It’s a truism that I’d rather not test: swimming in shark-infested waters is not problematic… generally. The condition under which the idiom breaks down is clear: when there’s blood in the water, the shark behaves differently…
Have you been out-and-about lately? For the last 12 months, we’ve all been asked to shelter-in-place and avoid human contact. When sources have been the prevalent providers of our information diet, whatever they’ve been serving has become our default. Fed with constant charts, graphs and storylines of death and destruction, the natural human reaction is to generate fear at historic levels. When you’re with people today, look above their mask and into their eyes: what do you see?
In a sociological sense, fear stimulates a reaction among people like blood does among sharks. Unpredictable and destructive behaviors cannot be restrained when fear hits a boiling point…
We’re taking a few Mondays to raise the specter of solution in a time of cultural concern. The effort to quell fear and restore calm – for ourselves, for society – requires a deliberate call for trust to be restored as the basis for any order to ensue. H.L Menken said it well: “It is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest, that holds human associations together.”
Trust is essential, but its object is critical for it to have power. Jeremiah quoted God with this crucial distinction: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these delight,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
Demanding voices around us say, “Trust me!,” then prove themselves to be untrustworthy. Cultural icons may sing, “Lean on me…” but revelations from their hidden victims expose their fallacies. After 2700 years, God’s caution reduces the reliability of earned degrees, accelerated titles or growing assets in the competition for trust. Who – or what – can compete with Him?
Our options shrink. Live in fear, or lean on trust; clearly, trust is the preferred option. The search for an object worthy of trust then unfolds: do we inventory our own excesses and become self-providers? or, do we interview the candidates calling for our faith to be placed in them? Whose offer for security comes from a selfless foundation that is not compromised by self-interest?
Ralph Waldo Emerson – whose writings from the 19th Century give him voice today – was far more of a free-spirit than theologian, but after considering the options he concluded: “All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all that I have not seen.”
In a time when the Christian faith was a growing force in the Roman Empire, a transient tentmaker named Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus who lived in the city where an emperor demanded trust from his subjects. His input was clear: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13).
If you don’t have a list of things about which you’re afraid, I’ll save you the trouble and give you the results: it’s long, and some of the entries could hurt you badly. Some take away freedom that you once took for granted; some could cost you large slices of your financial holdings without first asking your permission. You aren’t paranoid; the panic felt by many is founded in fact.
But your list doesn’t own you or control your outlook. You have the only real answer, and it’s the same one provided by the Christians in Rome under Nero’s crazed domination: the God of hope is offering to fill you with all joy and peace – to an overflow level, affecting people around you – because you trust in Him. Real problem; real solution. What’s your choice?