Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Matthew 14:16-18
A friend recently asked if I played Scrabble. Now admittedly it’s been years since the game even crossed my mind, so I headed to the game closet and found a dusty boxed set. Spreading out a fistful of random letters from the box I was surprised to see the first five were “U-R-T-S-T.” Rearranged, they spelled “Trust.” And it occurred to me that there was a message in that. A message that had been pounding away at me for a while. A message about trust.
Ever noticed the look in a five year old’s eyes, wide as blue saucers and filled with laughter when you tell them something – anything – that captures their imagination? Hope and belief shine so bright from their faces it lights up the room. The light of trust.
Trust is born into us, as strong and real as our five senses. As children we ooze trust from every pore, holding onto it with blank-stared wonder, like the deer I see every day in Austin crossing the road with fearless (sometimes mindless) conviction that my two-ton vehicle will not transform them into early morning road kill. This kind of trust is beautiful in its simplicity, inspiring in its breadth. Our parents worry constantly, fearing we’ll trust everyone, including the wrong people, until we eventually wind up as little pictures on milk cartons.
Yet somewhere along the way, jammed between crushed middle school hearts and broken promises from grown-ups who never quite understood that soccer games, even when we lose, are just as important as conference calls; sometime before the fairy tale wedding but after Santa’s last visit, trust is often replaced by something else.
My erudite friends back East (the ones who’ve made art forms out of weekend brunch and the methodical dissection of the Sunday Times) would call this replacement of trust “discernment” or “sophistication.” Not for them the naiveté of innocence and faith in stuff or people unknown or unseen. Rather, they view all things through the jaundiced eye of cynical skepticism, confident in their abilities to see through the motives and fabrications of the world around them.
“Why, really,” they say between sips of mimosas and bites of fresh pastries, “no one ever takes anything at face value anymore.”
On the other hand, my seasoned pals in Tejas (for ya’ll Northern types that’s local slang for “God’s Own Backyard”) might put it another way: “Wise up, bro – everybody’s got an angle.” Then they’d tell me to work on my bluffing skills ‘cause they “just feel awful” taking my money at Wednesday night poker.
Chronic suspicion syndrome
Most of us eventually lose our innate ability to trust, replaced by a very grown-up attitude: chronic suspicion syndrome. CSS usually creeps into our lives silently, unseen, in devious ways. We begin questioning this or that and eventually find ourselves suspicious of everything and everyone around us – their motives, their actions, their words. We sometimes even lose our trust in God. Unchecked, the lack of trust can rage out of control, destroying relationships and lives.
Funny thing is, while we lose the ability to trust others, we’re offended and hurt when those around us don’t place their trust in our every word. We want their belief, we crave their trust. That has certainly been true in my case. I even thought about inventing a magic elixir once to give me that special “trustworthiness” scent. Just spray on a squirt or two of every morning and everyone I meet will trust me.
Turns out somebody beat me to it! A laboratory in New York claims to have bottled “trust” in a special formula called Liquid Trust. Yes, it sounds a bit over the top, but there really us a product called Liquid Trust. It contains nothing more exotic than a natural and odorless hormone called oxcytocin that plays a large role in childbirth, breast-feeding, and romantic love. Oh, it also throws in the pheromones Androstenone and Androsterone for good measure.
The trust deficit
Magic potions aside, we often seem trapped in a “trust deficit” keeping us looking over our shoulders and double-checking our locks. Why is trust so rare? Why do we want so desperately for people to trust us while we can’t seem to trust them? Why does it seem in the dialogue between trust and suspicion, suspicion usually seems to win?
Trust is one of the crucial questions facing humans, believers and non-believers alike. Think about something as common place as today’s politics. The mistrust between Democrats and Republicans has led to a toxic environment in which every word is scrutinized by the opposing side for ulterior motives. Or a broken relationship where an honest mistake by one person leads their partner to question every action they take.
We see the impact of eroding trust it in the rise of violent crime, civil litigation, breakdown of family structures (neighborhoods, churches, unions, clubs, charities), lack of shared values with neighbors, etc. It surrounds and penetrates us.
Yet there is an antidote, a remedy as close as the nearest bookshelf or nightstand. Scripture offers a compelling lens through which to view the human condition, and how trust in ourselves rather than God’s ability to provide almost inevitably leads to disillusionment and emptiness.
The episode from the passage in Matthew at the beginning of this message is a clear illustration of how God calls us to trust in His abundance rather than our own ability to provide. Interestingly, the story of 5,000 being fed from five fish and two loaves is one of the few episodes from Jesus’ ministry outside the crucifixion and resurrection to be recounted in all four Gospels. Matthew’s version opens with Jesus hearing of the beheading of John the Baptist. Jesus’ response is not surprising: he withdraws. Not only is he grieving over the death of his cousin, but he is sorrowful that John’s death is a precursor to his own.
The local people who have begun following Jesus with fanatical devotion pursue him to what Matthew describes as a “deserted place” implying no nearby inns or places to rest and eat – after all, the nearest McDonald’s drive through is still 20 centuries away. When evening comes, the crowds need to eat. Jesus’ initial response is to tell his disciples to give the people food, prompting the disciples to remind him they have only five fishes and two loaves and suggest instead sending the crowd away. Jesus ignores this seemingly logical suggestion and calls for the fishes and loaves to be brought forth. After blessing them, he gives the food to the disciples who in turn distribute it to the crowd, eventually gathering twelve baskets of leftovers.
What happened here? What is God telling us about trust? A couple of things. First, God is saying anything is possible if we believe in His will. Jesus faced a seemingly impossible challenge and yet never thought of scarcity. Instead, he trusted in God and believed in abundance. God is saying “don’t tell Me what you lack, tell Me what you are moved to do.” If we take our needs to God He will provide.
Second, we’re being compelled to take action. Deuteronomy 9:23-24 implores us to “Trust and obey” God in all things. Not “trust when you feel like it and obey when you can” or “trust or obey” or “trust, then perhaps obey” – it’s trust and obey. In the episode from Matthew, the disciples neither trusted nor obeyed when Jesus said “you feed them.” Instead, Jesus had to make obvious for them what God asks from each of us.
The natural question then, is “how?” In a world immersed in distrust, how can we let go of our suspicious nature and trust in the ultimate authority and power of God’s will? Here are three suggestions that work for me:
1) Turn to trustworthy sources. For believers, there is no greater source of truth than Scripture itself. The Book of Psalms (specifically Psalms 11, 16, 23, 62, 121) are great sources for strength. Other passages I’ve found compelling are Jeremiah 17:7, Isaiah 26:3 and 1 Peter 5:7.
2) Give up on the illusion of Control. One of the hardest lessons I’ve ever learned is there is a God, and I’m not Him. I’m not in control. I have never been in control. I never will be in control. Not of everything, not of anything.
3) Put trust at the very heart of faith. As a Believer, my perspective on the world is one of radical trust, a willingness to trust God and, therefore, an ability to trust others. As a body of Believers we must personify this trust. Our evangelism to a postmodern culture must proclaim a God who can be trusted to take care of us, to take hold of us, to heal us, to save us, and a community that can itself be trusted.
A word of caution. Living a life built on trust has consequences. You actually have to believe in others, and accept that they believe in you. And be prepared when they do. Be prepared when their belief in you sometimes exceeds your belief in yourself. Be prepared when God believes in us even when we’ve lost all hope in Him.
There’s a $1 dollar bill pinned to a board next to my desk as I write this. On the back are the words “In God We Trust.” Four simple words. Can we really live by them?