Who Should We Trust?

March 24, 2014 — 14 Comments

staffordshire cross“You can trust me, I’m a pastor.” When I was ordained thirty-three years ago, that might have been sufficient to persuade many people to give me the benefit of the doubt. Not so today.

The latest Gallup poll records the continuing decline of our trust in “clergy.” Relentless negative press (much of it recording genuinely criminal and repellent behaviors) has taken its toll. Today only 47% of Americans trust ministers (of all faiths).

The good news, if you can consider it that, is that clergy still rank as the seventh most trusted group (out of twenty-two vocations considered).

But it remains quite pitiful. And quite understandable. Even being a pastor, there are many people considered clergy who I would not trust. First of all, anyone who purchased their “ordination” over the internet, and has the audacity to pretend to be a minister. I see a credibility gap there. (I would not include those who buy one of the fake diplomas as a “joke” to be untrustworthy . . . only those who pass themselves off as a “real minister.”)

I could go on, but my purpose here is not to trash clergy, since more than enough people already devote themselves to that purpose.

I am curious just who, in our increasingly uncertain and selfish world, we should trust.

I personally am in a rather envious position. I don’t have to rely on hoping people will trust me because I’m a pastor. I am also a sworn officer of the law. Albeit, I merely serve as a volunteer chaplain with my local county Sheriff’s Office, but we honestly do swear an oath to uphold the law, and we proudly wear regular uniforms, complete with our own chaplain badges (stars).

The thing about being in law enforcement is that I can benefit from the fact that it is the sixth most respected institution. So that carries me across the halfway mark all the way to the 54% trustworthiness milestone. I guess that’s fair, since I too place a higher trust in the integrity and professionalism of the average deputy or officer than I do in the average minister.

But, as I already said, I’m in a rather unique position, in that I also qualify for an even more respected category, that of a military officer. The 69% level of trust for military officers ties that of doctors and is only 1% below grade school teachers and pharmacists. So, I guess that if I want to instill confidence in my integrity, I’d best tell people that I’m a (retired) Air Force officer, and not that I am a member of the First Estate.

Trust is important. It’s a key commodity in any relationship, and absolutely essential for intimate relationships such as those shared within a family. Trust takes a great deal of time to build, and it can be shattered in just a moment. Its fragility is the primary reason why it must be treasured and guarded.

Trusted are those who never give others a cause to doubt them. My wife and I made a promise to our children that we would never lie to them. Never. We explained there would be times when we could not tell them something, or where we could only reveal a portion of the facts about a matter . . . but we promised them that whatever we did tell them would be the absolute truth insofar as we were aware.

Because of our honesty with them, our children (all adults now, of course), have been amazingly honest with us the whole of their lives. They trust us. We trust them. And none of us take that amazing gift for granted.

In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis describes his introduction to J.R.R. Tolkien. Although the two would become lifelong friends, there were obstacles that needed to be overcome. One, described by Lewis, was that Tolkien belonged to not one, but two, categories of people who Lewis had been taught to regard as suspect. He was an atheist at the time, but it wasn’t simply Tolkien’s deep faith in Christ that gave him pause.

When I began teaching for the English Faculty, I made two other friends, both Christians (these queer people seemed now to pop up on every side) who were later to give me much help in getting over the last stile. They were H.V.V. Dyson (then of Reading) and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Friendship with the latter marked the breakdown of two old prejudices. At my first coming into the world I had been (implicitly) warned never to trust a Papist, and at my first coming into the English Faculty (explicitly) never to trust a philologist. Tolkien was both.

I’m not sure where philologists ranked on Gallup’s recent poll, but I am quite sure they did not include questions about different denominations or faith groups. Before ending these thoughts I suppose I should share with you the most trusted group in the survey—nurses. Eighty-two percent of Americans trust nurses. And I too would agree with that.

The matter of who we can safely trust is of great importance. In fact, it could be argued that it is the most important question in our lives.

Ultimately, even when we assure one another we will only speak the truth . . . even then we disappoint one another. Being human, we are finite, imperfect. We cannot always be there, even for those we love. Sometimes we fail to live up to our own standards and our promises dispel like a vapor in the wind.

Johnny Cash recorded a powerful song before he died. He had lived a rough and tumble life, and had found peace in a relationship with Christ. That peace, however, did not cure all of the ills or heal all of the scars he had experienced, and his profound familiarity with this world inspired the gritty lyrics of “Hurt.”

I wear this crown of thorns

Upon my liar’s chair

Full of broken thoughts

I cannot repair

Beneath the stains of time

The feelings disappear

You are someone else

I am still right here

What have I become

My sweetest friend

Everyone I know goes away

In the end

And you could have it all

My empire of dirt

I will let you down

I will make you hurt

In a moment, I’ll share a link to his performance of this moving song. But first, the answer to the question with which we began.

Who, exactly, should we trust? Johnny Cash learned the answer to that question, and so did C.S. Lewis. I trust the same Person that they did—someone who will never disappoint. Someone who cannot lie, since he himself is the Truth. As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David . . . I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him . . .

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.

_____

If you wish to watch the video of Johnny Cash’s musical epitaph, you can see it here.

The pectoral cross show above is part of the Staffordshire Hoard, which is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon metalwork ever found. It dates from the 7th or 8th century.

14 responses to Who Should We Trust?

  1. 

    Gallup polls aside, all Christians need to be so readily immersed in their Bible reading that they can square what is being preached by a pastor with scripture. A lazy form of Christianity is one in which one is careless about the obligation to be intent on living your faith, praying regularly, and reading the Bible.

    • 

      You’re certainly right. Those who are led astray by false teachers (e.g. Jim Jones), succumb to the lies gradually. The departure from the narrow path is usually quite subtle, and the “lazy” belief you describe above makes people vulnerable to progressively more dangerous errors.

  2. 

    Allow me to point out that “Hurt” was originally a Nine Inch Nails song, though Cash’s cover of it is one of those rare occasions where a cover (in my opinion) blows an original out of the water. Despite the fact that he did not write it, though, I think that Cash probably did find his own meanings in the words.

    It’s hard to know who to trust, sometimes, but it’s helpful to try and notice who we trust without even thinking.

    • 

      Not to derail the subject completely, but I am absolutely in love with Johnny Cash and his covers. If someone could make an album of cover singles that stood absolutely alone and yet maintained a shred of artistic integrity (unity of intention and execution, originality ect) it would be Cash’s.

    • 

      You’re certainly correct that he didn’t write the original song… but watching the video, which all of its personal and intense imagery, reveals that he did make it his own.

    • 

      One more thing, lest someone is tempted to check out the original version… In Nine Inch Nail’s version, the reference is not to a “crown of thorns.” Cash’s version is much better on many levels.

  3. 

    You are in a unique position.
    Jim Jones was one of my first flashes. The naive and “trusting” – the ones desperately hoping for better – so easily mislead.
    These lines are so solid and on target:
    “The matter of who we can safely trust is of great importance. In fact, it could be argued that it is the most important question in our lives.”
    What I find very sad is that those younger than me have had such widely revealed misuse of trust ( and I include Bill Clinton and other fed/elected officials as some of the high profile ones) will they every fully know how to completely trust someone. Not to even start with the internet.
    Hard for some to have faith and trust something totally invisible if they haven’t had much luck with those right in front of them.
    Truly the best of times and worst of times. God bless the parents of children

    • 

      On the plus side, if kids are a bit wary, they will be safer. I just recalled the way Ted Bundy used to lure his victims (wearing a fake cast on his arm). Combined with his nonthreatening VW beetle, many young women were given a false sense of safety.

      If people today decline to give automatic trust to strangers, it makes the work of people like him far more difficult.

  4. 

    Hurt remains #1 on my list of best videos of all time. (Johnny and June’s version)

  5. 

    The problem with clergy is that they are also people.

    • 

      And an absolute flaw in our perfection that is. But then we are reminded in James 3 of the special accountability rightfully expected of those who would lead in the community of faith: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”

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