Trust in Skye
Issue 71 August 2010
I am writing this from the Isle of Skye, one of the Scottish Hebridean islands. Its rugged, mountainous landscapes, deep mysterious lochs and heather topped hills make contemplation of the Creator easy. As you cast your eyes around there is little evidence of man’s work – no ugly high rise estates, no disused factories, no discarded waste. Indeed, for as far as the eyes can cast their sight, what you see is nature in all its glory, untouched except for a few white-washed cottages tucked into the hillside and the odd fishing boat sailing out on the sea. I sat on a mountain ledge and imagined the thoughts of the Prophet on Mount Noor – for surely, with only the desert sands before him, he would have come to feel that this vast expanse must have a Creator, and that the gods made by man could not elevate humanity from its lowly and oppressive condition.
Yet beyond the landscape there was something else compelling about Skye, and it can be summed up in one word: trust. On the corners where paths cross, you find ‘produce boxes’ where people leave their homemade jams and free-range eggs. Passers-by come, take what they need and leave their payment. Doors in homes are left unlocked. A local artist, affectionately known as Grumpy George, said to me, “You can leave you car here with the windows open, and the only thing that will enter is the rain.”
And it is this trust which affected me most. Trust is the bedrock of any relationship – be it in the family, the school, the workplace or in the public sphere of government. Once trust begins to break down, it will take an almighty effort to stop the erosion. But the nature of trust is such that it is ultimately an act of faith. You have to enter into it without guarantees or certainties. Sometimes your trust in someone turns out to be wrong. People will let you down. We will let others down. Trust is hard earned, but easily squandered; and when lost, doubly hard to regain. Trust does make you vulnerable, but without it you can never wholly love.
The notion of trust in God is at the basis of faith and our relationship with the Divine. But if trust in God has the same vagaries as human trust – with the capacity for hurt and loss – then the Divine relationship is in trouble! How do we then describe the relationship of Divine trust? And what happens when tests come our way? Do we entrust our lives to God only to be rewarded with hardship? The Qur’an is emphatic about this, “Do men think that on their mere saying, ‘We have attained to faith’, they will be left to themselves, and will not be put to test?” (29:2) But if faith and trust in God leads to tests and hardship, what kind of relationship is that?
We have to think differently about our relationship with God. It is not some archetypal, romantic earthly relationship. It has deeper challenges and deeper rewards. The pressures and challenges of life force your faith into the open. Any attempt to prematurely escape from such challenges before they have had the chance to impact your character is like the butterfly that is hastily urged out of its cocoon – it will be unable to truly fly. Difficulties provided by God are not a breach of His trust; rather they are a fulfilment of His trust. Trusting in God with all our being means accepting His decisions, even though we may not understand every ramification at the time.
Back in Skye, there are the magnificent Cuillin Hills and not too far away are the spectacular mountains of Glen Coe. Gazing in wonderment at these huge firmaments, I thought of the Qur’anic verse “Verily, We did offer the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains; but they refused to bear it because they were afraid of it. Yet man took it up for, verily, he has always been prone to be most wicked, most foolish.” (33:72) With the beauty of Skye’s landscape in my mind’s eye and the trust of its people in my heart, I reflected on the wider world and how we so misuse the divine Trust that we took up; we cause so much harm and injury to each other and to the very earth we live on; recklessly marching on, blindly disregarding spiritual values and deeper truths. But every new day presents an opportunity to right ourselves, and on the arrival of Ramadan there will be a whole month to realign ourselves, to fully put our trust in God and allow Him to work on us and through us, so that we can establish something beautiful on Earth, for surely the Earth has been entrusted to us; and to God is our return and all the rewards.