A missionary once told us: “Love is freely given. Trust is earned.” It was a phrase that he used as a framework for understanding his relationship with the people whom he had gone to serve.
Years later, I talked with an aunt who helped me work through a personal betrayal. I asked how I could trust again. She framed the concept in a slightly different way: “There is no command to trust people, just to love them. You don’t have to trust someone in order to serve them.”
On one level, we do trust people. That is how society functions: I trust that my neighbors won’t set his dogs on me if my grass gets too long. I trust that my grocer hasn’t watered down the milk and that everyone will obey traffic lights. But often our trust of people becomes a trust in them.
Often we think that because we trust someone—a leader, a friend, or even a spouse—we will never be burned. If we have lived for any time in this world, we know this is not true. But we function—mentally and practically—as though it is true, and so when we are burned, the shock can be immobilizing or embittering.
Psalm 146 warns us against this:
Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. (vv. 3–4)
We are not to place our trust in other humans. Like us, they are going to die because of their fallen condition and turn back into dirt. We don’t have to trust in people; we have to love them and do good to them (1 Cor. 10:24; Gal. 6:10). This truth gives us freedom and a calling.
The freedom is that we don’t have to feel guilty when we do not trust someone. We do not have to put faith in other fallen human beings. We are free to trust only Jesus at that level. This also keeps us from being bitter when others do fail us. If we are not putting our trust in people, disappointment may be sad and hard, but it won’t be the same as an idol falling on its face.
The call is that we love people whom we do not trust. Matthew Henry said that love “never seeks its own to the hurt of others, or with the neglect of others. It often neglects its own for the sake of others.” This is hard. Investing in people who we know might hurt us is otherworldly. It is such an unnatural attitude for fallen people that it can only come when we are united to Christ. Dying to self in this way, like any other, is only possible when we are one with Jesus in His death and resurrection.
People will disappoint us. We will definitely disappoint people. That is life in a Genesis 3 world. Jesus will never disappoint. He “keeps faith forever” (Ps. 146:6). That is good news.