Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reflections on What It Means to Trust (in) God

For some time during my undergraduate years, I struggled enormously with the popular and oft-repeated notion of "trust in God." A professor and mentor preferred this phrase to "faith" or "belief" in God, as the former carried so much baggage and the latter implied mere intellectual assent; and of course in the ordinary discourse of many Christians, one is counseled continuously to "trust God" or "trust in God."

The phrase troubled me because I had no substantive content to supply its meaning. In its poorest and most unthoughtful use -- if also its most well-worn -- people mean by it to trust, in seemingly insurmountable situations, that God will do something. But this is clearly meaningless, for God does not always "do" something in response to our problems, and even when we might affirm the case, it is just as likely not to be in our favor or assumed well-being as to be what we hoped for.

Nor can it mean to trust that all will work out well. At best that is an eschatological statement, at worst -- and more usually -- it is a bourgeois projection of a benign cosmos, an in fact heretical reification of the way things are as the best of all possible worlds. But things do not always work out well: loved ones die, the cancer spreads, the interview fails, the attempted reconciliation backfires.

So what is trust? What does it mean to trust God, to place one's own or a community's trust in God?

It means to trust that God will be God. To trust God is to believe that he is who he says he is, that he will do what he has said he will do, that he will be faithful to his promises. To trust God means that, in what feels like life's perpetually tilting scale of bad news, we continue to believe that God rules, that the evidence to the contrary is not in fact evidence to the contrary, and that our destinies reside with him -- for better or for worse. Trust in God is the explicit, lifelong unclenching of our fists around our lives' contingencies, failures, risks, and possibilities. When we trust God, we say that we are not God, that whatever happens God will be God and we will be his creatures -- and that our only hope, come what may, is in him.

Sickness, rejection, tragedy, accidents, mistakes, failures, and death will all have their say, and often nearly overwhelmingly so. Trust in God is simply -- though it is worlds away from simple or easy -- the resolute conviction, and consequent practice, that in the face of all these contradictions, God will triumph over all of them. And if God is who he says he is, his victory is both trustworthy, and our own victory, too.

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