“Thanks, but no thanks” is a slap-in-the-face response from humans to the great I AM but it pops up in the Bible with regularity. And nowhere is it more blatantly displayed than in the verses of Numbers 13 that begin with “The LORD spoke to Moses: ‘Send out men to investigate the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. You are to send one man from each ancestral tribe, each one a leader among them.’ So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran at the command of the LORD. All of them were leaders of the Israelites.” Yes, God was giving it to them. Take note the scouts recruited for the recon mission weren’t tenderfoots. Because of their lofty rank they’d probably been eye witnesses to God’s freeing them from slavery in Egypt, the shock and awe extravaganza at the Red Sea, the Manna miracle, etc. so those guys had no right whatsoever to harbor doubts about what God could do. They dutifully took off to scope out the territory and were gone for well over five weeks. They came back with a “good news/bad news” report. The good news was astounding. “The land’s so rich and fertile folks hardly have to lift a finger to raise up a banner crop of whatever they plant. Milk and honey? Fuggitaboudit. It flows like creek water after a thunderstorm. However, the bad news is really bad. Imposing clusters of street thugs who call themselves the Anakim gang patrol every corner. They’re tall and wide as NBA centers and would think nothing of killing any one of us just for accidentally sneezing in their direction. The intel indicates they’d step on and rub out Israel’s beefiest Navy Seals like they were snails.” Their conclusion: “Sorry, but we’ve got zero chance against ‘em. Let’s switch to Plan B.”
Only brave Caleb disagrees with their negative assessment. He says, “Are you kidding me? We watched God wash the entire Egyptian army away in a couple of minutes before our very eyes yet now you think He can’t eradicate some overgrown goons? I say we put on our big boy britches, march in there like we own the place and wipe them out!” Alas, Caleb is shouted down by the overwhelming gloom-and-doom majority who then go on to scare the dickens out of everyone with exaggerated stories of bloodthirsty ogres who’d love to roast and eat God’s chosen people for brunch. In a landslide vote the Israelites tell Moses and Caleb to stick the Promise Land where the sun don’t shine. Oh, they still trust in Yahweh but not as much as they trust their mammalian fear instinct. It taints their trust to the extent they back away from venturing forward in faith and taking what God has promised is theirs to have and to hold. The result is four long decades of living in portable tents while trudging in circles through the wilderness, griping nonstop about their sorry circumstance.
Things haven’t changed much. We still balk at going where God leads us if His path doesn’t look inviting. We demand tangible proofs from Him that He knows what He’s doing and, when He doesn’t, we stage a coup and take over our navigation department. Brennan Manning sarcastically wrote, “Safety is our only passion. In a spiritual life charged with ambiguity, we can’t afford to make mistakes. Endless analysis replaces creative action. The willingness to risk is submerged in a raging sea of nagging doubts. We must have absolute clarity before we can proceed.” But then he adds, “What we’ve failed to learn is that clarity, reassurance, and proof cannot create trust, sustain it, or guarantee any certainty of its presence.”
Yet we persist in thinking if we’re not in control all is liable to be lost. More often than we’ll admit we stubbornly and stupidly believe in our fallible selves way more than we believe in our infallible Creator. Edward Farrell opined the three greatest obstacles to trust are amnesia, inertia and tomorrow. He said we forget God’s been faithful in the past, we’re too lazy to rise and stand on His promises, and we procrastinate in laying down our anxieties and worries about “what might happen” at the foot of the cross. We, like the Israelites, can’t get it through our thick skulls that unless we rely solely on God we can’t receive His blessings. I’m as guilty as anyone in that regard. At some point daily, if I’m paying attention, I’ll realize that once again I’m trying to make things go “my way.” I’m always struck by the absurdity (as well as the laughable ridiculousness) of my doing the worst thing I can possibly do – ignore God. I figuratively tell Him to sit on the bench and observe my admirable acumen in running my own show. What could be more pathetically inane? Henri Nouwen was right on the money when he wrote, “One of the most arduous spiritual tasks is that of giving up control and allowing the Spirit of God to lead our lives.”
It’s also fair to state presumption erodes our trust as thoroughly as doubt does. What I mean is we too frequently think that God, since we trust Him so fully, is obligated to do what we should be doing for ourselves. In the 1972 film, “The Poseidon Adventure,” (its producers promised viewers a thrilling ride through “Hell upside down!” in its print ads. That slogan describes the 21st century world we live in pretty well, doncha think?) Gene Hackman starred as Reverend Scott whose encouraging words to those who chose to follow his lead were “God helps those who help themselves.” For some reason that corny adage has stuck in my brain ever since. While it’s certainly a tired, overused cliché it nonetheless contains a lot of truth. God isn’t our nursemaid. He expects us to get up and get involved. In the Celebrate Recovery ministry we see men and women come crawling through the doors struggling under the debilitating weight of addiction to any number of sinful things almost every week. Many of them are backsliding Christians who have at least a modicum of knowledge about God’s Holy Word and believe with all their heart that Jesus can heal them of their affliction in a heartbeat. Some ask us to pray over them so they’ll be miraculously repaired on the spot. We do pray with them but we also gently present them with a more effective approach. We say, “Come to the meetings. Follow the 12 steps and 8 principles. Participate in our open-share groups. Find a sponsor and accountability partners. Go through a step study course. Pray constantly and read the Bible every day.” In other words, do the hard work that lasting recovery demands. Some of them will. Sadly, most of them won’t.
The presumption fostered by the proliferation of the so-called “prosperity gospel” is particularly destructive to the nurturing of healthy trust. People are led to think if they simply ask God to do something in particular for them He has to come through with the goods. That by saying “Lord, Lord” their melanoma or their towering debts or the consequences of their adultery will vanish into thin air. That if they tithe and obediently toe the legalistic line all their prayers will be answered in the affirmative. Their bank account will grow, their relationship woes will dissipate and it’ll be smooth sailing from here on out. Some preachers pick out various scriptures and build a strong argument that indicates God wants all His children to be blessed with health and wealth. Some folks get both and attribute them to God’s direct intervention. Hey, who am I to say God didn’t? I don’t judge. Christ Himself said “…for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) and He wasn’t just whistlin’ Dixie.
“Yet,” as John Shea wrote, “one brutal historical fact remains – Jesus is mercilessly nailed to the cross and, despite the Matthean boast, twelve legions of angels did not save him from that hour. No cop-out redemption theories that say God wanted it that way explain the lonely and unvisited death of God’s Son. This side of the grave Jesus is left totally invalidated by the Lord of heaven and earth. Trust in God does not presume that God will intervene.” Trust must extend beyond evidence reliant on our senses of touch, smell, sight, hearing and taste or we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. Trust grows best in the soil of despair. It thrives and blooms when all our efforts to fix things on our own come up empty, when the cavalry doesn’t arrive on time and we’re forced to accept God’s will without condition, when we cry out from the bottom of our heart, as did our suffering Savior, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).
Dishonesty presents yet another barrier to uninhibited trust. We Christians often pretentiously “go through the motions,” presenting a stoic, hit-me-with-your-best-shot face to the world when, deep down, we’re hiding an unexpressed suspicion our Lord can’t possibly deal with the hateful, malicious or lustful thoughts that stream through our hearts and minds like dark clouds. We find it hard to believe He can still love us despite our vindictiveness, our prideful fantasies and our outright weird dreams. We question if He can tolerate our animalistic urges that stampede over our spirituality, our illusions of grandeur and vainglorious visions of pleasure-filled utopias where we sit on the throne. We resist with all our might naked vulnerability because we’re terrified to our core of feeling unprotected from the evils of the world surrounding us on all sides. We secretly whisper, “I trust you completely, God, but only so far…” When we do that we betray the One who saved us from the abyss. Manning wrote, “By refusing to share our fantasies, worries, and joys, we limit God’s lordship over our life and make clear that there are parts of us we do not wish to submit to a divine conversation.” One of the many things CR helps people do is to finally, sometimes for the first time in their life, be completely open, honest and transparent about their shortcomings to God and to other sinners. Once they do that they receive liberation from the oppressive weight they’d hoisted onto their own shoulders. We’re only as sick as our secrets.
I reckon the biggest barrier to trust, though, is a refusal to acknowledge Jesus Christ as one’s personal Savior. What I mean is there are folks who say, “Yes, I firmly believe there is a God” but then leave it hanging as if the Almighty is some kind of intellectual concept, a mathematical inevitability or a robed entity of sorts seated behind a large mahogany desk with a sign on it that reads “the buck stops here.” They don’t believe Jesus was God incarnate or that there’s something called The Holy Spirit or that the Bible is anything other than an old book. They trust there’s a God but He’s off somewhere else, not here. That’s not trust. That’s a low-risk, cheaply-acquired spiritual insurance policy worth nil. They don’t have faith in Christ because they won’t accept the Gospel’s unequivocal statement that He alone is the answer to all mankind’s questions and the solution to all of civilization’s problems. In a world that desperately seeks a way out of its myriad of injustices and strife the Scriptures announce that God has already provided the means – belief in His Son – by which we can all rise above this ugly mess we’ve made. They don’t want to hear it but we Christians must persist in telling them. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “It [The Gospel] denounces the fatal habit of pinning our hopes to something that’s going to happen, and announces that all that’s needed by men, individually and collectively, has been at the disposal of mankind for nearly two thousand years. For the central message of the Gospel is to tell men and women that everything necessary for their salvation is to be found in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the only begotten Son of God. He, it proclaims, is the full and final revelation of God. It is in Him, His life and His teaching, that we see what man is meant to be, and the kind of life that man is meant to live.”
I’m talking about otherwise decent people who frivolously wave off Christianity because it’s too “exclusive.” But truth, by its very definition, is inexorably exclusive. One might as well hold the same indefensible attitude toward basic math! Of all the planet’s religions Christianity presents the truth’s bottom line more distinctly than any other. In Jesus’ death upon the cross we see the sin of the world finally exposed and condemned. And it’s through His death we see the only way whereby man can be reconciled to God. The Old Testament reveals that nothing else worked. God tried starting over from scratch with the flood. He tried creating a separate race of people to lead all others to Him by example. It came down to God having to sacrifice Himself in order for us to be redeemed. Now it’s in Christ alone we can derive new life and obtain a fresh beginning by becoming born again as a new creature. Only through the power contained in the name of Jesus can we live the life God intended us to live. But wait, there’s more! The Gospel assures us our Savior is seated at the right hand of the Heavenly Father, reigning in power, and that He’ll continue to reign until His enemies have been made His footstool. The Holy Word proclaims that the Son of God “…humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! As a result, God exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11). Try as they may, skeptics can’t avoid the directness of the Biblical truth that has remained untarnished for two millennia. The Gospel of Jesus confronts all men and women equally, urging them to turn back, to consider with an open mind this unique God/man who was physically here on terra firma for about 33 years and in whom alone salvation is to be found.
Still, we have friends and/or relatives who’ll only put their trust in science. They’ll spout off that religion in general belongs in the realm of make-believe, that it’s all primitive superstition. They’ll only trust what can be proven by the scientific method that deals solely with cold, hard facts. The irony is this: the vast majority who think that way are relying, not on their own investigations, but on the theories and conjectures of celebrated human beings they’ve never met. If a famous physicist said they consider Jesus a myth that’s good enough for them. Our job as believers is to also employ facts to educate them they’re taking a leap of faith no different from the one Christians take. Fact: No scientist has proved, or can prove, that there’s no God, that Jesus of Nazareth was not in a unique sense the Son of God, and that He didn’t work miracles. Fact: Not one of them can prove there’s no life after death, no judgment, no hell. Fact: All they can say is that they don’t believe those facts. They can put Christianity down and label us fanatic nut jobs all they want but their disbelief is not a demonstration of possessing the absolute truth. As Lloyd-Jones wrote, “There’s nothing, therefore, more unscientific than the way in which men and women are thus confusing hypotheses with truth and theories with facts.”
Trust is a precious but fragile commodity easily broken. But if we can’t trust God, the Creator of all, then there’s no one we can trust when a life is on the line. Not to mention eternal life. There’s nothing more illogical than an unbeliever flippantly dismissing the hope-filled message of Christ and His church without ever reading God’s Word, without becoming informed about the Good News of the Gospel, and without looking into the fascinating history of His people. Whatever else may be claimed for the discovery method of such an individual, it stands convicted as the very antithesis of the truly scientific one. Whether they’ll listen or not, they need to be told their illogical prejudices and biases against Christianity are the very things keeping them from knowing and experiencing the truth that will set them free.