Who can you trust? That’s the title of Oxford lecturer Rachel Botsman’s book, reflecting on profound cultural shifts. She writes: “A deep loss of faith in banks, governments, the media, the church or other elite institutions is not a new phenomenon . . .. Unprecedented, however, is the extent and rate of the breakdown of trust we are now witnessing between citizens and institutions, between the everyman and the elites. Alarmingly, survey after survey of public sentiment across countries and age groups tells a similar, woeful tale” (p. 40-41).
Every individual must face a dizzying array of choices about whom to trust and whom to doubt. The question is not, “Can we trust anyone?” By nature, humans must and will trust somebody. Many of our most important decisions require discerning between disputing sources and authorities, and this is the real problem: “Whom should we trust?” And worst of all, while our world is deeply divided on whom to trust, it’s virtually united in its disbelief in the gospel. This is the context into which churches must be planted. How can it be done?
God’s Power and Goodness
In the course of her reflections, Botsman mentions four tests we instinctively use to determine whom to trust. The first two involve a demonstrated competence to do something reliably, not just randomly. The second two are about not being deceptive and having goodwill (p. 125-6). These four features can be boiled down into two simple things: power and goodness.
While our world is deeply divided on whom to trust, it’s virtually united in its disbelief in the gospel. This is the context into which churches must be planted.
When someone demonstrates they have love for us and that their love has the power to bring goodness into our lives, we’re ready to rely on them to do that. There is no one in the world, past or present, who combines those two qualities in the unrestricted way Jesus does. During his earthly life, he demonstrated effortless power over deceptions, disease, malicious spiritual powers, natural forces, even death itself—and in doing so, fulfilled prophecy. He won the trust of multitudes through loving deeds and went to the cross out of compassion for lost people. He was powerful love incarnate. There is no more trustworthy name than Jesus.
Objections to Trusting God’s Power
Yet, not everyone trusts him. If we focus on contemporary Western culture, the power and goodness of Jesus are actually the targets of its two most common objections to the gospel. First, it doubts the possibility and reality of miracles in general, disbelieving Jesus really had the power he claimed to have. Second, it doubts the goodness of God, whom Jesus claimed to be, in the face of evil.
But Jesus himself is more trustworthy than the foundations of these doubts, and much could be said to explain how this is so. Very briefly, some disbelieve in his miraculous power because they haven’t experienced it. This may be true for them, but that is not an argument against others having had such experiences. Just because I haven’t seen a black swan doesn’t mean others have not.
Others doubt miracles because of the obvious success of the scientific method. Yet, that method only discovers how natural objects act in the absence of interference. It doesn’t tell us that supernatural realities cannot interfere with the natural world. And while the application of that method has revealed the natural causes of many things, people have testified to experiencing events that cannot be explained that way. In the end, these arguments leave us no reason to doubt that Jesus worked miracles in biblical days, or that he does them now.
Objections to Trusting God’s Goodness
While objecting to God’s power (arguably) used to be the main objection offered in the modern world, increasingly it’s God’s goodness that is seen as the primary problem. This argument contends that if the God of Christianity really existed, he would not be good, though he is supposed to be, so he cannot exist. And this argument depends upon us understanding God and goodness enough to be able to judge them incompatible.
The gospel boldly confronts our world’s trust crisis
But one measure of true understanding is that one can change reality in a deliberate way. For example, understanding is shown through competence. Yet if we have concluded that Jesus really did all the miracles he did, then he clearly has demonstrated an understanding of ultimate reality that far exceeds that of any other human being. Simply put, Jesus’s power shows his matchless wisdom compared to ours. Combined with his compassion, it becomes easy to trust him when he tells us that he knows God is both beyond our full understanding and completely good. And if we accept his testimony, we will conclude that our difficulty in solving this problem is a result of our lack of insight into a reality that exceeds our full comprehension, not of a real incompatibility between God and goodness.
In short, the gospel boldly confronts our world’s trust crisis. It presents the most trustworthy person who ever lived, and gives reasons to trust him. While it’s easy to argue points, successfully convincing people to trust Jesus is harder in a deeply suspicious culture. It’s difficult to listen to someone trying to persuade you if you think they have ulterior motives.
Yet, this need not paralyze us. Scripture promises that anyone who seeks to obey God will understand that Jesus’s teaching comes from God and is true (John 7:17). If our arguments don’t work, we can show sincere and tangible love, pray that the Holy Spirit grants the knowledge that changes hearts, and the willingness to admit the truth when seen. Our job is to plant seeds and pray for growth. God has promised his Word will not return to him void. And that we can trust.