If you walked up to a friend and ask them ‘Do you trust me?’, they’d hopefully say yes. Trust is the maker and breaker of most relationships. While this sounds natural, however, relying on other people isn’t something we’re commanded or advised to do as Christians. I was surprised when I first realised that the Bible even appears to advocate against trusting others for support. With this in mind, how should a Christian go about making friends? Where should we place our trust if not in people around us?
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. -Psalm 118:8-9
Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.” – Jeremiah 17:5
A classic theme of a lot of stories – a lot of shounen anime/manga in particular – is the ‘power of friendship’. The protagonist comes to realise just how much other people are there for you and that you’ll only be able to win once you use the strength they give you to the full. A great and not-too-mainstream example of this is Amagi Brilliant Park, in which a narcissistic chick magnet rescues a doomed theme park (and the magical inhabitants that depend on it for survival) by taking its helm and gathering enough visitors for them to meet their annual target. Despite his know-it-all attitude, he isn’t the one who ultimately saves the park, and neither is he the one who saves Latifa, the princess who was at most risk from the park’s closure. It’s the power of everyone’s efforts that brings in customers and overpowers Latifa’s curse. Seiya may have ignited that, but without those around him, he would have gotten nowhere.
Stories like these can be dangerous to swallow if you do so in the wrong way. Christians should know that the power of mankind is vastly inferior to that of God, and that relying on the world to solve your problems is foolish when you ought to be relying on the Lord. This works both small-scale and in the grand scheme of things; we should rely on God first for how we engage with people at home or work or school just as we rely on him to give us our daily bread and make straight our paths. You could easily think, after watching something like Amaburi, that your trust should go to those around you, that people are deserving of your dependence, as the magical people of Maple Land depend on our happiness for their survival.
Yet, Amaburi also demonstrates an alternative – relying on something greater than yourself.
While many shows bring the protagonist towards trusting those around them, Amaburi actually ends with Seiya returning to the park because he doesn’t trust them. He’s sure they’ll start to fall apart again without his management. My first reaction to this decision was a kind of disappointment, as it felt like he’d remained as self-righteous as ever and that the show was now promoting that you needed to trust yourself first, which is an even more dangerous lie for a Christian to swallow. That impression was quickly wiped away though, since the show as a whole gives off a different message – what Seiya relied, and must still rely, on most is the magic that surrounds his management.
Near the start of the show, Seiya is given, by Latifa, the ability to read someone’s mind – once only per person – and it’s remarkable to think just how far from the mark everyone would have fallen without this gift of an ability. It was essential in securing the soccer game that brought them thousands upon thousands of guests in one day. Without that, the park’s final push to gather all their contacts would have been meaningless – the real boost to their visitor count came from not Seiya, and not the park, but Latifa’s freely given power. True, Seiya used the gift effectively, but we’re expected to do the same with the gifts we similarly receive from God.
Seiya isn’t perfect by any means throughout the series. He makes his own mistakes just as the rest of the theme park’s staff do. He even makes mistakes with the power, being tricked into wasting his use of it on Isuzu. So there is really only thing in the show he can perfectly rely on, it’s that his ability will reveal the truth he needs to know. He’s relying not on his own strength, but on the strength of someone else – a world beyond his knowledge and understanding – that was given to him. It’s noteworthy that many of the other improvements to the park, such as the pool gaining a pirate ship and crew to use during shows, also originated from a source beyond human power or control.
We too, as Christians, should be relying first on the power that works through everything in the world and not on the world itself. This is why we shouldn’t count our armies as David did in 2 Samuel 24. Any friends, talents or abilities we have originate from God, so we should trust the author of everything we have, since we are only made more than conquerors because of our faith in Christ – faith that was also a gift from God! Amaburi could at first appear an advocate for trusting other people first, but Seiya stands out to me more as an example of how you have to put your trust in something greater than people. Just like him, we should acknowledge that people are fallible – in our case, sinful – and thus the one who deserves our trust can only be the infallible God who works through everything for our good.
But how then should we think of our friends?
The other thing that struck me about Seiya is how much he gave to the park. It may have started as a chance to show off how great and wise he is (with some rather enjoyable speeches), but towards the end it seemed that he genuinely had a desire to just give his time and energy to other people. It works in tandem with him having been a popular entertainer as a child; while he was bred to be the centre of attention, that was only a result of – and a way of – making others happy. His development over the show wasn’t to become more trusting. Rather, he became more loving.
We learn about love from 1 Corinthians: it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. This is where things get complicated; we’re taught to not rely on man in order to ‘make flesh our strength’, but at the same time our love ought to trust people. How does this work?
I’d say there are two ways to approach trust – you can trust that you’ll get something from someone, and you can trust by believing in the best of someone no matter what’s said about them. The first is the selfish kind of trust that we’re warned away from – expecting that the world will strengthen us – while the second is what we’re called as Christians to do – not judging people or withholding our blessings even though we know they have sinned and will sin again. Seiya exhibits this divide himself – while he doesn’t trust the park to successfully run itself, as a manager he still must believe that every employee will try their hardest and work based on that assumption, making plans that require people to do their best even if they haven’t done it before.
Love is a gift to someone, not a requirement of them. If we’re friends with people because we’re sure they’ll back us up, aren’t we only friends with them for ourselves? If Seiya only managed the park because he believed the staff would succeed, wouldn’t he have only been gratifying his ego, proving to himself that his management style would lead to success? That may have been how he started, but if that was his only goal, why would he return?
Like Seiya, we should focus on being there for those around us instead of wanting them to be there for us. Your trust in people should be a risk for you but a boon to them, and that can only work if you entrust your life to God and not to men. God works through every friend you have for much more good than those friends work in themselves, so while you depend on God, bless those around you regardless of how they have proven themselves in the past. This extends into why we’re taught to love our enemies just as we love our friends – love should not be conditional on what that person gives you. The staff at theme park really give Seiya nothing – the benefits to his life come from how he gives to them.
This can all be pretty confusing, especially when you’ve grown up thinking that relying on people to support you is an essential part of life, and I’ve still been wrapping my head around it while writing this post. But I think these simple ideas, which Amagi Brilliant Park helps to illustrate, can help you know what to do with your trust.
1) Rely on God – not just first, but always. Even the people you’ve built the strongest relationships with are changeable, and if you’re making them your strength instead of the Lord, how is God going to feel? The more you rely on things that aren’t God, the more likely God will have them work against you so that you can realise that he was the one you should have been trusting all along. Even if people are working for you, your mind should be set on praying to God that things go well and not on finding your security in those people themselves.
2) Love people regardless of how much you can rely on them. Even if someone you know does everything you hate, you can still ‘trust’ them by not being suspicious of them when things go against them, giving them the benefit of the doubt as much as you can. By not holding people’s characters against them and giving everyone the same love, you’ll be demonstrating how you put your trust in the Lord to them, which is something all Christians should do in the relationships with both believers and non-believers.
Ultimately, when it comes to where our trust should be placed in, that’s God and not other people. A higher power than us, as Seiya experiences, will work in things in ways we never could. Just as we think we may have lost the day, God – or magic, in Seiya’s case – can come to remind us that he’s ultimately in control and turn what looks like misfortune into success. Yet, that doesn’t mean we should view everyone as against us – even if some are, we should love them all the same, trusting them – but not in them – as the Lord will use our trust to bless us as we bless other people.
Thanks again for reading, and may God bless the friendships you make – in anime or in real life!