As I ponder the state of this world and the people in it, I reflect often that one of the most consistent problems we face is that we do not take our covenants seriously. Of course, few people are aware that they make covenants, because their word is not reliable and because the vows they make to others are mere promises in the dark. The level of treachery in our societies is simply amazing, and it is difficult to exaggerate the problems of trust and loyalty that we find in trying to work with other people in a productive manner. Since trust, and the lack thereof, is a major subject of contention both within our lives and within our larger world, it is worth at least a brief examination into where this lack of trust springs from?
At its core, the lack of trust springs from treachery in key relationships, starting from the top down and going from the bottom up. At all aspects of our lives, treachery is a great threat to our institutions and relationships, and none of us is immune from the tendency, especially in light of the treachery of others. I thought it would be worthwhile to examine at least a little while how deeply embedded treachery is in our relationships and institutions, so that we may recognize the origin of these problems in our failure to uphold covenants by turning them into dishonest promises in the dark. By examining this common thread, we may see the interrelation between problems in different aspects of life.
Politicians are not known for being particularly honest people, and they have earned their poor reputation in just about every nation of the world, whether these ‘politicians’ are elected, royals who inherit their power by birth, unelected bureaucrats, or military leaders. Those who hold power in this world are generally corrupt, whatever their reputation, and this corruption springs from fundamental failures to uphold covenants. Some corrupt regimes preserve their power through control of the courts and the frequent use of military coups to overturn democratic governments that they view as hostile to their corrupt power. Other corrupt regimes pay lip service to constitutions, even taking oaths to uphold the constitutions of their realms, all the while they openly reject being bound by the constitutions and statutes that they have sworn to uphold. Still others plot to break their covenants by seeking to secede from countries in the vain hope that they will be able to control their areas without conflict from the nations they are a part of. Still other governments seek to make themselves the exclusive protectors and providers of their nations, all the while they are not able to provide for the needs of their people. All of these behaviors are aspects of treachery to covenants–broken promises that stem from a desire to hold office without a corresponding degree of integrity and honor in one’s conduct and dealings.
It therefore ought not to surprise us that corruption and treachery are everywhere to be found in our businesses and other institutions. Whether it is crony capitalism that seems to turn personal networking into economic or political benefit, or the use of corporate bankruptcy to get rid of labor contracts and shift the burden of pension expenses from companies to the larger body of taxpayers, this world is full of treachery when it comes to business relationships. This treachery can extend down to the ordinary employee who has to decide whether to be honest in filling out time cards or expense reports or whether they will seek to fudge a little for their own personal profit. Let us not assume that corruption and treachery are only at the highest levels. The more we can recognize the temptations we all face to be dishonest in our dealings, the better we can appreciate the difficulties of ruling and leading well, and avoid hypocritical double standards in our own lives. If we justify our own acts of treachery, we are not just judges when it comes to criticizing the larger treachery of others, whose treachery is larger simply because they have more power and influence than we do.
Likewise, we find that treachery is often deeply involved in our personal life. This may include broken promises to our friends or family. It may extend to the level of treachery of outright betrayal and infidelity. Broken people who have not honestly faced up to their brokenness and sought to struggle against it with the help of our Creator tend to break whatever relationships and institutions they are in. Often we tend to unthinkingly repeat the toxic dynamics of our parents, passing on the same problems to the third and fourth generations. We may easily justify our treachery by telling ourselves that we could not do any better, even though we generally could–not least by being more open and honest in communications. All too often we simply do not trust others to handle the truth kindly, and so we treacherously act in secret in ways that we know are hurtful to other others, hoping that they simply will not find out, trying to balance out treachery in some aspects of life with rigid adherence to those standards we can keep.
Once we recognize the wide span of treachery within our societies at all levels, we can greater appreciate the reasons why we are so divided and suspicious of each other. Those who have been frequently hurt by the treachery of others are not quick to trust. Likewise, those who are dishonest and treacherous themselves are not often willing to trust in the suspicion that others may be as dishonest as they are. For those of us who are honorable and honest (at least relatively speaking) in our own conduct, we face the dilemma of knowing that trust is necessary to build up successful relationships and institutions without knowing how to do so effectively. It takes a lot of time and work, but those of us who wish to model the right way to do things face the serious shortage of functioning institutions to model ourselves after. Therefore we must seek those models we can and seek to provide models through our own behavior, a task that is both difficult and urgent, seeing as our own society is full of broken and crumbling institutions falling under the weight of treachery and disloyalty. Let us hope that we may be fortunate enough to be a righteous remnant able to start again.