Loss of trust at the heart of society's woes
October 7 2018In his book Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity Francis Fukuyama asks an important question, “In what and in whom do people trust and how can we understand the development and destruction of trust?” In our society it is generally observed that trust is diminishing whether in politics, in banks or in the Church. The list goes on of course and many other examples readily come to mind where confidence in the motives and methods of institutions and people is questioned. This is all part of a loss of trust.
Fukuyama argues that trust is a constituent of our prosperity. “What enables human societies to flourish is trust, and trust is incompatible with self-interest, deconstruction and the inevitable associated suspicions. A thriving civil society depends on a people’s entrenched habits, customs and ethics, and, mediated by the family, is inevitably shaped by religious traditions.”
I think there is a lot of wisdom in Fukuyama’s observations. Trust is, though not tangible, a real and important constituent of the life of a society. Where trust is high we thrive, where it is low we suffer negative consequences. As he observes, the deeply entrenched patterns of life that are shaped by family and religious traditions are very influential constituents of trust.
A Christian response to Fukuyama’s question, “In what and in whom do people trust?”, quickly turns for that foundation of trust to the character of God. We see this evidenced in many places throughout the Scriptures. In 2 Samuel 7:28, King David prays “And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant”. The “good thing” that was the object of David’s thankfulness was the affirmation that God would indeed accept the proposed temple in Jerusalem as the sanctuary for the divine presence. Notably for us, even though the accomplishment of the construction would not be until Solomon’s reign, it was the character of God’s promise and true words that were as firm a foundation as the physical temple that would later be built.
The certainty of God’s imperative for our good and the wellbeing of our society is emphasised by Jesus when he says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10.10). This promise of abundant life is the overflowing reality of all that has been achieved by Jesus for humanity through his incarnation, death and resurrection. As Christians live this “life in abundance”, we experience the ethical imperative for that abundant life to be present in our society more widely. In a world where trust is a scarce commodity it is right to look to the community of Christians as the place where it is mutually expressed and never exploited. Where we fail being a community of trust we let down many more people than just ourselves.
Christians receive the challenge of the ancient wisdom of the prophet Jeremiah as a present imperative, “... seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29.7).