Can you trust Nebraska?
The day has been long in coming, but it finally arrived: I have now reached the age where people no longer feel obliged to get me a Christmas present. Alas, I have become the old grandpa who has everything he needs. Perhaps I should not have included a Harley motorcycle and a young mistress on my Christmas wish list to my wife. (Just kidding, Harleys are too expensive to maintain.)
It’s funny how the older I get the more I seem drawn to stories about older people. It’s probably because the issues of the young can begin to seem a bit banal at this stage of life. Anyhow, I recently watched the movie Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern. You may remember Bruce Dern from those old western movies where he often played the bad guy. Dern’s role in Nebraska is quite different from his prior films. In Nebraska he plays Woody Grant, a cantankerous but also gullible old man who sets off on a cross country quest to claim a million dollars he thinks he won in one of those sweepstakes contests that advertisers mail to the elderly. Spoiler Alert! His son attempts to dissuade him from traveling across the country to collect the sweepstakes prize that Grant did not win. When it becomes clear that Grant will not back down, his son decides to take him on the road trip to the sweepstakes office. Along the way they experience some funny situations and some serious drama with family members and old friends who come to believe that Grant has won the money. To make a long story short, Grant and his son arrive at the sweepstakes office where Grant is informed that he does not have the winning number. Grant leaves the office very disappointed. The girl at the sweepstakes office asks Grant’s son if his father is ok. “Yeah, he just believes what people tell him,” the son replies. The sweepstakes girl responds “That’s too bad.”
I can’t get that response from the sweepstakes girl out of my head. Why? Because at first I agreed with her belief that it is too bad that an old man would believe anything that anyone would tell him in our modern society. But then I began to realize that the problem is not predominantly with the Woody Grants of the world. The problem is with the majority of us who have allowed our society to become a place where survival often depends on mistrust. Don’t get me wrong. I understand that the Bible warns us to be trusting AND shrewd. There is real evil in the world that would like to harm us.
Yes, the sweepstakes girl is partially right: It is too bad that Grant trusts everyone. But it is not too bad for Grant, as the sweepstakes girl believes. In reality it is too bad for the rest of us. We are the ones who stand by while evil crafts our society into a place of mistrust. It is not how God intended the world to be. I do not think God looks down on the Woody Grants of the world. He looks down with a sad eye on the rest of us.
Proverbs 3:29 says “Do not contrive or dig up or cultivate evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly and confidently beside you.”
You see, we have a corporate responsibility to look out for each other. If you spend much time in the Old Testament you will find places where the prophets tried to warn their society that the people were allowing too much lying, cheating, robbing, deceptive business practices, as well as other crimes of violence. And don’t be fooled, we tend to think of some of these sins (such as cheating and deceptive business practices) as less serious. The truth is that even these so-called trivial sins are violent sins because they destroy the trust of an entire society of people.
Don’t be discouraged by all this. God gives us tools to fight evil that schemes to destroy trust. For example, our age of information is a double edged sword. Corrupt individuals and corrupt businesses can hide some of their sneaky practices by using complexity to their advantage. On the other hand, cheated customers can spread the word faster via the internet. We still have a voice. Are we using it honestly?
Why is trust within a society so important? If it becomes impossible to trust anyone, even Christians in the church, it makes it harder for people to trust God. I know we should always be able to trust God, even when we can’t trust people. But that’s not always how it works.