Originally published Wednesday, 11 February 2015.
Let me tell you three true stories from the past two weeks.
1. I got a letter from a reader who came across Liz's story. Liz is one of the courageous ones who was rescued from sex trafficking, and is now working to set other girls free. The writer of the letter said she knew her from youth, and was devastated to read that she had been prostituted during the years she knew her. It couldn't be true, she concluded: Liz must be delusional or lying.
Who can we trust to tell us the truth about the past?
(*for the record, I believe Liz.)
2. We got scammed in eBay. The short version is this: we had a smartphone to sell, and I got a message to say it had sold. The buyer wanted to expedite payment and shipping, saying it was a birthday gift for her son, and she was willing to pay extra. On receipt of an email from Paypal saying the money had been deposited, I paid for (ridiculously expensive) shipping and sent the phone off. It was received the next day. The day after that, eBay told me the buyers account had been hacked and the "paypal email" I'd received was fake. In other words: they sent me phony money, and I sent them a real Phone.
Who can we trust in business?
3. I read this article from Elizabeth Cohen, in which she tells of how she and her teenage daughter were friends with groomed by someone who turned out to be a sexual predator. This article left me feeling hollow and desperate for sleepless hours.
Who can we trust with our children?
I am a woman with Trust Issues. The reason that e-commerce fraud, or hearing victim's stories is so utterly terrifying to me is that is exposes my vulnerability. We all like to believe that we are a 'reasonably good judge of character'. We like to believe that we are, to a large degree, able to assess risk for ourselves and our loved ones in a fairly reliable way.
What these stories do, however, is they peel back the veneer and reveal what soft bellies we have. We like to think that we would be able to spot a sexual predator just by looking at him, or that some inner "radar" would alert us when something was amiss in our communications with others. But the horrible truth of these stories is this: deceivers are really good at deceiving. They use, and abuse, our trust. They rely on being believable, and we, in turn, believe them.
Fraud wouldn't work if those doing the deceiving didn't have brilliant strategies and a keen understanding of human dealings. I like to think that all fraudsters are the types sending emails in poor grammar telling of Nigerian government millions which are mine if only I'll reply with my bank details.... but the truth is that fraudsters steal real people's authenticated ID's, and tell moms like me that they want it faster for a birthday party.
Sexual predators wouldn't get away with dozens of offenses if they couldn't walk the streets as undetected, accepted, (beloved even!) members of society. They might be the arts teacher we love, the youth leader we supported on a short term mission trip, the friend we invited to spend time with our kids.
It is horrifying to me to realize that I move around from day to day giving people the benefit of the doubt, when danger is so near at hand. For the most part, I believe trusting people is the better way to live. I believe humans are made in God's image and are innately valuable. I believe we all have capacity for good. I believe openness is a better policy.
However, the truth is also that we all have a dark side. None of us tell the whole truth the whole time, and each of us has, at some point, asked someone to believe something to be true when we knew that the facts did not quite line up. We are all under the influence of the Father of Lies, and "we are not unaware of his schemes," writes Paul of the Evil One's plans to outwit us (2 Corinthians 2:11).
I am reeling in the wake of the past few weeks and the vast number of people who are asking me to believe them. They have not all told the truth. There are schemes and deceptions woven into the fabric of even the "true" versions of events.
The solution can't be to give up on trusting anyone at all. Grace requires that we bear with one another's weaknesses, and forgive one another's faults (Colossians 3) - all of these giving tacit admission that we are less than reliable in our dealings with one another.
And obviously, we would be fools to trust everyone. (And if you want to err on this side, you may want to stay well away from eBay. Free advice. Believe me.)
But somewhere in the middle, my confused heart is trying to figure out how to live in a beautiful and broken world again, where we need to be able to believe one another at a most basic level - and yet that faith is always vulnerable to betrayal.
In the midst of this, I am reminded once again that what a girl with Trust Issues really needs is one who is always trustworthy and faithful. My heart has been drawn again and again to that beautiful passage in Hebrews 6, where the author tells us that God made promises to us and, even though he never lies and doesn't need someone to vouch for him, he wanted us to be secure in trusting his promise... so he added an oath to his promises. A double-vow.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, says Hebrews 6:19. It is firm and secure. The anchor's name is Jesus.
I may have Trust Issues in this sea of uncertainty, but I have an anchor too, and it's all that's keeping me tethered right now.