(re)Imagining Trust


Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!

I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.

When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.

Psalm 146:1-4

On Friday afternoon, as I—inexplicably, I might add—watched Duke’s men’s basketball team loose to Mercer and suddenly realized that the rest of my March would surprisingly be freed up, these verses from Psalm 146 entered my mind.  In particular, I ruminated, festered on the passage “Don’t put your trust in princes . . . .”  (If given the liberty, I might augment that sacred text, adding “and Duke(s),” including another noble class to the category of the untrustworthy.) 

All joking aside, Friday’s basketball outcome was a necessary and useful reminder that in whom or what we place our trust requires intentional (re)evaluation.  Trust, it turns out, is less descriptive of absolute certainly based on past data and more descriptive of present and future hope predicated on an enduring relationship.  But, how do we know what or, more importantly, whom to trust?

Our English word “science” derives from a Latin word, scientia, meaning “having knowledge.”  Scientia comes from another Latin root, scindere, meaning to split or cut off.  For those familiar with Ockham’s Razor, such a definition of science seems most appropriate. In an almost identical way, Christian theology proposes two ways for knowing, particularly to know God: (1) kataphatic and (2) apophatic.  Kataphatic knowledge is knowledge by analogy, i.e., by words.  Kataphatic knowledge includes positive, definitive descriptions, like attempting to make absolute claims based on past data.  Apophatic knowledge is knowledge by negation, i.e., saying what cannot be said about a given subject.  Through negation, what is left unsaid is the essence of the subject sought.  And, often what is sought is God. 

God is an enduring presence beyond our definitive certainties.  In this apophatic construction, God is the Mystery that we engage.  In addition, as scientists remind us, simply discovering something does not lead to a sudden reduction of mystery but an expansion of mystery. Put another way, the answering of one question does not eliminate a question as much as produce countless additional questions. 

Thus, God is not simply the “God of the gaps,” i.e., God is not the default space filler for whatever we do not know.  Rather, we come to realize that God is the very Reality, the Mystery, the Truth that we relate with in pursuing what we see as “reality” or “mystery” or “truth.”  Science and faith are about “knowing” something or someone.  Science and faith are not adversaries but cohorts.

These disciplines, also, become more about intimate knowledge of a subject or, more accurately, a Subject.  Both are activities that demand dedication, struggle, perseverance, passion, and love.  They are disciplines not committed to accumulation of data but about the journey into the very heart of Mystery, as much interested in the questions as the answers.  We come to trust something or someone not just because we have more undisputed data but because of the time spent in the contemplative, investigative endeavor.  Trust is not about certainty but constancy.  The Psalmist pens this hymn to remind those who read it of this very truth, the truth of God’s enduring presence in the midst of struggle and difficulty.  Trust and truth become virtually indistinguishable. 

So, over the coming week, spend a little time (re)evaluating what we know and think we know for certain, remembering that knowledge and trust are different than data and facts.  Knowledge and trust are relational categories, connecting us to each other, the world around us, and the divine, inexplicable Mystery.

Have a great day and see you along the way.


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