This was a work-in-progress book excerpt (now just an article), dealing with the subject of trust, with this particular part being about trust and generosity.

The Poor Widow's Offering, 1904, Frederick Goodall

Part One The Trust of Generosity

~ Cody C Kelley ~

Upon arriving for my lunch some weeks ago, I was struck with the generosity of a person who, for no apparent reason, felt the kindness to offer my bill free of charge. Accepting the generosity most clumsily, I soon found myself struck with the realization that I did not trust the person. It is not that I didn’t trust the person to be consistent with the action, but rather that the generosity was a surprise because I had no trust of their intentions: I assumed them to be corrupt. I had casted the person too far into the ash of errancy.

The fall into imperfection was possibly the most painful experience I, or either Adam or Eve, will ever endure. Thrown out of the garden of paradise, I linger to find that I have no trust to give, only fear. I am poor and have none to turn to; I am alone and have not a home to reside.

Poverty, like death, is misconstrued until endured. It is not the absence of articles or finances that endorses its difficulty – though these may be missed up front, a person will overcome their absence rather quickly, or at least adjust accordingly – it is, on the contrary, the difficulty itself that encumbers it. For, in the same fashion, it is not death itself that people fear the most (though there are certainly exceptions); rather, for the common person who has come to some realization of ultimate destination, it is the difficulties that often accompany death – such as the fear of disease and its pains, the fear of destination, or the fear of what loved ones will do after a person is gone — that are feared. Insurance policies, for instance, have certainly portrayed this claim — that is, life insurance, health insurance, etc. — for people do not take insurance claims out simply because they fear dying of something, but rather they take them out for the fear of the difficulties that accompany whatever it is that they may insure — such as the fear of paying for high priced medicines, or high priced funerals, or high priced repairs — and thus falling into poverty: a resulted fear accompanied by other such similar fears. Therefore, a person fears poverty in just the same fashion, and finds it to be of strain in equal tone.

Generosity is, with the assumption that fear is its encumbering feature, a result of trust, or lack of. The ultimate result of generosity is the entanglement of poverty; I have given all my life’s wealth away, thus I am now lower than those to whom I donated; I gave away this, thus I cannot do that; I am lacking this, thus I am encumbered by that. To be generous means to trust that what you are giving away will not intrude upon your wealth, your wellbeing, or whatever it may be. To be generous means to trust, in some way, that your generosity will not affect you negatively. The person that offered me a free lunch was being generous simply because they trusted that it would not encumber them to do so. Do not misunderstand me here, however, I am not downgrading generosity in any way. If trust is a required trait, or at least a very sufficient trait to have for generosity to occur, then it is simply an important portion for such, like how air in a bicycle’s wheel is an important for one to ride a bike. Though not entirely necessary, it is of immense importance, as to ride a bike without air in its tire would be particularly difficult and foolish. The fact that it is important does not downgrade it, for, if anything, it makes it more beautiful of an act, as to show generosity means to show trust: trust in your provider, trust that the person you’re being generous to will appreciate the act (this is also not required), and possibly even trust that something positive will result of this act, which is what generosity is most commonly portrayed in reference to. And, if intentions of generosity are merely intentions revealing trust, then Christ was quite well put when He told to relieve one’s cloak along with one’s tunic if any should wish either(1). Christ is certainly an assurance of one who did not lack trust, for He died with the assurance of trust that He should rise again. God gives because He trusts that He has nothing to lose; He does nothing to harm any of us for His own good, for what could He possibly gain by doing so? And, in this same fashion, He does nothing to us that will not bring us good, for what reason would He have to bring harm only for harm’s sake? God has all that He needs, and anything that is done is done for the purpose of generosity. God made because He gave.

But, as you, the alert reader, I am sure has already noticed, I have made a seemingly apparent error in this arrangement. For, is it not an ignorant thing to say that generosity is merely the act of trusting in a lack of encumbering? If this is true, then what about a poor widow giving all that she has to live on in generosity(2), certainly she cannot trust that by giving she will not be encumbered in doing so — of course she will be encumbered, but her intentions are still in the framework of trust. She is being selfless in her act and thinking of anyone but herself — this cannot be denied. Yet, she is still entirely trusting in some form of protection. Lewis advised that “the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare…If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charity expenditure excludes them”(3). The person who gave to me, and even possibly the poor widow, were unconcerned about their generosity being a pain on them, for if they were they would not be selfless in their act, as they would be thinking of themselves and how it should hamper them — even striking fear against their action and causing the act to be abstained from entirely — rather than simply giving out of their heart. On the contrary, they gave selflessly, but only did so and were capable of doing so out of trust. For, they trusted in God to provide for them, and thus they were not worried about how giving should affect them. They knew that any immediate negative consequences would be cured by God in the end, or at least lead to a greater good. Thus, generosity is a magnification of God’s glory in that it exhibits pure trust.

Of course, how about an atheist or one who does not trust in God, certainly Christians are not the only ones who give, how about their generosity? For this case, I am afraid that they too trust. Yet, unlike a Christian, they primarily trust in other things to protect them, such as insurance policies, their circumstances (wealth, health, etc.), or other people (parents, friends, etc.). This is not to say that Christians do not trust in these as well, they do, but these ought not be their primary trustee. God is eternal and always faithful(4), He will never forsake us, and only if one deeply disdains His care, will He ever let up(5). Insurance policies, circumstances, and people on the other hand: they can be trusted, but I am afraid they are not too consistent in their trustworthiness (more on that in Part 3). Therefore, generosity is the result of trust, and the greatest trustee is God. Of course, generosity can be done without worrying about trust, one can give completely blindly, without trusting anyone. Yet, I am afraid that this is not an entirely easy thing. Being generous without a trustee is like roaming into the wilderness without any sense of direction or path — or riding a bike with no air in its tires. Fear can easily overcome a person in this situation, and the possibility of poverty becomes as a thief in the night — sneaking up on the generous and stealing all which they have. Giving without any worry of trust is possible, yet trusting someone will make the act by far much easier, and much more approachable, as worry can overcome and cause fear.

Adam and Eve trusted God’s will, yet Adam and Eve also trusted the serpent’s will, and thus Adam and Eve fell because they trusted. God allowed them to fall because He trusted. Yet, did God allow this because He trusted them, because He trusted them to make the right decision? Does God trust man? Or, better yet, does He need to? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”(6). God made the world to show love, to demonstrate generosity, to demonstrate trust. Before the fall of man, God already saw the cross, He already knew His plan of redemption(7), thus He already knew the fall. It is possible He did not know for certain they would fall, as free-will entails such; yet, regardless of this, He still trusted by the same means. God did not trust in man not to fall, He trusted in His son to redeem. He trusted in this way, that He should demonstrate His love, His generosity. For, “free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having”(8). Thank God for the fall, for without it we would never have known love — true love that is, love that we have come to find, that washes away our fear, that we may willingly trust in.

“The condition of man is a condition of war of everyone against everyone”(9), writes Hobbes. I did not trust the intentions of generosity because I trusted the fall. I trusted that fallen human nature intends what is not generous, what is fearful and not trusting. We want to trust in this fear, for we want to trust in that fallen nature, it is one of the greatest temptation we have upon us. I did not trust in generosity, thus I presumed the worse, which is human nature. I suppose it could be said that I did not, at least momentarily, believe in generosity. To disbelieve in generosity however, is to disbelieve in Christ’s; and, to believe in Christ’s generosity is to believe in generosity. Yet, is there anything fallen in generosity, can it be of fallen intent? “Don’t bother too much about your feelings,” writes Lewis, “When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them; when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly, ask to have them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens to you. What matters is your intentions and your behavior”(10). I would like to say that selfish intentions are fruitless, that to have good intentions means you are truly acting in selflessness and showing true trust, and if you are generous for selfish gain, then the only person who gains is the receiver, for you are only trusting in your fallen nature by doing so, and you are doing nothing for yourself. Yet, I am afraid that intentions are a difficult thing, for as Lewis puts it, “when you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him”(11). Therefore, while it is certainly best that you are generous for humble and loving reason — as this will come to have a greater positive effect on you — if you give, even with the intent of receiving, then this will still enact a change within you, and thus create a longing for these positive intentions of generosity. So, while it is better to give than to receive(12), to accept any form of generosity is one step in the right direction — the direction of accepting God’s generosity — to trust in something higher than yourself. And, in turn, to give anything is to trust in something higher than yourself, for it is to trust in God to provide, to trust in the greatest  of trustees.

  1. Matthew 5:40
  2. Luke 21:1-4
  3. Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity: A Revised and Amplified Edition, with a New Introduction, of the Three Books, Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print. 86.
  4. Hebrews 13:5
  5. Lewis, C. S. The Great Divorce. New York: Macmillan, 1946. Print. 75.
  6. John 1:1
  7. 1 Peter 1:20
  8. Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity: A Revised and Amplified Edition, with a New Introduction, of the Three Books, Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print. 48.
  9. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan; Or, The Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civil. New York: Collier, 1962. Print. 89.
  10. Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity: A Revised and Amplified Edition, with a New Introduction, of the Three Books, Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print.
  11. Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity: A Revised and Amplified Edition, with a New Introduction, of the Three Books, Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print. 131.
  12. Acts 20:35