Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Confessions: Struggling to Truly Trust in God

It seems that when we most need to trust in our Savior, trust says, “hasta luego, baby,” abandoning us to our torment. I presently face the prospect of losing all my teeth, and I don’t know which way to turn. I try to trust that the Lord will guide me, but I am experiencing obstacles. I reason within myself, “God has let others down – How can I know that He won’t let me down also?” In light of this concern, can I truly embrace His promises like:

  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

However, instead of peace, I have been experiencing torment. I sought God to understand how I could fully trust Him in light of the disappointments I see among Christians. While many of the brethren reaffirm that they have found God completely trustworthy, I remain haunted by those few cases where I can find no redeeming explanation for their tragedy. I’ve repeatedly asked my Lord for wisdom in this area, but it seemed that none was forthcoming.

Perhaps I was not yet open to the wisdom that He was giving me. I was repeatedly reminded of the famous passage from Proverbs 3:5-8:

  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.

Perhaps I have been leaning too much to my own understanding. I had been allowing my understanding – “insisting” that I first have to have an answer to my question before I would commit myself to fully trusting Christ – interfere with trust. Consequently, instead of finding “nourishment to [my] bones,” I was reaping the torment of fear.

While our Lord promises that He will liberally grant wisdom (James 1:5), He doesn’t guarantee that He will answer our every question. Peter had asked Jesus about the fate of John. Jesus answered hypothetically: ““If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22). And even with only this minimal response, the disciples misunderstood Jesus and concluded that Jesus would return before John died. Clearly, we cannot handle certain knowledge, even glorious knowledge.

Years ago, before I knew Christ, He encountered me in the midst of a pool of blood. I was dying from a horrible chainsaw injury. In an instance, He revealed Himself to me. Suddenly, I knew that He was love, power-to-the-highest, and that He would see me through this debacle. I was so certain of what He had revealed that when my surgeon informed me that I would have to immediately begin exercising my half-cut-off wrist, I blew him off, certain of this unknown God’s sovereignty over my life. Even though I had been correct about His sovereignty, I made a wrong assumption – that my efforts didn’t matter at all. As a result of this, I lost the mobility of my hand.

We cannot handle some knowledge without it mishandling us. Therefore, in His wisdom, Jesus withholds it from us until we can handle it. Instead, faith and trust must be our source of light and evidence (Romans 11:1). This certainly doesn’t mean that wisdom and evidences are for naught. God gladly provides us with evidences (Acts 1:3; 2:22; Deut. 4:34-38; Exodus 4) and encourages us to seek wisdom.

However, there are doors that wisdom alone cannot open. I had been standing in the dark outside of one such door, demanding an answer before I would step into the light of trust. God had been giving me an answer, but I wasn’t hearing it.

God had also been giving Job such an answer, but Job too was having a hard time hearing it. The prophetic Elihu tried to bring his problem home to him:

  • Why do you complain to him that he responds to no one’s words? For God does speak—now one way, now another—though no one perceives it. (Job 33:13-14).

Why wasn’t Job perceiving God’s answer? I think that, often, it is because we think more of ourselves – our own righteousness and reasoning – than we ought. Consequently, we are not always receptive. Job was convinced that God had treated him unjustly. Consequently, he was only responsive to proving that he had been righteous. He therefore required a divine confrontation to knock some sense into his head. God had asked him a series of questions regarding what he knew and what he could do (Job 38-41). It soon became apparent that Job failed on every account. If Job could not answer any of God’s questions, why did he feel confident in his indictment of God? The conclusion was inescapable – Job lacked the wisdom and knowledge by which to bring any indictments against God! Job therefore confessed:

  • “You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3-6)

There is nothing the matter with wisdom. However, when we have too high of a regard for our own “wisdom,” we lose receptivity, like a dirty pair of eyeglasses. Job had had too high regards for his own reasoning. Ironically, this prevented him from trusting in God and hardened him against hearing. However, God mercifully chastens us with our own opinions to show us how our pride and its prickly fruit cost us:

  • “He [God] may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn them from wrongdoing and keep them from pride, to preserve them from the pit.” (Job 33:16-18)

The more we trust in ourselves, the less we trust in God. Unless our Lord chastens us, it is inevitable that we will lean to our own tragic and depressing understanding, and with this, away from God’s comforting understanding.

How could I trust in God in view of certain tragedies that I couldn’t reconcile with such trust? I had unconsciously assumed that if I couldn’t reconcile trusting in God with these “tragedies,” I couldn’t really trust in God. In this, I had been placing too much trust in my understanding. I was committing the same fallacy as I have often accused the atheists of making. I would tell them:

  • Just because you fail to find a purpose for suffering, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. Instead, it is just possible (understatement) that God’s wisdom might be greater than your own.

In fact, God often warns us that He will place us in situations where our understanding will fail us – like when He asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22) - and where our faith must be exercised to a greater extent:

  • Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

These trials turn us away from a self-trust and a self-focus to a God-only preoccupation, and I know that I – and you too – need trials. Without them, there is a great risk that we will become too comfortable in this world and will not “be overjoyed” when He comes back for us. Lord, thank You for the trials!

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