Trust in God isn't truly trust until we find ourselves face-to-face with the kind of hardships and betrayals that make us vulnerable and tempt us to fear.
As a college student, I had the privilege of serving as the president of a campus organization dedicated to preserving African-American history and culture. My soon-to-be-wife also served as president of a campus organization responsible for student programming on campus. Together we had the honor of organizing many student events and hosting some wonderful scholars and speakers at the university.
At times we struggled to get students interested in some of the speakers and events. However, one topic always garnered major attention: male-female relationships. Post a flyer about a forum on male-female relationships, and students invaded like proverbial ants at a picnic.
It was soon clear why this was so. Students love controversy. As soon as the question-answer portion of the agenda began, controversy erupted. Someone would inevitably ask a question that impugned or questioned the motive of the opposite sex. Fireworks ensued!
The controversy often could be boiled down to one factor: trust. There was no trust between young men and women. And for good reason. Any native trust between the sexes was under constant assault because of sexual immorality, unfaithfulness, abuse, usury and deception.
The passing years have made it evident that such mistrust doesn't simply vanish with time ... it grows and hardens as serial monogamy, hooking up, playing the field, granting favors, and the scaffolding of lies they rest on only continue to betray and undermine confidence.
As a pastor, I see the loss of trust and its effects in many varied instances. And from these, several hard truths emerge.
1. Trust is more easily lost than gained.
This would seem obvious to most people. And yet, most people and many Christians do not live as though it is obvious. Our tendency is to live rather meandering lives, to stroll through life being unintentional about a number of decisions. And when we discover that those decisions have real life consequences, we often find that we have forfeited or damaged the trust of others we care about.
Nowhere is this more painful than in romantic relationships. But the breaking of trust in romantic relationships starts well before we generally think. We first start chipping away at trust when we present ourselves as something we are not, or when we initiate a relationship with flattery and empty promises. The seedbed for distrust is sown then. The weeds of distrust that germinate and grow with greater, more serious betrayals have their roots in these first encounters.
That was the scene on my college campus and in so much of the Christian dating circles I'm allowed to peer into from time to time. A basic dishonesty prevails, partly because of fear of man and rejection, and partly because lust and sin requires deception to flourish. When we "trust in empty words and speak lies" (Isaiah 59:4) the result is always pain and grief.
2. Trust and history are close cousins.
Sheena, a woman of undisclosable age, sat down across the table from me. Following the preliminary "how ya doings," she announced the topic for the day with a question: "Why can't men be trusted?"
I'd learned a long time ago to sit fairly still when asked a question like that ... with the kind of prickly ice that froze over her voice. Nobody moves ... nobody gets hurt.
"Men are always dogs," she continued. "They're never honest, and they always cheat." The absolutes in her sentences were admissions really. They revealed a history, a repeated pattern of trust given, lost, given again, and lost again. No doubt Sheena had a list of specific men in mind from which she generalized to all men. And without doubt, these had been relationships that violated trust, confidence and security.
Very often our history bolsters or erodes trust. This is one of the tragic things about wasting our youth on riotous, prodigal living. The history of that living reasserts itself, and nowhere more damaging than in the intimate relationships of courtship and marriage.
We find ourselves negotiating the relationship as though our partner were a composite of the women or men we've known over the course of our lives — fathers who failed us, high school girlfriends who betrayed us, near-misses at the marriage altar. We are sometimes anticipating and responding to this history instead of really engaging the flesh-and-blood person before us, who has their own history, strengths and weaknesses. Our history sometimes becomes a third person in the relationship that must be dealt with, or it breaks up what could be.
When it comes to trust, history has a way of being a hitching post rather than a guide post. In the worst cases, people live life looking backward at these failures rather than trusting in the grace of God to come. In the best cases, the guideposts of history direct us to greater trust in God. We look backward and recount His faithfulness. This was true of the psalmist's history:
"Our fathers trusted in you; they trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered; They trusted in You, and were not ashamed" (Psalm 22:4-5).
But in either case, we are to remember that our histories are not silent. They murmur to us, and we're wise to bring its whisperings to the light of Scripture. This, in part, is why the Scriptures were written: "So that your trust may be in the Lord; I teach you today, even you" (Proverbs 22:19). We're not doomed to our histories, but we may have to reshape our thinking because of them (Romans 12:1-2).
3. Trust and the future are close cousins, too.
And, of course, it isn't simply that our history affects our present ability to trust. But our future joy and peace also are bound up with our ability to trust. How many relationships never leave the dock because there isn't sufficient trust in God or one another to make a genuine effort?
I never saw Carlos as nervous and fidgety as he was at lunch that day. He had a decision to make. Courtship with Trudy was going well. Now "to propose or not to propose" was the question.
As I listened to Carlos extol Trudy's godliness, her many strengths, their joy in each other's company, I was moved to ask, "Well, what's the problem?"
Without missing a breath or reflecting, Carlos replied, "How do I know she is the one and that this will work?" Out of the abundance of his heart, his mouth spoke.
I chuckled and reassured my friend with the only biblical guidance I could give him. First, he was free to marry a Christian woman or not marry if he was in control of his will and desires (1 Corinthians 7:36-39). The choice was his to make, though he didn't seem comforted by the Christian liberty and the prospect of having to exercise it. Second, in whatever he decided, he needed to be sure he trusted the Lord with his future. Spouses in difficult situations are called to trust the Lord with those situations and not to give way to fear (1 Peter 3:1-6).
My friend needed to be reminded of the connection the Bible makes between our future and the need to trust God. "Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him" (Psalm 37:5-7a). Also, "whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he" (Proverbs 16:20).
4. We too often trust in the wrong things.
The fact that we are made uncomfortable by the Bible's repeated calls to trust God is probably an indication that we have too often been living like practical atheists — uncritically trusting ourselves, not acknowledging God or remembering His past faithfulness, and failing to meditate on His trustworthiness. The Bible repeatedly tells us that to ultimately trust in anything or anyone but God is a disastrous mistake:
- "He who trusts in himself is a fool" (Proverbs 28:26). The New King James renders this verse in a way that speaks to many in our day who are given to thinking their individual subjective desires are always correct, "He who trusts in his heart is a fool."
- "Do not trust in extortion or take pride in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them" (Psalm 62:10).
- "Whoever trusts in his riches will fall" (Proverbs 11:28). The apostle Paul writes very similarly to young Timothy: "Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17).
- "Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish" (Psalm 146:3-4).
- "Do not trust in a friend; do not put your confidence in a companion; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom" (Micah 7:5). In words pointing forward to the betrayal of our Lord, the psalmist writes: "Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me" (Psalm 41:9).
- "Those who trust in idols, who say to images, 'You are our gods,' will be turned back in utter shame" (Isaiah 42:17).
- "You have trusted in your wickedness and have said, 'No one sees me.' Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you when you say to yourself, 'I am, and there is no one else besides me'" (Isaiah 47:10).
And in Ezekiel 16:15 the Lord likes Israel to an unfaithful bride who "trusted in [her] own beauty" and as a result committed all manner of spiritual adultery. We build our houses upon the sand — quicksand — if we allow ourselves to trust the idols of our own wisdom, our hearts, political powers, well-laid plans, riches or beauty. Even friends, whom we love and should trust in appropriate ways, are bound to fail us from time to time. We are not better than our Lord in this regard. But such failures should not leave us shattered and unable to move forward.
5. Trust is really about our attitude toward God.
As biblically informed Christians, we know that all earthly confidences can and may falter. We recognize that if human confidences are the sole currency of trust in any relationship then those relationships will go bankrupt. The peace and the joy we desire in life are found only when our greatest trust is placed in Christ Jesus, the Lord. "Our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name" (Psalm 33:21). "You (God) will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal" (Isaiah 26:3-4). "Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, and does not respect the proud, or such as turn aside to lies" (Psalm 40:4).
There will be temptation to fear, but our confidence in God and His character is to conquer such temptations. "Those who know your name will put their trust in you; for you, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you" (Psalm 9:10). "Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), in God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me? In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (Psalm 56:3-4, 11).
Those are good questions to ponder. If our trust is in God, what can man do to us? Are we really convinced, along with the Apostle Paul, that "neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord"?
When Paul wrote those words, he had just finished contemplating the great covenant promises of God worked out through God's sovereign foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification of repentant, believing sinners. In view of all that God has done for us in Christ can we not fully trust Him?
The hard truth is that trust in God isn't truly trust until we find ourselves face-to-face with the kind of hardships and betrayals that make us vulnerable and tempt us to fear.
Copyright 2006 Thabiti Anyabwile. All rights reserved.