and our common sinfulness. Rather, it must operate in full recognition of that weakness and that sinfulness.

It is instructive to try to put ourselves back in Eden, back in Genesis 1 and 2, and to ask ourselves: what did interpersonal trust look like then? And we can perhaps only describe it in negative statements:

It was not a demanding substitute for trust in God: that only entered in Genesis 3.

It was not frustrated by repeated disappointments: that only began in Genesis 3.

It was not distorted by personal insecurities: they only entered in Genesis 3.

It was not undermined by personal shame: that only entered in Genesis 3.

It was not eroded by self-justification and blame-shifting: they only entered in Genesis 3

It was not destroyed by personal fear of judgement: that only entered in Genesis 3.

It was not trampled on by a perceived need for power and control: that only entered in Genesis 3.

It was not corrupted by feelings of superiority or inferiority: they only entered in Genesis 3.

It was not erased by the hurts we inflict on each other: they only started in Genesis 3.

It was not diminished by failure: that only started in Genesis 3.

It was not rendered impossible by the unrealistic expectations and perceptions we have of each other: they only started in Genesis 3 when we ceased to trust God.

And we can begin to see something beautiful there in the original Eden: that there where we most fully trusted God we also most fully trusted each other. Not with the same trust that we had in God, but with a trust appropriate to our original human perfection in a world with no sin and no suffering. There in that perfection the question of trust wasn’t even asked: trust simply was. It was the normal state.

The question is: can we retrieve that kind of trust in one another this side of Revelation 21?

The answer is: yes, and no.

No. Because, although we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, we are not yet fully liberated from the presence and power of sin and suffering, we do not yet fully image God. We wait for Revelation 21 for that. There will always be problems generated by the original sin and by our present sin. But that is okay, we trust in God, not in man.

Yes. Because we are, in fact, redeemed. The most important part of our redemption has already been accomplished: we have been rescued from the kingdom of death and darkness and set free to live in the kingdom of God.

And, because we are thus already redeemed:

We now know God by knowing Christ, and in that knowledge we have been set free from having only ourselves and each other to trust: we now trust God – depending on him, not ourselves or one another, to supply all our needs, to be for us what we can never be for ourselves and for one another.

We now know that our significance, our identity, our dignity, our worth all come from him, not from ourselves, not from one another.

We now know that our unimpeded access to God and our acceptance by God have been permanently restored: that nothing can ever again separate us from God.

We now know that all of our sin, our guilt, our condemnation has been fully and permanently dealt with. None of it will ever again be held to our account by God: we have forgiveness.

We now know that the only thing that counts is Jesus Christ: that when God looks at us, he sees not us, but Jesus Christ, and always, ever and only relates to us in and through Jesus Christ.

In this grace we may now trust each other, not with that sinful kind of trust that puts the other in the place of God and expects the other to be what only God can be, but with a trust that is, perhaps, defined by the highly instructive words and actions of Jesus in John 13.

Here Jesus, our Lord and Master, washes our feet. In this action he anticipates the forgiveness he is about to secure for us by his death.

Here we, with Simon Peter, express our sinful trust in ourselves that refuses this cleansing, this forgiveness. We want to trust in ourselves. We do not want to depend on Jesus, we do not want to be positioned where we must trust him and him alone.

Here Jesus, our Lord and Master, says to us: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Unless you give up this foolish mindset in which you depend on yourself, you do not know me, you do not trust me.

Here Jesus, our Lord and master, says to us “You are clean … do you understand what I have done for you?” I am washing away your sin, washing away your guilt, washing away all that would bring you under condemnation and judgement, all that would destroy you, all that would keep you separated from me, all that would come between me and you. Do you understand? Will you trust me? Will you stop trusting in yourself, depending on yourself? Do you understand that I am setting you free?

Here Jesus says to us: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you and example that you should do as I have done for you.” Wash one another’s feet – take on the role of a servant, lay aside all personal pretence and self-protecting facades, all the accumulated personal fig-leaves by which you hide your own sin, your own weakness and your own failures, and from that position of humility and unashamed honesty wash one another’s feet: Forgive one another as I have forgiven you. Be merciful to one another as I am merciful to you. Be reconciled to one another as I by my death have reconciled you to God. Set one another free as I have set you free. There is nothing now between you and God, because I have washed your feet. Nor should there be anything between you and each other.

Here our Lord and Master says: “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

He, our Lord and Master has set us free to trust God. Even so ought we to set one another free … because only in such freedom can we trust.

With this interpersonal forgiveness, this interpersonal love, this interpersonal freedom – if we know we are all “washing each other’s feet” because Jesus has washed our feet - we will trust one another with something of the beauty of interpersonal trust present in the original Eden:

In this trust we will listen to each other.

In this trust we will be free to admit our limitations and our mistakes.

In this trust we will be happy for others to correct us or inform us.

In this trust we will know that such correction is not rejection or condemnation.

In this trust we will feel free to share our concerns and our fears.

In this trust we will know that rejection of our opinions or ideas is not rejection of us.

In this trust we will have the freedom to hold each other in a state of permanent forgiveness.

In this trust we will not expect perfection nor be surprised by its absence.

In this trust we will not expect flawless decisions, nor be shaken when decisions prove wrong.

In this trust we will assume that each of us loves God.

In this trust we will assume that each of us is committed to his kingdom.

In this trust we will love one another just as Christ has loved us.

In this trust we will recognize that it is God alone, not each other, who has our absolute trust, and that it is only this utter trustworthiness of God that renders any real and appropriate interpersonal trust possible.

It is interesting that the Bible never instructs us to trust one another. But it does instruct us to love one another, to bear with one another, to forgive one another, to honour one another, to submit to one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to wash one another’s feet.

If we each knew that the other was doing all of this for us mutual trust would be spontaneous – as natural as it was in Eden.