If you dig around in the archives of this blog, my second post, on April 18, 2007, was on "Authority and Respect." I don't want to repeat exactly what I said there, but lately I've been thinking about a related issue--trust. To a certain extent our current financial meltdown has been described as a lack of trust--trust between banks, trust in the investment system (a lot of people trusted Bernie Madoff, and got burned for it) trust in the auto companies, trust(or lack of it) in various institutions of our current society. The way the stock market has trended downward for nearly two months now may well indicate that investors do not put a whole lot of trust in the ability of our government to improve things.
I'm inclined to think of "trust" as being "applied respect." When a person or company or other entity has earned your respect, you are more willing to do business with them or work with them or rely on them. Some people do trust more easily than others--after all, there are some people who do buy the Brooklyn Bridge! Others are more cautious (I'm usually--not always, but usually-- one of the more cautious ones). Either extreme can cause problems.
But when you have trusted someone and they let you down in some way--cheated you, didn't do what they said they would do, lied to you, whatever the shortcoming--trust is broken. And it generally isn't that easy to fix. Because when trust is broken, respect dies too. And it will be harder to restore damaged respect than it was to gain it in the first place. Also, the more the guilty party whines about "You don't trust me!" the more the injured party is reminded of what happened when they trusted that person.
But what about forgiveness (for Christians, anyway)? Well, we have to be careful to distinguish between a hurtful action and its consequences, and between forgiveness and repentance. Forgiveness does not remove consequences; when we come to the cross our sins are forgiven, but the consequences of them in our lives remain: broken relationships, physical problems (just because an alcoholic comes to Christ and stays sober doesn't mean he is necessarily free from the risk of cirrhosis of the liver), financial problems, legal problems (just because Christ forgives a murderer doesn't mean he will not face prison or execution for his crime). Repentance, on the other hand, is really a necessary condition for forgiveness. It is more than regret or sorrow (some people are only sorry they got caught!); it is a regret to the point that you reject the behavior and resolve not to do it anymore. The Greek word used for "repent" in the New Testament actually means "to turn"--essentially to turn away from or turn around and go the other direction. It means there is going to be a change in the way you behave. But if there is no repentance...why should you expect forgiveness--or be trusted again?
Back to the current situation today: there is plenty of blame to go around for violating trust, from debtors and creditors to investors and brokers to the highest levels of government. And there are plenty of consequences for all of us; even those who didn't abuse credit will suffer from the loss of the value of their homes, from the economic conditions, and other consequences of the current meltdown. But unless there is repentance--at the individual level, the corporate level, the governmental level-- it is going to take a long, long time to restore trust in our society and economy. And until trust is restored, things cannot get very much better.