“Even though he slay me, yet I will trust him” (Job 13:15). Now, that’s trust. Many Christians avoid the Book of Job because it can be a difficult read. Here was a man who stood out from the riffraff because he was an exceptionally decent guy. He was “…pure and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job1:1). A real pillar of the community, he was. Satan says to God, “Your boy Job only trusts You because everything’s coming up roses.” God says “No way.” Satan dares God to put His money where His mouth is. Satan begs, “Let me take my best shot. I guarantee he’ll turn on you in a minute when things get rough.” God replies, “You’re on. Go for it.” What really bugs us is Job wasn’t privy to this wager. So when his ten offspring were killed, all the animals on his ranch were stolen and he came down with a head-to-toe case of Shingles he had no idea it was the result of a bet the devil made with God. But the story is particularly harsh and downright cruel on purpose. No one in their right mind can say what Job suffered “wasn’t all that bad.” What’s made obvious to the reader is that Job had staked his life on God but hardships made him think God must’ve split the scene. Yet Job never once stopped trusting Him. Satan strained Job through the ringer to see if he could squeeze out every trace of faith but he failed. Job’s trust was not a negotiable commodity. He passed the ultimate test.
Larry Crabb, in his must-read book, “66 Love Letters,” engages in a conversation with God about what he’s supposed to glean from every book in the Bible. Concerning Job God explains, “I removed all sources of encouragement but one. I extinguished all the lights that had been guiding Job on a pleasant path through life, not to prove a point to Satan – I owe him nothing but hell – but to gain entrance into Job’s heart with the light of My Presence. It was in the darkness of unexplained suffering that Job learned he was not the prosecuting attorney nor I the defendant. My message to him is My message to you: I remain all-powerful and all-good in your darkest night. Trust Me. You don’t know enough not to.” God doesn’t forget His faithful servants. In the epilogue we’re told He bestowed upon Job ten more children and twice the previous herds of livestock. What Job’s tale teaches us is that there’s nothing God treasures more than our trusting in the fact that, no matter what goes down in this fallen world, our merciful Father is in complete control and the rewards His children can anticipate in heaven are indescribable. It also reminds us that, regardless of how disappointing life can be at times, things could always be worse.
Brennan Manning wrote a lot about trust. He stated, “In the arc of my unremarkable life, wherein the victories have been small and personal, the trials fairly pedestrian, and the failures large enough to deeply wound me and those I love, I’ve repeated endlessly the pattern of falling down and getting up, falling down and getting up. Each time I fall, I’m propelled to renew my efforts by a blind trust in the forgiveness of my sins from sheer grace, in the acquittal, vindication, and justification of my ragged journey based not on any good deeds I’ve done (the approach taken by the Pharisee in the temple) but on an unflagging trust in the love of a gracious and merciful God.” God doesn’t send us an email every morning, mapping out for us what’s in store. Each day’s path is not predetermined by Him. God trusts us to seek His will and respond accordingly to every situation we’ll encounter. He expects us to act like Christ. I’ll be the first to admit I let Him down with frequency. Yet He continues to trust me. I think His trust is something we tend to overlook. God could fix what’s wrong with this mixed-up world in a nanosecond. But He’s entrusted that job to us, probably the most untrustworthy of all His creations. And some consider us crazy to believe in Him? Mull that over for a moment. I like how Douglas John Hall put it, “God’s problem is not that God is not able to do certain things. God’s problem is that God loves. Love complicates the life of God as it complicates every life.”
We can all agree if there was a specific place we could go on this planet where God Almighty permanently sat on a big throne, plain as the nose on our faces, there wouldn’t be a soul who’d deny His existence. That’s why so many ask Him, “God, why not ditch all the mystery and do just that?” William Irwin Thompson wrote a fanciful rendition of creation worth considering. He imagined God musing, “What if I veil My Divinity so the creatures are free to pursue their individual lives without being overwhelmed by My overpowering Presence? Will the creatures love Me? Can I be loved by creatures whom I haven’t programmed to adore me forever? Can love arise out of freedom? My angels love me unceasingly, but they can see Me at all times. What if I create beings in My own image as a Creator, beings who are free? But if I introduce freedom into this universe, I take the risk of introducing evil into it as well, for if they’re free, then they’re free to deviate from My will. Hmmm. But what if I continue to interact with this dynamic universe, what if I and the creatures become the creators together of a great cosmic play? What if out of every occasion of evil, I respond with an unimaginable Good, a Good that overwhelms evil by springing out of the very attempts of evil to deny the Good? Will these new creatures of freedom then love Me, will they join with Me in creating Good out of evil, novelty out of freedom? What if I join with them in the world of limitation and form, the world of suffering and evil? Ahh, in a truly free universe, even I don’t know how it’ll turn out. Do even I dare to take that risk for love?” God did.
Are we sometimes guilty of forgetting God is a person? Herman Melville wrote, “The reason the mass of men fear God, and at bottom dislike Him, is because they rather distrust His heart, and fancy Him all brain like a watch.” God, while He walked among us as a human being named Jesus, demonstrated He feels all the emotions, from ecstatic joy to agonizing pain, that you and I feel. In the 12th chapter of Mark (verses 13-17) a group of Pharisees and Herodians tried to paint the Messiah into a corner. First they gave Him faux flattery with “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and do not court anyone’s favor, because you show no partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” The Lord knew what they were up to but probably gave them a disarming smile, anyway. They then asked, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” Jesus asked to borrow a dime. He held it up and asked them, “‘Whose image is this, and whose inscription?’ They replied, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.” The brilliant Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias says this lesson becomes even more poignant if we ponder the follow-up question Christ left unasked. “Whose image is on you?” Genesis 1:26 answers that query succinctly. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness…” Whether folks acknowledge it or not, God feels every hurt we feel. He experiences every disappointment we experience. He also knows what happiness feels like – just like you and me. Therefore we can trust Him unreservedly because God’s our master template, not some sort of unknowable “other” that can’t possibly relate to us (or vice versa).
In 1995 Joan Osborne topped the singles charts with the song, “What If God Was One Of Us?” I’ve always thought it posed a question any Christian could answer definitively in a heartbeat. God was one of us. Thus, He knows firsthand exactly what it’s like to be human. John 1:1-4 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.” In verse 14 John seals the deal with “Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.” In the miracle to top all miracles God did something only God could do – He literally became one of us. The Israelites griped and complained about their lot mainly because they were restricted to worshiping and obeying a deity who was “out there” somewhere, not close at hand, and He was certainly nothing that resembled themselves in shape or form. Jesus forever rendered that excuse moot. He was formed inside and came out of Mary’s womb. He had a torso with a head, two arms and two legs attached. He experienced what it’s like to be a toddler, a teenager and an adult. God proved Himself worthy of our trust by going to the immense trouble of becoming a man. A man that common, run-of-the-mill people could see, touch, eat with, speak to and hear. In so doing God confirmed He makes good on all His promises. Nothing merits our trust more than that.
Therefore, in light of what’s been done for our sake, why balk at handing over every ounce of trust we have to Him? We surely can’t accuse Him of being dishonest. Everything He said while He was here resounds with the undeniable ring of truth. Frederick Buechner wrote, “Jesus shares with us the darkness of what it is to be without God as well as showing forth the glory of what it is to be with God. He speaks about it, and perhaps that is much of why, although we haven’t followed him very well these past two thousand years or so, we’ve never quite been able to stop listening to Him.” We listen but do we heed? More importantly, do we trust? In my years as a leader in the Celebrate Recovery ministry it’s become glaringly obvious that when it comes to trusting God we humans, even those who’ve been born again, are our own worst roadblock. Manning wrote, “Wallowing in shame, remorse, self-hatred, and guilt over real or imagined failings in our past lives betrays a distrust in the love of God. It shows that we have not accepted the acceptance of Jesus Christ and thus have rejected the total sufficiency of his redeeming work. Preoccupation with our past sins, present weaknesses, and character defects gets our emotions churning in self-destructive ways, closes us within the mighty citadel of self, and preempts the presence of a compassionate God.”
That’s precisely why Celebrate Recovery isn’t the perfect remedy for every hurt, habit and hang-up people drag into a meeting. There’s an inherent dichotomy involved. Stepping out of denial, owning up to the havoc our sinful nature has wrought and confessing our dubious deeds is as Biblical as it gets. James 5:16 clearly states, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” 1 John 1:19 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” On the other hand, facing and admitting what we’ve done to others can turn us into self-loathing, self-pitying, self-defeating snails that think all we deserve is to be crushed under God’s sneakers. That’s why we stress maintaining a reasonable balance between the good and bad we’ve done. It’s crucial to spiritual growth. Humility is healthy for our souls unless it runs amok and we start trying to hide our true selves from God. We can get to where we don’t trust He can stomach all the ugliness and unholy thoughts we harbor in our hearts and minds. We don’t take our hateful thoughts, our cruel fantasies and bizarre dreams to Him in reverent prayer because we think He’ll care for us less if we do. That’s the devil talking trash. First of all, there’s nothing we can do to cause God to stop from loving us. Nothing. Secondly, we can’t let ourselves become spiritual cripples, incapable of moving forward. As Manning wrote, “In order to grow in trust, we must allow God to see us and love us precisely as we are. The best way to do that is through prayer. As we pray, the unrestricted love of God gradually transforms us.”
C.S. Lewis said, “I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that, though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond.” Trust beyond reason is what that something is. Christianity at its core, contrary to what a large, uninformed segment of the population thinks, is amazingly simple to comprehend. It merely asks us to believe what God has revealed through His Holy Word. If one seeks a religion that’s vague and sometimes ambiguous there are plenty to choose from. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The more complicated the religion, the more accommodating and comfortable does it prove. There’s nothing which is so disconcerting as a plain, direct gospel which, stripping away all mere essentials and make-believes, exposes the naked soul and flashes on to it the light of God. How much easier it is to appreciate the ceremony and ritual, to indulge in high-sounding, idealistic generalities, and to be busy with philanthropic actions – how much more gratifying to the natural self are these than to face the simple direct questions of the Word of God. Idealists and humanists are rarely, if ever, persecuted.”
Trust is risky business, to be sure. But, as the old saying goes, “To live without risk is to risk not living.” To turn over one’s obsessions, addictions, preferences and one’s direction in life exclusively to God takes courage because by doing so you voluntarily sail into uncharted territory. Like a child, you confidently take your Daddy’s hand and willingly go with Him wherever He takes you because you know in your heart He’ll never betray your trust nor intentionally place your soul in harm’s way. Psychiatrist Gerald May said, “I know that God is loving and that God’s loving is trustworthy. I know this directly, through the experience of my life. There have been plenty of times of doubt, especially when I used to believe that trusting God’s goodness meant I wouldn’t be hurt. But, having been hurt quite a bit, I know God’s goodness goes deeper than all pleasure and pain – it embraces them both.” Trust isn’t something you need to borrow. It’s yours to give and it’s intensely personal. Lynn Anderson quipped, “When you scratch below the surface, there’s either a will to believe or there’s a will not to believe. That’s the core of it.” There’s another aspect, as well. To announce you trust in God first and everything/everyone else second is to ruffle the feathers of those who are easily made uneasy by those who trust God’s laws rather than man’s. Manning wrote, “Threatened by the freedom of anyone who trusts in God rather than the law, legalists warn of dire consequences and howl like a wolf pack in the night.” I can hear them now.
But the loyal follower of Jesus who’s secured in their heart an unshakable trust beyond reason is no longer afflicted with codependency because they value God’s approval more than the fleeting endorsement of humans. They belong to Christ, “…the author and pioneer of our trust” (Hebrews 12:2). I’ll end with the words of Henri Nouwen, “For as long as you can remember, you’ve been a pleaser, depending on others to give you an identity. But now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props and trust that God is enough for you.” Do it.