How often do you encourage others to trust God? If you are active in your local church, quite regularly. When someone is anxious or angry, doubting, or depressed, grieving or grumbling, one (of the many) topics we might discuss with them is how to turn to the Lord in trust.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? In a world of pain, we need the best comforter. In a world of confusion, we want the best guide. In a world of injustice, we want sure and certain hope. All those things flow from a relationship of trust with the Lord.
Why is it, then, that sometimes people are reluctant to trust?
A Matter of Trust
Imagine, for a moment, that God was untrustworthy. What awfulness could our life with him contain? It would be terrifying to repent before a capricious god, not knowing if grace or wrath were going to come. It would be deeply unwise to run into the refuge of the lord, if we could not be sure if he were going to offer protection or not. Why would we pray to him, if we were under the impression that he is distant and not interested in the goings-on in his world? As for following…not a chance! To what horrors might he lead? If God really were like that, there is no way we would call anyone to put their trust in him.
The trouble is, that is exactly what some people imagine we are asking them to do.
All too often we encourage people to turn to God without checking out how they see God. And their view of God is, sometimes, so far from what is true. As people’s painful experiences combine with the muddled messages of the world, they begin to suspect that God isn’t all the Bible says he is. In the darkness, people quietly believe that he is distant, unreliable, uncaring, unkind. So, our call to trust him feels deeply unwise. No surprise then that it is, on occasions, rebuffed.
As people who walk alongside others, we do well to carefully build a faithful picture of who we are asking people to trust before asking them to act on that trust in any way. But how can we do that well?
Often people will say that to trust God, they need to be able to understand him, hear from him clearly or have proof that he cares (maybe in the form of receiving a life of increased ease). But the way to build trust lies in a different path.
A Tale of Trust
I have been pondering the matter of trust today. I have not been in my study or preparing a talk but rather laying in a dentist chair. And it was as the anaesthetic started to kick in, a 1980s band on the radio was causing my toes to tap and the polar bear on the ceiling had caught his first salmon that I asked myself this question: how did I get to the point of trusting this man enough to put a drill in my mouth? (And trust him, I do!)
Was it because I understood what he was doing? No. I have only the most rudimentary understanding of what he did today. Indeed, one of the reasons I need him is his ability to see things – and understand things – that I cannot.
Was it because he communicated well and told me what was going on? He told me a bit – and I appreciated that – but the beeps and whirrs remain a mystery. He did not tell me all that was happening.
Or was it because he promised to take the pain away? There is long-term purpose in the treatment, to be sure, but he was honest and said once the medication had worn off it was going to be sore. He didn’t lie!
No, I trust him for 2 reasons: who he is and what he does. He is my dentist and over the years he has shown himself reliable and kind. And he is a good dentist – through sometimes difficult procedures, he brings increased health. It is those things that enable me to let him do what he does, without fear, even when it’s not my favourite thing.
Foundations of Trust
How important, then, to help those we are walking alongside to know who God is and how he acts. We cannot tell them exactly what he is doing – he will not give them a personalized explanatory note – he is unlikely to take the pain away (not this side of heaven) – but he does reveal his nature and there is a record of his works. As Psalm 20 says, we trust in the name of the LORD our God. We do not trust in a random concept of God – we trust in the one whose character (name) can be seen in God’s word, and we trust in the one who is in relationship with us (LORD) by virtue of his covenant love.
For those who have been badly hurt, it might take a while to unpick the view of God that has gone astray but it is so worthwhile. It is when people see – through study of Scripture and the testimony of others who believe – God’s gentleness, love, compassion, strength, holiness, grace, mercy, and more, that trust becomes possible. It is when people see God’s personal commitment to all his children, that trust starts to appeal. It is as God’s eternal plans for our salvation and sanctification sink in that suffering makes a tiny bit more sense. It is as we see his tender, steadfast presence that relying on him feels safe.
So, this week, before calling others to trust God let’s make sure they know who God is. While we’re about it, let’s make sure our view of God is faithful too.