“Who Do You Trust?” was a popular afternoon television game show initially hosted by Johnny Carson that aired from 1957 until it was cancelled in 1963. You can look it up online if you’re interested in the format but, like so many of its ilk, it was just silliness presented in an amusing way. However, I’ve always found the show’s title to be spiritually poignant. Especially in the realm of Christianity because our entire belief system is based on trust. I wholeheartedly agree that faith is the house we build and live in but if the foundation isn’t made of rock solid trust it will sway and shake with every bone-rattling tremor this unstable world rolls out across the terrain. If I were forced to try to distill the 66 books of the Holy Bible down to just two words I reckon they’d be “trust God.”
That’s the central theme consistently coursing from Genesis through Revelation. In Joshua 1:9 the great I AM told His chosen people as they prepared to enter Canaan, “I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the LORD your God, am with you in all you do.” In other words, “trust me, kids. I have a plan. I’ve got this.” His message to His children is the same now as then. It hasn’t changed a smidgen. But, as the nation of Israel demonstrated graphically and is so well-documented in the Scriptures, as human beings our level of trust that God is in complete control fluctuates wildly and usually in direct correlation to how pleased we feel about how things are going for us. We’re a fickle bunch. That being the case I find it astonishing the Lord trusts us with anything of importance. Yet He consistently recruits and uses the most unfaithful, broken and sinful people to broadcast the Good News of the Gospel. Go figure. Philip Yancey, in his excellent book, “Reaching for the Invisible God,” wrote, “The modern world honors intelligence, good looks, confidence, and sophistication. God, apparently, does not. To accomplish his work God often relies on simple, uneducated people who don’t know any better than to trust him, and through them wonders happen.”
If you drag common-sense logic into it the answer to the question of “Who Do You Trust?” is a no-brainer. I mean, if I can’t trust the omnipotent Creator who made it possible for me, my family, my friends, the planet, the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy and the expanding universe it all floats inside to exist then who, for heaven’s sake, can I trust? I can’t trust the government because the people we elect to run it belittle us, lie to us, manipulate us and let us down so often it’s like a running joke every civil servant is in on. I’ve also learned through experience I can only trust my friends so far because some of the greatest disappointments in my life have been dealt me by those I was closest to. And family members? Fuggitaboudit. Check out the headlines. Some of the most heinous of crimes are perpetrated by those who share a common bloodline with their victims. Don’t get me wrong, I have Christian love for everyone in my extended family but the only thing I can trust they’ll do with regularity is look out for number one. I do trust my adorable wife but my subconscious will never let me forget that my first marriage ended badly because the woman I wed 34 years ago broke my heart into a million pieces by cheating on me with another man and showing no hint of remorse for her infidelity. The nation’s high divorce rate is proof positive that, while one man/one woman matrimony may epitomize the ideal relationship the Church should have with Christ, the trust factor in too many marriages is as fragile as antique glass and the vows taken between husband and wife are frequently rendered null and void over incredibly trivial matters. And, speaking of the Church, its checkered history speaks for itself. As an institution it’s no more trustworthy than congress. From the brutality of the Crusades to the brash corruption of the Borgia popes; from the atrocities of the Salem witch hunts to the sexual abuses foisted upon naïve youngsters by priests and ministers; from the doubt-inducing skepticism fostered by the gnostic movement to the blatant money-hungry, wolves-in-sheep’s-costumes TV evangelists of the current era that shamelessly prey on the weakest and most vulnerable – I rest my case. My point is the Church has shown itself all too human. I must conclude that, if not for God’s unconditional grace and vigilant oversight, the Church would have long since imploded upon itself.
There’s a passage toward the end of John 6 applicable to the “Who Do You Trust?” theme. Jesus a delivered a profound sermon in the Capernaum synagogue in which He told the gathering that, metaphorically speaking, those who eat of His flesh and drink of His blood will have eternal life and will be raised up on the last day. This went flying over the head of many of those in attendance and they complained, “This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it?” Jesus then tried to calm them by speaking in simpler terms. Yet He knew what He was teaching would separate the men from the boys so He left them with “Because of this I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has allowed him to come.” Well, it worked as He surely knew it would. The pretenders, of which there were many, “quit following him and did not accompany him any longer.” It’s implied that the loyal twelve disciples were the only ones who stuck around but evidently they were somewhat flabbergasted themselves. Jesus asked them, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” What Simon Peter replied with has tons to do with trust. He answered, “Lord, to whom should we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God!” All those who’d walked away evidently wanted to trust in a God who was more to their liking. One who didn’t cause them to have to think, especially in spiritual terms. One who didn’t bring up the subject of sacrifice. Jesus was revealing the true God and they didn’t want to hear about Him. Jesus was asking His followers to trust that the truth isn’t always something easily understood but to trust in it nonetheless.
Now, it’s not my intent to be Danny Downer here and depress the reader with a droll, pessimistic “the world sucks eggs” rant. We all know evil exists and runs efficiently on its own steam. We know it has the capability of reaching into each individual’s life at any given moment without cause or warning. What I’m trying to emphasize is that we have not only a merciful, forgiving God we can trust without reservation but that by trusting He’s in complete control, trusting He loves us and will someday make all wrongs right again, we’re worshiping Him in the best way possible. The late Brennan Manning, in his inspiring book, “Ruthless Trust,” wrote, “The splendor of a human heart which trusts that it is loved gives God more pleasure than Westminster Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, the sight of ten thousand butterflies in flight, or the scent of a million orchids in bloom. Trust is our gift back to God, and He finds it so enchanting that Jesus died for love of it.”
By giving God our unwavering trust we confirm our faith in His magnanimous goodness and reliability. In Psalm 9:10 David sings, “Your loyal followers trust in you, for you, LORD, do not abandon those who seek your help.” I trust in God because, despite being for decades a horrible backsliding sinner, He demonstrated His trustworthiness by not turning His back on me when I finally called out to Him for rescue from the grimy depths of my own depravity. Now, He didn’t show up in person. No blinding ray of heavenly light shined down on me. Nothing miraculous happened but I knew He was there in my hour of desperate need and, in ways known only to Him, He was able to lead me to a church congregation that accepted me just as I was. I trusted Him because, frankly, I had no one else to turn to. Yet He didn’t hold that against me. On the contrary, like the prodigal’s father, He celebrated the fact I’d come back home at last.
Because we live in an untrustworthy world, trust doesn’t come easy for any of us. It requires an immense amount of courage to see beyond the emotional, physical and psychological roadblocks we’re confronted with and firmly believe the road to eternal fulfillment continues intact on the other side. There’s not a Christian alive who doesn’t yearn to receive a concrete, palpable sign that their trust in God is warranted. Frederick Buechner wrote in his memoir, “In just such a place on just such a day I lay down in the grass with just such wild expectations. Part of what it means to believe in God, at least part of what it means for me, is to believe in the possibility of miracle, and because of a variety of circumstances I had a very strong feeling at that moment that the time was ripe for miracle, my life was ripe for miracle, and the very strength of the feeling itself seemed a kind of vanguard of miracle. Something was going to happen – something extraordinary that I could perhaps even see and hear – and I was so nearly sure of it that in retrospect I am surprised that by the power of autosuggestion I was unable to make it happen. But the sunshine was too bright, the air too clear, some residual skepticism in myself too sharp to make it possible to imagine ghosts among the apple trees or voices among the yellow jackets, and nothing like what I expected happened at all.” I’ve often wondered if the Lord was to reveal Himself to me in all His glory and I lived to tell the tale would that be enough for me? Or would I demand an encore just to make certain I didn’t imagine it? And then, to impress my peers, beg for another? Recall what Jesus asked His disciple Thomas in John 20:29, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed.” In a way Christ was reiterating what was expressed in Psalm 84:11-12, “For the LORD God is our sovereign protector. The LORD bestows favor and honor; he withholds no good thing from those who have integrity. O LORD who rules over all, how blessed are those who trust in you.”
Any Christian can proclaim immovable trust in the Heavenly Father when things are going reasonably well. But when we come up short in the finance department, when we feel abandoned or rejected by others, when a friend betrays us, when we get the pink slip at work, when we fall into the pit of despair or self-loathing, when a loved one dies suddenly, when illness or pain crushes our spirit like a sledgehammer, when atrocious tragedies befall the innocent and no one seems to care we’re liable to start wondering how a merciful God could let such things occur. Those are the treacherous moments when doubt can seep in and start to erode trust. That’s when our true colors get hoisted up the flagpole for all to see. Manning wrote, “It requires heroic courage to trust in the love of God no matter what happens to us.” Note that Jesus didn’t suggest His disciples trust in the graciousness of God. Rather, He demanded they do so. He didn’t mince words when He said to them, “You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). Trust wasn’t some kind of nominal side note in Christ’s teachings; it was at the very core of everything He said. He knew fear has always been man’s worst enemy and that it can only be overcome by trusting in a power greater than ourselves.
I think it’s fair to say that trust in God’s perfect will trumps strong faith, good deeds, charity and gratefulness because without trust those things (and everything else) is rendered somewhat hollow, considerably less meaningful than they should be. What’s the difference between faith and trust? Marcus Borg opined, “The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart. The first can leave us unchanged, the second intrinsically brings change.” I guess that means we shouldn’t waste too much of our limited time on earth trying to wrap our tiny brains around what trust looks like. The Bible indicates that when we do that we’re bound to get it wrong. Proverbs 3:5-7 states, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own estimation.”
While the much-used phrase “just trust in the Lord” can too often be wielded to dupe gullible folks into entrusting their limited funds to the care of a greedy preacher who likes to trade in his Cadillac Seville for a new one every year, it’s still the most practical advice I’ve ever heard. (Here’s a tip. If your minister makes it obvious he’s the wealthiest man in the building every Sunday morning something’s amiss in the arrangement of his prioritizations. Just sayin’…) C.S. Lewis expressed it better than I ever will. He wrote, “The sense in which a Christian ‘leaves it to God’ is that he puts all his trust in Christ; trusts that Christ will somehow share with him the perfect human obedience which He carried out from His birth to His crucifixion: that Christ will make the man more like Himself and, in a sense, make good his deficiencies. In Christian language, He will share His ‘sonship’ with us, will make us, like Himself, ‘Sons of God.’ …Christ offers something for nothing: He even offers everything for nothing. In a sense, the whole Christian life consists in accepting that very remarkable offer.”
I continually marvel over the life of King David. He’s presented in the Bible so honestly that everyone who reads his story can identify with him and his struggle his thoughts that frequently see-sawed between the divine realm and the idol-filled material world that incessantly tempted him. He was a flawed human being but he did know who to trust. The statements he made in the Psalms regarding trust plunge deep into the heart of every Christian. “When I am most afraid, I put my trust in you; in God whose word I praise, in God I put my trust, fearing nothing; what can men do to me?” (56:3-4). “My trust in God never wavers” (26:1). “He rescued me, since he loves me” (18:19). “But I for my part rely on your love, O Lord” (13:5). “Put your trust in Yahweh, be strong, let your heart be bold, put your trust in Yahweh” (27:14). “Happy the man who puts his trust in Yahweh” (40:4). “I mean to thank you constantly for doing what you did, and put my trust in your name, that is so full of kindness, in the presence of those who love you” (52:9). “I, for my part, like an olive tree growing in the house of God, put my trust in God’s love for ever and ever” (52:8).
What we gotta trust in more than anything else is the life-altering truth that God loves us and will never stop loving us. When the apostle John wrote, “We ourselves have known and put our trust in God’s love toward ourselves” (1 John 4:16) he effectively wiped away any misunderstanding that might arise over why he repeatedly referred to himself as the beloved disciple. Jesus emphasized that, because the love the Father in heaven has for His children is unfathomable, the sturdiest aspects of our faith should be grounded in the knowledge that His primary concern is our spiritual health and welfare. Christ said, “Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. In fact, even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7). All God really wants from us is our trust. Considering what He’s done for me in my life it’s the very least I can give.