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Trust not in politicians – they’re no better than us

When Prime Minister Tony Abbott was in Opposition he emphasised the need to restore trust in politicians. A year into his Government, the perception of the electorate – demonstrated in savagely low opinion polls – is that no recent Prime Minister has so swiftly abandoned promises or the truth; in short, has been so untrustworthy.

This has been a greater problem for this government than even the previous Labor Government, also strongly marked down in polls for perceived elasticity of principle, because of the exacting and inflexible standard to which the Opposition sought to hold them (remember “Ju-liar”).

It is a superb irony that has eluded only the most partisan supporters.  Even the Murdoch press has started to notice. And indeed there seems ample justification for rising cynicism about the integrity and constancy of all political parties.

It’s not only federal politicians. In New South Wales, ICAC has exposed sordid behaviour by a string of politicians, thus guaranteeing that Victoria will never have a body with comparable power (despite both the Liberals and Labor previously promising one) – they simply won’t take the risk.

Yet though we should rightly hope for integrity and honesty from our politicians, they are by and large no better people than we are – and probably no worse either. Who knows how each of us would respond to the pressures and compromises needed to govern?

So my purpose is not to denigrate politicians, but to be realistic about trust. The Concise Oxford defines trust as “firm belief in reliability, honesty, veracity, justice, strength, etc, of person or thing”.

That’s a high standard. I don’t know anyone who has never fallen short in these qualities. The Bible, whose various authors proved they understand human nature very well, points out that we cannot trust even ourselves.

Hear the wisdom of Solomon: “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26), which is echoed by Jeremiah, “the heart is more deceitful than all else” (17:9). Or the best known biblical injunction on trust (Proverbs 3:5): “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”

For Christians, faith and trust are inseparable. Trust is the outworking of faith; faith, that is, in the only object where trust is not misplaced – not in a simplistic, proof-text sort of way but at the core of our daily existence.

Isaiah understood this: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (26:3, AV).

Trust and hope are also linked. We can hope all the more because we trust.

Australians have never been more cynical about politics, and not without reason: politicians, too, have never seemed more cynical. But for believers it just highlights the proper repository of trust: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). 

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