If you’re like me, you could put together a list of people who over the years have disappointed you. On your list may be superficial interactions like a store clerk who was rude, a neighbor who wouldn’t return borrowed tools or a friend who drifted away over the years. It may also include those who hurt you deeply, like someone who betrayed a confidence, a boss who unjustly fired you or a spouse who revealed an affair that ended your marriage.
Such disappointments can leave us in a quandary: we are made to live in community with others, but they so often let us down. How can we be expected to build friendships and other kinds of relationships when people just keep being … people!
Then, if you really want to get honest, you may also ask, How many “disappointment” lists am I on? Who wanted something from me that I didn’t give them—or didn’t want something that I gave them?
During Jesus’ lifetime, many people let him down. And as a result, Jesus had just such a list. There were people he didn’t — and wouldn’t — trust. Including people who identified as his followers.
Let me quote from the gospel of John, the last few verses of chapter 2: “Now while [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”
Whether they had already disappointed him or he knew they would eventually, Jesus didn’t — wouldn’t — trust these people.
And here’s what I also believe: I am on that list. You are on that list. Jesus knows what is in us —just like he knew what was in them. We all have more in common with those people, or with Peter, or even with Judas, than we have in common with Jesus.
When I reread this passage several years back, I was confused. Why would Jesus — God’s love incarnate — not trust people? How can he possibly love us, and not trust us?
But it dawned on me that I was confusing trust and love. Love is unconditional; trust is earned. We may not be trustworthy, and so God doesn’t trust us. But he loves us anyway.
It is because Jesus does know what we’ll do—like he knew Peter would deny him and Judas would betray him—that when he says he loves us, we can rely on that love. If his love were conditional on his trust of us, who of us could be confident and rest in his love? We would always wonder if we had done or were about to do something that would remove his love, because we so easily break trust.
But if he loves us without us being as trustworthy as we (or he) would like, then that love can be counted on. It is actually good news Jesus loves us but doesn’t trust us. If I thought he trusted me, I would be crushed every time I sinned (not that sin doesn’t grieve me). But if I know he doesn’t trust me (or he actually trusts me to be true to the dark side of my nature!) yet I also know he loves me despite that, I’m in a whole different relationship with him.
I can, have and will let him down, and he knows every incident in detail. But I cannot, have not, and will not ever lose his love, despite what he knows about me.
This also gives me a path to follow as I seek to love others. I have learned over the years to trust people less. They are going to disappoint me, and if I hold out for them to always do what I want, I will be let down again and again.
Instead, I love people a lot, but do not put much trust in them. I keep coming back, keep forgiving, keep giving grace, just like Jesus does. But I do not “cast my pearls before swine”—I don’t give trust to those that don’t see its value (pigs aren’t evil, they just don’t know what a pearl is worth so why give them one?). I keep loving people, knowing they are going to let me down. I don’t make them “evil” in my mind; just dependably undependable.
I can even love myself more with this mindset. I know I will not live up to my own aspirations for myself. Like the text says, Jesus knew his followers’ inner reality; and no one needs to tell me what is in me—I’m very familiar with that guy. But I love him, and seek to minister to him, and keep putting him in situations where he can serve and grow and do God’s work in the world.
I want to love others the way Jesus does. No one needs to tell me that my friends, or family, or co-workers will let me down. Of course they will. People show up with their imperfections, and I still show up with love.
If someone perchance shows me they are trustworthy, then I am willing to offer some trust. But never in an absolute way. Only love is unconditional. If I do what Jesus did, I can see past those faults, see past my disappointments, and find love in my heart for everyone, every day, no matter what they do.
So if you want to treat people as Jesus did, trust them a bit less … and love them a lot more.
By Judson Poling
Judson met Greg Huston (The Crucible Project’s founder) in 2002 and staffed his first initial weekend the following spring. Judson is a founding board member of The Crucible Project and co-developer of The Crucible Project’s four second-level weekends. He also served on staff of Willow Creek Community Church for 29 years. Judson is now a best-selling author and President of Cambia Resources, LLC, doing consulting, coaching and freelance writing.
Photo Credit: Terry Johnston via Creative Commons