For the conductor, on Jeduthun, a song by David. For God alone my soul waits silently, from Him comes my salvation. He alone is my Rock and my Salvation; my Stronghold, I shall not falter greatly. Until when will you plot treacherously against a man? May you all be slain – like a leaning wail, a toppled fence. Only because of his loftiness have they plotted to topple [him], they delight in deceit; with his mouth each one blesses, but inwardly they curse, Selah! For God alone, waits silently, my soul, because my hope is from Him. He alone is my Rock and my Salvation; my Stronghold, I shall not falter. Upon God rests my salvation and my glory, the Rock of my strength, my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at every moment, O people! Pour out your hearts before Him; God is a refuge for us, Selah! Common people are but vanity! Distinguished people are but a deceit! Were they to be lifted up on scales, together they would be lighter than vanity. Trust not in oppression, and in robbery place not vain hope; though wealth flourishes, set not your heart on it. One thing has God spoken, these two have I heard: that strength belongs to God; and Yours, O Lord, is kindness, for You repay each man according to his deeds.
–Psalm 62 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
I’m continuing my pursuit of restructuring the meaning of storytellers so that I can better understand and incorporate the lessons of God into my life. I have previously written about my need to find my own metaphor in the multitude of spiritual, religious, and psychological messages available so that I can better focus on what is important in life, and minimize or disregard all of the other “bothersome” minutiae.
It isn’t easy.
Life, or rather my approach to it, is a decades-long habit and like all “bad habits,” it’s difficult to break. It’s like quitting smoking (which I did decades ago). I know it’s good to break a bad habit, but I have to give up its secondary benefits and focus on what I’ll gain, even while “mourning” what I’ll be losing which, if nothing else, is the familiar. However, quitting smoking is child’s play compared to what some people call “making a paradigm shift“. This is a fundamental changing of perspective on how to approach and respond to not only circumstances, but to all aspects of existence.
Like I said, it isn’t easy.
There are a lot of elements involved but the first one is trying to find a starting point. There are all kinds of places that you might think to begin a journey of self discovery and self change. In yesterday’s morning meditation, I focused on prayer. That’s a good place to start since, for me, any shifting in paradigm also involves a change in my relationship with God.
Look back at the psalm I quoted from at the beginning of today’s blog. Look at what David’s saying.
For God alone, waits silently, my soul, because my hope is from Him…Trust in Him at every moment.
It’s not only hope and trust that belong to God, but salvation, strength, and kindness are His and His alone. In fact, David goes so far as to say that for “God alone my soul waits silently.” He is not depending on anyone else but God for hope, trust, strength, kindness, and salvation. David proclaims that even “distinguished people,” if you put them all on a scale, would still be “lighter than vanity.” Part of what I get out of this, is that there is no one to depend upon except God. Each person waits alone for His response.
I want to take all that and reduce it down even further to a single element: trust.
Churches talk an awful lot about having faith in God or having faith in Jesus, but they don’t mention the word “trust” at all. What’s the difference? I found an excellent metaphor comparing faith and trust, and I encourage you to read my wee missive on the difference before continuing here. It’s easy to have faith that God exists. It’s not so easy to actually trust God with everything that’s important to you…especially your life.
I know this sounds terrible, but I don’t think I trust God very much. Yes, I acknowledge and have faith in His existence and sovereignty over the universe and everything in it, including me, but I don’t trust Him to keep me safe in an absolute sense. After all, bad things happen to people all the time. Even people who have an amazing faith and trust in God suffer horribly. People get all kinds of hideous cancers, get in car wrecks. lose loved ones tragically, have heart attacks and strokes, are in hurricanes, have their homes wiped out by tornadoes, have their emotions utterly shattered, are reduced to nothing anyone wants to get close to.
They trusted God to keep them safe and look what happened.
Actually, the record of the “saints” in the Bible, the record of the lives of the Prophets, show that holy people who had faith and trust often came to rather “difficult” ends and in fact, their lives might have been a great deal more peaceful if they hadn’t been such significant servants of God.
So if I do or don’t trust God to protect me, I’m still vulnerable to everything. Anything could happen at any time. Any disaster could strike. Any illness or accident could occur at any moment. No one is safe, whether you have faith in God or not.
I realize that God “never promised me a rose garden” and that God doesn’t owe me (or anyone) a “safe” life. I know that life involves taking risks. All that is very rational. So then, is faith and trust in God all about the “afterlife” and our lives in the here and now are identical to those of our secular counterparts? Are both the saint and the sinner equally libel to get mugged, raped, or murdered?
But is being safe the point? God does what He does. In Romans 9:15, Paul quotes God’s conversation with Moses when He said, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19 ESV) God grants mercy to or withholds mercy from people in accordance to His will. That makes God rather unpredictable. So is the only thing I can trust the fact that I can’t trust anything? Depending on how you translate Job 13:15 it can read Though he slay me, I will hope in him,” or it can be understood as, “Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope.”
So whether you trust in God or don’t trust in God, God will still do what God will do, so what’s the point?
But all of these “holy guys” seemed to think there was a point and they faced all kinds of horribly difficult situations depending on God to either get them out of it, as David did, or continuing to cling to God even if God chose to kill them.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” –Daniel 3:16-18 (ESV)
So how do you learn to trust God under these circumstances? If you are a child, you trust your parents, in part, because they keep you safe (I realize this is overly simplistic, since plenty of parents are untrustworthy for a lot of reasons, and plenty of children are hurt and even killed as a result). Children learn to trust their parents as their parents build a track record of keeping them safe and providing for their needs. Trust in any human relationship is based on experience. The longer we are in a relationship with a party who does not harm us physically or emotionally, and who provides for our needs, the more we tend to trust them and feel safe around them.
But how does that work in a relationship with God, who is so totally and completely alien to us and who, for any reason or for no reason at all (or for no reason we can understand), could allow us to be thrown under a bus (sometimes literally) at any moment and without warning?
It goes without saying that we cannot trust someone we don’t know, and therein lies the secret of learning to trust God. When someone says, “Trust me,” we have one of two reactions. Either we can say, “Ok, I’ll trust you,” or we can say, “Why should I?” In God’s case, trusting Him naturally follows when we understand why we should.
The main reason we should trust God is that He is worthy of our trust. Unlike men, He never lies and never fails to fulfill His promises. “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 89:34). Unlike men, He has the power to bring to pass what He plans and purposes to do. Isaiah 14:24 tells us, “The LORD Almighty has sworn, ‘Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.’” Furthermore, His plans are perfect, holy, and righteous, and He works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His holy purpose (Romans 8:28). If we endeavor to know God through His Word, we will see that He is worthy of our trust, and our trust in Him will grow day by day. To know Him is to trust Him.
-quoted from GotQuestions.org
That works if everyone who ever trusted God remained safe and nothing bad ever happened to them, but the person who answered this question never got around to explaining why people who trust God still end up hurt and dead. The quote does say this, however:
A third reason to trust God is that we really have no sensible alternative. Should we trust in ourselves or in others who are sinful, unpredictable, unreliable, have limited wisdom, and who frequently make bad choices and decisions swayed by emotion? Or do we trust in the all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, gracious, merciful, loving God who has nothing but good intentions for us?
So, this person says we should trust God simply because we have no choice. But that comes back to God doing things to us (or allowing things to happen to us) whether we trust in Him or not.
But the person I just quoted did make one good point. You can’t trust someone you don’t know.
That goes back to yesterday’s “morning meditation” about prayer. Without an ongoing, continual “dialog” with God, how can you know Him? That’s the same for any human relationship. If you don’t communicate in a meaningful and frequent manner, how can you get to know someone and then maintain a relationship?
So prayer is just as good a starting point as any.
The GotQuestions.org person describes God as “all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, gracious, merciful, loving” and a God who “has nothing but good intentions for us.” Sorry, but I’m having a difficult time reconciling that statement with the reality of the world in which I live; a world where six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, a world where Christians have historically been tortured and executed for their faith, a world where people living in terror pray to God for them to be delivered and instead, are left to die alone in agony.
I know, I sound grim.
The supreme irony is that, at least as far as the Biblical record is concerned, people continued to trust in God, no matter what. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked into Nebuchadnezzer’s fiery furnace, believing that God either would save them or wouldn’t, and subsequently the King saw four men walking around inside of the flames unhurt, including someone who had the appearance “like a son of the gods.”
Sometimes trust works.
I remember sitting in church when the Pastor would say stuff like, “surrender all of your cares to Jesus and just let them go.” I heard similarly phrased “flowery speeches” like this time and again in various Christian venues and never had any idea how to accomplish such a feat. How does one simply “let go” of problems, worries, cares, sorrows, and so on? What is the mechanism of release? How can you simply and suddenly “stop worrying?” Where does the “worry” go?
I now realize what was really being said is to “trust Jesus to take care of your worries.” Jesus himself said something similar.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. –Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)
But verse 34 is the kicker:
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
And yet people die of starvation and thirst everyday somewhere in the world. People of faith do go without adequate clothing or sustenance. We do whither away like grass before a raging fire, and no one walks among the living and the dead who looks like a “son of the gods.”
But we’re supposed to trust anyway…I’m supposed to trust anyway. Peale’s book has the reader recite and repeat the various “promises of God” to empower believers and keep them safe…engendering trust in God, and supposedly, in spite of the long and difficult world history of men and God, it works. Rabbi Tzvi Freeman wrote a multi-part series on Jewish Meditation and Prayer which more or less says the same thing, in spite of the long and torturous history of the Jewish people and God.
(I suppose I should mention at this point that multitudes of secular people have also gained great benefits from following the advice in Peale’s book, substituting “higher power” or even their actualized selves for specific references to God. It’s astonishing then, that these people learned to shift their paradigms and improve their lives, not by trusting in God or any external source, but by trusting themselves! Does this mean that who or what you trust is irrelevant as long as you trust something? If a religious person and a non-religious person achieve the same self-improvement goals using identical processes but different targets [God vs. the self], is that saying God is actually doesn’t matter as long as you trust something? I know, these are horrible questions.)
The only thing I can get out of this is that, like Job, I am compelled to trust God, though He may slay me, just because I have no choice. Or rather, I have a choice: maintain my faith in God and learn to trust Him, or surrender my faith and trust no one, least of all me. Since the latter choice results in only despair, the former choice is my only real choice. It’s like allowing someone to tie me up, hand and foot, blindfold me and gag me, stand me at the edge of a mile-deep cliff. Then they say to me that even if they push me over, I’ll still be safe. I wonder if that’s how Isaac felt at the Akedah?
In that situation, I can’t even scream in terror or beg to be released. My mouth is stuffed with cotton and my throat is full of sand. All I can do is hang on and trust…or continually, moment-by-moment, be terrified. Like the title to Harlan Ellison’s classic science fiction tale, I have no mouth, but I must scream.
What would you do?