In previous posts we have looked at some of the crucial ingredients required for the Christian life. Today we come to one more: the need to trust God.
That sounds so simple. Of course we trust God. Don’t we? Why wouldn’t we?
What does it mean to trust God?
First, it means to believe that what he tells us about himself is true. Because God isn’t a part of the physical universe we live in, we have no way to detect or measure what he is like with our senses or with scientific instruments. There is no way to verify for ourselves that what God says about himself is true.
What has God told us about himself?
In terms of what is he made of or what nature of being he is, he has told us relatively little. The Bible teaches that he is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing and can see the future before it happens. As already stated, these are not things that we can test experimentally to confirm. These are claims that we accept on faith and because there is no compelling reason to believe they are untrue.
In the Bible, God does not appear to be particularly interested in telling us what he is like in scientific terms. If he were to do so, I expect it would be indescribably far above what we are capable of understanding.
What God does want to tell us about is his character: what he’s like as a person.
The Bible teaches that God is a loving, generous, merciful and caring deity. He has provided us with a planet that can support human life and has given us everything we need to be happy. He wants to show love and kindness to everyone. He is prepared to forgive those who have made mistakes and gone the wrong way.
However, the Bible also teaches us that God can become angry with those who ignore him or who openly defy him. He can become jealous when those who had promised to be faithful to him give their love and attention to someone or something else. He will inflict judgement on those who have ignored or defied him enough times despite receiving warnings of the consequences.
Some people find these two pictures of God difficult to harmonise. To some people it seems that God in the Old Testament is angry and judgemental and then in the New Testament he is patient and loving. Some people have even concluded that these depictions are so different that the Bible is in fact describing two different Gods.
It seems to me that in order to be a Christian you must accept that God’s character encompasses all of these different qualities in perfect balance. His nature is to be loving and generous and merciful, yet how he acts towards us will depend on how we live our lives before him.
This brings us to the second aspect of what it means to trust God: we must trust what he tells us about ourselves.
According to the Bible, human beings are made in the image of God. This means that we are special in God’s eyes above all other creatures on the planet. It means that God has given us responsibility to look after the planet, each other, and all the other creatures on his behalf. It means that we have the potential to reflect the character of God. It means that we are morally responsible to God for the way in which we live up to that responsibility he has given us.
The Bible also teaches that human beings, despite being made in the image of God, still share the same basic natural instincts of the rest of the animals. We tend to put our own wellbeing or that of our own “group” before the wellbeing of others. We prioritise survival and pleasure over obeying any moral commands God has given us. We see pain and suffering as something to be avoided, not something to be used as an aid to personal development or growth.
In more modern times, we tell ourselves that as humans we have “rights”, that there are certain basic necessities and dignities that we are obliged to receive simply by virtue of being human – examples include the right to life, to daily food, to self-expression, to safety, to freedom of thought and choice, among others.
It seems to me that this is one of the most difficult things for people today to accept when it comes to being a Christian: God is not obliged to give us any of those things. That he does so is evidence of his love and generosity. We cannot demand them from him or protest if he decides to withhold or remove them from those who ignore and defy him.
While basic human rights are things that we should ensure other human beings have access to – this is part of our responsibility to look after each other – the Bible teaches that God has the authority to take these things away.
Human beings naturally resist that. We want a tame God, one who has to obey certain rules and who is ultimately under our control and answerable to us. We want a God who offers us a transactional relationship – we scratch his back by giving him something and he scratches ours by giving us what we need.
But that is not the God we see in the Bible. There are no rules to which we can hold God. He doesn’t answer to anyone. He doesn’t work on a transactional basis. There is nothing we can give him that he needs. There is no way for us to hurt him by withholding things he wants or cursing him.
He simply asks us to trust him. He does not promise that those who are faithful will live a happy, prosperous life at all times. Many of the faithful people in the Bible didn’t. He asks us to trust him that he will never allow us to suffer more than we can possibly bear, and to trust him that there is another life to come after this one, one in which pain and injustice and suffering and death will forever be destroyed.
This is the third aspect of what it means to trust God.
God has promised that he will create a new world and new lives for those who are part of it. The current world order with all of its war and hate and power-mongering will come to an end. A new world order will be created, one that will last forever and will mean everlasting peace and joy and harmony among the men and women who live there.
Again, this is not something we can verify for ourselves. There is no possible scientific method that can determine whether God’s promise of this future world is true. This is something we can accept purely on faith, not a blind faith based on nothing but wish-fulfilment, but rather an informed faith based on what we already know to be true about God and his track record for keeping promises in the past.
We cannot bring about this new world for ourselves. Many Christians today seem to think that God’s promise cannot happen unless we involve ourselves in fighting perceived injustices in the current world order. Yet if what the Bible says about human beings is true, the current world order will always be based on self-interest and desire for pleasure. It seems to me that the human beings who achieve positions of great power or influence in the current world order tend to be among the worst our species can produce.
Our only hope is to trust God. We must trust what he says about his own character, what he says about our tendency to follow animal instinct instead of moral virtue, and what he says about the hope of a new world.
For a Christian, as unlikely as it may sound, trust is even more important than obedience. If we disobey God, we can be forgiven. If we don’t trust him, we will not have a place in his new world.