On Trust: Book of Proverbs

Society is built on a network of social connections and these connections between people are secured together with trust. There are a great many liars, people who play social games to appear more moral than what they are and so it is easy for one to convince of their trustworthiness without any merit. Much like apologies, words like ‘you can trust me’ can be said, however trust itself is more than just words. It is tied to actions and built over a period of time, thus trust is practical and applied.

There are inherent risks when one trusts and these dangers are articulated in the preventative measures we take – such as controlling or watching movements – in order to mitigate the risk of betrayal. We do not have any way of guaranteeing authenticity of these connections and thus central to all of our interactions involves trust. We are vulnerable because we are removed from authority and the power to hold others accountable, which in ethical terms is a complex dynamic.

However, is trust merely an instrument that enables this implicit ‘cooporation’ where connections involve logical tests to confirm the trustworthiness of others, or is it possible to believe these connections are authentically true without holding to any evidential reason?

“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” Proverbs 11:13

Most of our loving relationships are connections we make with people that we respect and admire, those who we identify with based on the values that we ourselves adhere to and so there is an emotional familiarity in these relationships that exposes our own values. The decision of who we want to build a relationship with mirrors the person that we are.

However, in some cases social culture can reinforce the shared idea that relationships are fundamentally material in reality and contribute to a very different set of values that through institutional and technological influences shift how we approach the idea of trust. Marriage is no longer about the value of moral virtues, for instance, but rather about economics and appearances and where ideas of ‘love’ are motivated by the desire of personal gain and popularity.

Thus people are taught to be patient and tolerant to what would otherwise be poor relationships, controlled by dependency and reliant on connections that afford the greatest economic and social outcomes. Trust becomes a commodity. Who we trust and bring into our lives explains what we value and thus what we have come to value is material.

The high rate of divorce is indicative of the type of inner person that we have become.

“A good wife is the crown of her husband.” Proverbs 12:4

The Book of Proverbs is a collection of instructions and one of several wisdom books that attempts to articulate concerns around values and moral behaviour. The book itself is linked to King Solomon who is representative in Abrahamic tradition as a man of wisdom and righteousness by collecting a great deal of knowledge in many various fields of thought.

Women become symbolic of an image that explains the risks between good and evil or how the decision of what type of woman a man marries becomes indicative of the man that he is. The personification of righteous and moral behaviour is thus Lady Wisdom and by using poetry expresses the important union between man and woman or the relationship that binds us.

“My son, pay attention to my wisdom, turn your ear to my words of insight that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge. For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword.” Proverbs 5: 1-4

It is not specifically a ‘woman’ but rather symbolic of the dichotomy of temptation and desire in the material word versus virtue and wisdom in the divine world, thus in practical terms are lessons for both men and women to uphold.

God, in biblical terms, is symbolic of a higher good and who has a greater understanding of morality. The book begins with the concept of a father talking to a son, again symbolic relationship between ourselves and God as our father who is instructing us on the importance of wisdom and moral behaviour. It explains that wisdom is the ability to gain knowledge and understanding but to also apply this in our activities and decisions, and that trusting God is to trust in the importance of these higher and unseen values over our material desires and the socially constructed values.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3: 5-6

“Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.” Proverbs 28:26

The key theme is that knowledge enables one to understand the practical ability to decide the right course of action and that ultimately our relations between one another remain implicitly cooperative. To fear God is not the fear from the threat of violence but rather acknowledging these higher values by trusting in the divine wisdom as the source of authenticity in our moral behaviour.

If we deconstruct the concept of trust, it is a complete absence of power and to a certain degree emotional as it is practically applying a belief, just as there is a difference between ethics being practical and morality being subjective. It is characteristic of our motivations as we can lose our trust when our will is no longer motivated to believe. When our trust is betrayed, we are unwilling and cautious and therefore cannot be immediately restored and therefore it must being weighed by reason and temporality.

Wisdom is both experience and knowledge, requiring cultivation over time by blending epistemic learning with practical experience and over time we grow and learn both intellectually and behaviourally. Trust functions in much the same way. We decide who to trust and it is often reliant on our knowledge and that who we trust shows the type of individual we are. The Book of Proverbs itself is a collection of wisdom that informs and explains a number of situations in much the same way, but it is not weighed by laws and codes.

The ending of the book shows through Agur that wisdom begins by acknowledging that one knows nothing in much the same way of acknowledging our powerlessness. Lemuel concludes with the advice given by his mother about being with a woman who is virtuous and noble as a person, someone who lives by the wisdom as articulated in the scriptures and applies it. Wisdom is thus both the subject and practical and rooted in the trust of God or what is good and morally worthy.

“Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her, so he will have no lack of gain.” Proverbs 31: 10-11

While the language in the Book of Proverbs is old and the morals difficult to adapt to our time, we can still extract many of the ideas and align it with how we interpret the world around us today. It explains trust should be well-grounded and justified so that wisdom can be applied to reality and that knowledge emerges for the right reasons. Ultimately, it conveys the message that no one can really be trusted other than God and that we should trust the higher virtues of wisdom over the material world. That trust between people must be cultivated as a practice that involves knowledge and experience over time. It is seen in the actions that we do and the fruits of our labour, not just what we say.