How do you handle a lack of trust? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I could have easily titled this “When You Don’t Trust God”, but I know you have that struggle if you’re a Christian already and I think it’s good for you to know that I do. Sometimes in the Christian world, those of us in ministry can sometimes be seen as if we are above the day to day struggles. We have the answers to the questions and we have the good theology. Our lives work out well.
That is a lie.
John Piper is well known for his Desiring God concept, but he also wrote “When I Don’t Desire God.” It’s a personal book. I haven’t read that yet, but I don’t deny for a moment it’s true. There are times that John Piper does not desire God. So it is that there are times I don’t trust God.
And folks, this is what faith really is. I am not for one moment doubting His existence. If people say I believe in God for emotional reasons, they are entirely missing the boat. I am convinced because of my rationality which makes the emotional struggles all the harder.
I am not even questioning His goodness. I do know God is 100% good. The problem is that doesn’t bring me comfort at times because there’s a part that wants to say, “If this is what goodness really looks like, then I could do with a little less good in my life.” As C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed after the death of his wife
“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and
I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me
about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect
that you don’t understand.”
Lewis has much to say about the goodness of God. He talks of people who say they are not afraid because God is good. Have they never been to a dentist before? I had a surgery job done in my teenage years by a good doctor, the one considered the godfather of scoliosis surgery. I am sure the staff at the children’s hospital consisted of good people. I still struggled for a year with walking on my own for a good operation done by good people.
There are times you look at what’s going on in your life and wonder “How did I get here?” A lot of the self-help people will say “You are responsible for your own life and your outlook on it.” We are told that in groups like AA, nothing can heal until a person accepts responsibility, but after that everything can heal. Therefore, for your life, you need to accept responsibility.
That can be good advice, but it really only works insofar as you are directly responsible If you tend to take good care of your body and you get cancer, are you to take responsibility for that? If your child is killed in a car accident by a drunk driver, are you to take responsibility for that? If you lose your home in a sudden natural disaster, are you to take responsibility for that?
Now keep in mind that in all of these disaster scenarios, I am not at all you saying you don’t own your responses to them. Some people beat cancer and some don’t and one of the #1 reasons for who does and who doesn’t is often attitude. There’s the old saying that one person says “I can” and the other says “I can’t” and both of them speak truly. Even if you physically can’t beat cancer, as sometimes the best attitude in the world won’t overcome, you can still choose how to live the remainder of your life.
There is a sense in which our struggles come from within in what we tell ourselves of the things around us, but do they not play a role? Suppose I am walking down the street on a daily walk for exercise. Now I am a typical guy with my book and playing some Pokemon Go as I travel and I turn to walk down the street and way off at the end of the street, I see a bear.
Rest assured, that never happens here, but this is a big for instance. Am I going to suddenly have anxiety? You bet I am, and while we can say that that can largely come from what I tell myself about the situation, there is no doubt the stressor is there, such as if the next thing I saw was tranquilizer guns shooting the bear and knocking it out and Animal Control coming and putting the bear in the back of a secure vehicle, I would have some aftershock anxiety, but I would be a whole lot better off.
In these times, people come and they mean well but they often say things that are so mundane. They’re true, but not helpful. You are told “You need to trust in God.” Wow. What a great idea! Why didn’t I think of that? Yes. And when you are rolled into that operating room and going under the knife and don’t know what will happen, just trust the surgeons. You can be told that all you want, but it won’t change the reality. When your walk with God is going well, it’s easy to tell someone else to trust in God. No. I don’t want it to be that while I’m in the foxhole and the bullets are whizzing over my head that someone from HQ messages me and says “Trust in God.” No. Come and really get in the trenches with me and I will better hear what you say.
The reality is we know we ought to, but we are majority blind fools in many ways. Yes. We know God works all things for good to those who love Him. Yes. We trust that if God allows it, He does so for our good as well. Here’s what that doesn’t change. It hurts. It hurts and when we look at where we want to be, where we want to be seems so far away we don’t know how we can ever get there.
Let’s also keep in mind none of us trusts God entirely. If we did, we would never sin. We do. We fail every day. I would certainly hope my Catholic and Orthodox readers would have understanding of a great quote of Martin Luther. The gospel is just one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread. We’re all wounded on the journey in some way and we’re traveling with other people who are wounded. Maybe right now you’re in good health. That’s great, but remember as you tell me about the joy of Christ that I know somewhere is true, but rings hollow now, that sometime in the future if we both are living, there will come a time when you are in the valley of suffering and the last thing you will want to hear about in some ways is the joy of Christ because it is not resonate with where you are.
In an odd way, what is comforting to hear about now is not joy, but suffering. Tell me about Joseph being in prison and telling the cupbearer and baker, “Please tell Pharaoh about me and get me out of this prison.” Joseph had found favor with God and was serving well and the warden had put him in cause, but he knew he was there wrongfully and while conditions could not have been better for him than they were, he still wanted out. Tell me about Daniel being thrown in the den of lions when his only crime was being faithful to His God. Tell me about Jesus begging to go to the cross. He had prayed “If there be any other way, let this cup pass through me.” Do we not think the Father would have loved to have been able to say “Actually, there is another way we can bring salvation to the world. The cross is not necessary.”
You see, the future is a place that is far off and distant. As a child, my family and I used to go to Myrtle Beach on vacation. It was in South Carolina and we started in Tennessee. At four in the morning when we’re heading out, the beach seems like an eternity away. You want to get there and we know the constant refrain of children. “Are we there yet?”
The children are realists though. They trust that their parents want to get them to the beach and to do so safely and know how to get there, but the child only sees miles and miles of interstate that look exactly the same. Telling them about the pleasures of the beach on the way sounds distant and hollow. It is the same way as when Peanuts refers to Christmas as being on top of a steep hill. The closer you get, the steeper the hill gets.
We often say that God is there when you are suffering, and it is true, but it is often still not much consolation in honesty. Lewis again writes that when life is good, God seems to be everywhere to the point where He can practically seem as if He’s so overwhelming you that you don’t enjoy your life. However, when you are in need and when you want to experience Him the most, the door is slammed in your face it seems. Being told God is there is no more a comfort than the child being told Christmas is coming or that they are on their way to the beach. It is met with a “Yes, but” and that is not helpful.
There’s a story that the great composer Beethoven had a friend who had suffered a great tragedy. The musician went over to his house and rather than see the friend, sat down and played the piano for half an hour and then left. The friend regarded that as the most helpful visit of all. Somehow, the music Beethoven played shared his longing and sympathy for his friends. As we often say, talk is cheap. Show me your actions instead.
At times like this, it is hard to trust God, but at those times, what reveals us most is not really our words but our actions. Everything I am writing in this post goes with what I am going through right now. Some of you know what’s going on. Some don’t. I don’t want to say here what it is. Either way, to quote the common saying, “The struggle is real.”
The actions though are still where it’s at. If you meet someone who is still trying to serve and do the right thing for the Kingdom even when it is hard, be thankful, though I would say at the time inwardly. There are many times for all of us it would be easier to throw in the towel altogether and give up. Go ahead and lie in bed all day and do nothing. Close the windows and curse the light.
Again, we have to refer to Lewis. Those Christians that still get up and serve regardless are the ones facing the struggle the most. It is easy to serve the Kingdom when everything is going your way and you’re prospering in all or most areas of your life. When you have struggles with God and you still serve, that is the hardest.
And maybe in reality, is it not entirely a lack of trust of God. I could just as well argue it is the pain and suffering that is trusting the most. Who would we say would be trusting God the most? A Pollyanna Psalmist who only wrote Psalms of praise and thanksgiving, and there is a time for such Psalms, or one who writes also the Psalms of lament and suffering. This is the Psalmist who trusts God with what he really thinks about this world. The Hebrews writer tells us to boldly approach the throne of grace, and it is the true person who knows that God is real and comes to help that feels safe enough to boldly come to that throne to register a complaint. Job had his own accusations against God and even though he darkened God’s knowledge without counsel, he was declared in the end to be the one who also spoke rightly, unlike Job’s friends.
As I think, it could be that you could say I am not trusting in God when I worry about the future, and that is true, but that doesn’t mean I’m not trusting in God at all. I’m still trusting in Him that I can go to Him with my complaints. I’m trusting Him that I can go to Him and tell Him what’s wrong. I’m trusting Him that I can go to Him and tell Him that I don’t like the way things are. I can even go to God and trust Him when I want to outright accuse Him of some statements. I can do this knowing they are not true, but still saying “This is how I really feel at the moment.”
To my atheist readers also, this is what faith in God means. Let’s drop this nonsense that faith in God means knowing that He exists. James dispels that one easily in his epistle. Faith in God is trusting Him and in that case one could say in spite of the evidence, because of the wrong evidence. It is not the evidence of simply present reality. It is the evidence of all that He has done in the past and the character of who He is. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where faith takes place. Faith is a willingness to follow God and His commands even when for the time being, it appears to profit you nothing. It’s easy to follow your commanding officer when you think he’s ready to send you back-up at any moment and you only need to hold off the enemy for a short time. It’s hard to when you can’t reach him and you don’t know where he is, but it is the true person who trusts his officer who still keeps firing away at the enemy regardless.
Thus, there are times I don’t trust God and what am I to do? Act. Act accordingly anyway. I have learned in all of my emotional struggles, that they don’t really last a long time. There are many times that I am in the valley and each time I think, “This is the worst valley I could ever be in!” and at the time, I think I am right, and a few years down the road, I find myself in a worse one. Every time I have been brought through. Sometimes, I have been brought through kicking and screaming and not wanting to trust the hands that want to carry me through, yet still I make it a point to go on. Where else will I go?
If anything, I think it would also be good if we Christians often dropped the spiritual platitudes we still too often share. We often act like intense struggle is the exception in the Christian life. It is not to be. It is the rule. It is how we handle those sufferings that will reveal who we are and the world will see us. It’s easy for the world to know we are Christians by our love if we rejoice and love when everything is good. They do that as well! It’s how we will handle the crucible of pain that will reveal our love the most. If we are showing love, it is to people who need that love the most intensely. They may even as we do with God at times smack our hands away in anger and want nothing to do with us, but we still love.
If you are also in the time when you are not trusting God, you are not alone. Trust if anything requires it being difficult to trust. It is easy to think about how the laws of science work so well when you are going about your day to day mundane life. If you have to get on a space shuttle and fly out where everything you do, including your return to see your loved ones on Earth again, depends on how well people are calculating the laws of science and how well they work, it could be different. I cannot speak on that, but it would be interesting to ask an astronaut someday if I could. Maybe I will see if I can track one down. Actually, I’m doing that right now. Perhaps that’s a future blog post.
And also if you are there, I am not going to give you platitudes. Just know that in my own way, I am also walking through it. None of us are where want to be entirely yet. All of us are still works in progress. When you meet me on my journey, it might be best to not talk. Just grab another sword and walk alongside me together. Even if we walk in silence, at least we walk together facing the next day.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)