The Trouble with Trust: Three Narratives

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.  (Psalm 37:5, ESV)

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. (Psalm 13:5)

The verses cited above read like bookends, prologue and epilogue, begining and end, of one of mankind’s greatest quests: trust.

In my view it is one of the greatest because only through trust–in God and in man–is there lasting peace and joy. Untarnished trust is both the alpha and omega of true intimacy of mind, heart, body, and spirit.

However, though the steadfast and teachable heart will at length find that God is wholly trustworthy, mankind, in contrast, is not. Trusting in each other given our flawed human nature is complex–and can be a snare.  (More on this, below).

Hope in the Prologue

At the beginning of the struggle to gain, maintain, or regain trust for someone here on this darkling plain, the good book and experience reveal that success first and foremost comes in trusting the Lord (Psalm 37:5) Who is the source of all of wisdom and the sturdy bridge over the ebb and flow of every relationship known to man, woman, parent, and child.

However, sometimes, we distrust God, Himself.

Trust in God is difficult to attain, too, given the ill repute factions of the world, the flesh, and the devil foster to hinder or corrode it.

But there is hope.

Thanksgiving in the Epilogue

At the end of the effort, whether short or long-lived, the prayer of thanksgiving that is Psalm 13:5 indicates that restored trust, whether in full or in part, can occur, though it be perhaps marred by the struggle.

But there is a caveat: some trust may never fully return (see Alexander the coppersmith’s story, below), free will being what it is, and in still other cases, battle wounds and expectations being what they are.

But whatever will be, wisdom mandates we go forth in the love of God, for that alone is what cuts through the mire, reveals the truest path.

It’s that troubling and messy middle part of the story, the interlude, of which I write today.

The part that involves the most time, trial, patience, humility, discernment, and perseverance; the part that ebbs and flows, and keeps us on our knees; the part that may or may not meet expectations, but is always worthy of the pursuit.

Trouble in the Interlude

As challenging as this part of the process is, there is also wisdom–along with instruction–from God’s Word. For example:

Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26)

This verse captures one of the hardest parts of the quest, in my view, which is the mind,  that often confused, doubting, and harried realm where deception, presumption, and assumption troubles trust from the get-go.

A close second is the tangle of emotions that can clog up the works.

But perhaps the toughest challenge is that what (or who) seems trustworthy may not be.

We have to test the spirit.

Often, we learn the hard way.

We forget our discernment in the bug-out bag for the journey, in our longing for reconciliation. Or perhaps we’ve yet to learn of its importance–which are other reasons we can’t proceed without God’s love and guidance…

Four illustrations of the challenges in each unique situation, follow.

Joseph’s Wisdom

Joseph, of Old Testament fame, illustrates the reason for testing the spirits to see if the heretofore untrustworty one/ones–ten brothers in his case–have really changed. His story is summarized here.

The part of the narrative where Joseph, whose brothers, years prior, sold him into slavery but now come to him for grain when their land is experiencing drought (though they did not know the “Egyptian” official in charge of selling grain was Joseph) reveals that he tests them in significant ways, more than once, until he knows they truly have changed hearts and he can trust them. They do. He can. He does.

The reconciliation of the brothers and eventually their entire family is powerful and redemptive all around.

Joseph’s story illustrates the need of testing those with whom we have lost trust, should they reappear, as we seek guidance, direction, and godly counsel in doing so, because other biblical narratives do not indicate such a restoration.

Everybody wants the happy ending now; “forgive and forget,” they clamor, while wounds might still need tending; deception, discernment.

But sometimes tests are futile because it takes two to trust–and here’s the tricky part: there are those who could never be trusted to begin with, those whose trust was broken and are still in recovery, and, of course, still others whose trust-seeking behavior is false.

Alexander the coppersmith’s story illustrates the first kind.

Paul’s Wisdom

In Alexander’s story we are reminded of perhaps the most important lesson regarding trust: when in doubt, with evidence, leave the matter in God’s hands:

Paul says, “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to this deeds” (2 Timothy 4:14, ESV). Paul does not mention any details about the harm Alexander did, only that it was “great.” Notably, Paul did not seek personal revenge; instead, he wisely turned the matter over to the justice of God (see Proverbs 20:22Hebrews 10:30). (Source

And leaving the matter to God is perhaps the greatest difficulty when one has lost trust in another who has done us harm because God, alone, knows his or her true heart. And we struggle with the natural bent to get revenge.

He, alone, also knows our true heart–even as He, alone, is also the source of wisdom and clarity going forward for all. He can reveal the harm we might have done to damage another’s trust, just as the harm that would occur should we choose revenge.

For just as it takes two to tango, as the old expression goes, it takes more than one to most effectively restore relationships. In the spiritual contect, it takes two people and one God.

So attaining, maintaining, and/or regaining trust can clearly be messy and complicated.

At all times, we have to keep our eye on the prize even as we keep our mind on the Prize-and Discernment–Giver.

But if attained or regained, in whole or even in part, as in Joseph’s story, it is, in all of us, too, powerful and redemptive.

One More Narrative: Trust and the Two Prodigals

But there is one more illustration of the trust story, this one, involving two people, sons of a wealthy farmer.

This, of course, involves the prodigal son and his older brother. A brief synopsis of the major theme of the parable is as follows:

The story of the Prodigal Son, also known as the Parable of the Lost Son, follows immediately after the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. With these three parables, Jesus demonstrated what it means to be lost, how heaven celebrates with joy when the lost are found, and how the loving Father longs to save people. (source)

Most teaching and preaching concentrates primarily on only the younger brother who demanded his inheritance NOW, went out and squandered it, ended up in a pigsty, realized his error, and went home.

He was the one in whom likely everyone except his Father (a type of God the Father) lost trust.

I mean, can you imagine the reaction of family and villagers when the young man’s father extended arms, killed the fatted calf for a feast to celebrate his return, and gave him expensive gifts to boot?

High on their minds might well have been And you are trusting THIS ne’er-do-well again WHY?! 

Nevertheless, he was center stage of this reconciliation drama, and well should have been.

But a lesser player, coming in from another hard day’s work in the fields, probably fending off more than a little jealousy, was the Other Brother, the faithful one, he who was always diligent–trustworthy.

Where’s MY ring, robe, and feast? he likely groused.

The father quickly straightened out his attitude, as the narrative reveals, but then there was the rest of the story, the probably not so happily-ever-after, the messy middle part, the complicated next chapters…*

For both sons, actually.

The younger, his heart likely heavy with regret and shame, wondering if he could sustain his trustworthiness and prove his love for his father–while also learning about the unconditional LOVE of his father–the major point, actually, of the parable.

And the older prodigal struggling in a different way, wondering if little brother’s recent turn-around was going to last, and how long the kid would wield his share of work on the farm, in short, wondering if little bro could really ever be fully trusted again. I mean, initial thrills with parties and all are one thing, and the ever-after daily grind, another.

But, and this is key, the older son also had the same opportunity to learn more about the love of his father who understood his frustration and temptation to jealousy, but who loved him just as much as the other son. Perhaps he did learn this lesson.

Perhaps they both comprehended, over time, more of the depth and breadth of their father’s unconditional love, in each their own context, and went on to adjust beautifully, or maybe not so much now and then, into the rest of their lives on the farm.

Fast forward: and the parable shows us who our (Heavenly) Father is, too, He of the same unconditional love, Who knows our weakness, sees our own kind of untrustworthiness, and when we return to His loving arms from wherever we have gone, waits with joy and forgiveness.

On God’s Steadfast Love

And that is the real, best ending–whatever the rest of the Prodigal(s) story revealed/reveals about the next chapters–theirs or ours–it’s really about that father, Our Father, Who knows ends from beginnings; the genuinely repentent from the false; and Who extends His love, as potent as it was then, now, and that will last forever all the way into the place where doubt, despair, and deception will be no more, where complete, restored trust is a given; and where the world, the flesh, and the devil no longer mar the works.

It is the same place where the two prodigals, and all other types and kinds of prodigals, then and now, will throw our crowns at the feet of He who saves us, restores us, and gives freely of the wisdom for us to find our way back to Him–and in some cases, each other. (Check out many more stories with similar redemptive themes incorporated here.)

Maybe even old Alexander the coppersmith eventually learned his own lesson, though too late to be among the early, trusted disciples. You never know. There’s a lot of time to meditate while removing the dross from precious metals and rendering them into pots and pans and heirloom pieces.

(Hmmm, a lot like the time it takes God to work with us, ya think?)

Post Script

Though trust may well be hard to attain, maintain, and/or regain, as with all elements of life on this side of the dark glass separating us from the divine, hope still shines through. Consder this bit of closing encouragement:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Carry on.


*Here is another perspective on the story: On the Father, the Prodigal, and The Other Son (Mostly The Other Son)

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