(Two things from the first. One, this is a very long and somewhat sloppy post. I’ve tried to neaten it up, but some things just need to be a little messy, when we can’t seem to say them any other way. Two, I talk a lot about trust in here where it may sound like I’m at a certain high level of it – but it’s more aspirational than that. I’m further down the road than I was two years ago, but hardly where I want to be.)
So many times in my life, I’ve wondered why God has done things a certain way, or when, or maybe – seemingly – not been doing anything at all. It’s helpful for me to remember that he always has reasons for what he does, and for how and when he does them. His reasons are always better than my own, and geared to plans better than mine could be. I rarely understand them at the time, though sometimes later I do.
But, then, God does not ask to be understood – only loved. Trusted.
A couple of years ago, God asked me a trick question. At least, that’s what I call it. He asked me, “Can you trust me?”
Now, not to compare God to a lawyer, but in one way lawyers are like God – they never ask a question in court unless they (think they) know the answer. God never asks a question without already knowing what the answer is – and how we are going to respond. So, when he asks us something, it’s not for his edification but our own. He wants to pull something deep – no matter how simple it may sound – out of us.
We may come up with an answer while we’re sitting (or standing) there, or we may have to think and ponder and pray and work it out. God wants us to know the answer to his questions, but I believe we need to go through the process of discovering what those answers are.
The process may be uncomfortable. The answer may be uncomfortable. Likely, both are.
I had two answers to his question at the time. The first was, “Lord you are trustworthy – you are worthy of my trust.”
The second answer was a question. Often, there is no honest answer to a “God-question” except for another question. “Can _I_ trust you…am I capable of trusting you?”
A question for which I sadly knew the answer: I didn’t know. Though I felt pretty sure that I didn’t trust him the way I should.
If I had known what the following two years would be like – especially the first one – I might have answered, “No, God, I cannot trust you.” Now, after having been through a year of my mother’s illness and time at the hospital and nursing home, leading to her death, I can honestly say that I can trust him – no matter what. Though I’m not really sure I could explain the reason why.
We misuse the word “trust”. Especially when we try to apply it equally to people and God, we usually mean a short-term, shallow trust, that looks no further than the first hard time. (“I thought I could trust you – and now this terrible thing happened!”)
[I can’t go any further without acknowledging that some people have been terribly abused by other people – whether in childhood or adulthood. This issue of trust, and the question of is God even good at all is a very sensitive topic to them. And I do not mean to make light of it here. You may have been badly used by others who don’t even care that they did, or by some who didn’t mean any harm but were seemingly incapable of helping themselves. As they say in Al-Anon, you don’t have to accept unacceptable behavior. People can violate our trust to a point where we have to go on without them. That’s not the type of situation I’m talking about in this post, so I don’t want anyone to misunderstand or be offended by that.]
I’m talking about the long-term, deep trust that, no matter how long it takes, God is going to make things right, and that no matter how bad things look – if you follow God, you’ll be better off after those bad things than if they had never happened. The kind of trust that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had when faced with being thrown into a furnace because they would not serve the Babylonian gods, or bow down and worship the king’s idol.
They told King Nebuchadnezzar, “(O)ur God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
To be able to say, “God can deliver me – but even if he doesn’t I am not going to violate my trust in him, his trust in me.” That’s what I want to do.
Perhaps it’s not just trust I’m talking about but determination. Grit. That’s what I want to have, and God is helping me to develop.
It’s like in “The Lord of the Rings”, the books, though the scene may be in one of the movies. (Don’t get me started on Peter Jackson’s “re-imagining” of the books.) Merry and Pippin have been kidnapped by Orcs, and Strider (Aragorn) is determined to find them. When one of the company asks what if the hobbits are dying by the time they can be rescued, Strider says something like, “Then we will sit with them while they die.” In other words, even if they cannot be rescued, at least they won’t die alone.
At some point, this kind of trust goes beyond just the assumption of blue skies and clear sailing. If you follow God long enough, you will find quite a few dark nights and crash landings. Faith is the type of trust that only God can give, and faithfulness is using it day after day, come what may.
Life is so much more than, “Is something good or bad going to happen to me today?” Knowing who God is and that he cares for me and has a plan for my life gives it much more meaning than just having some cotton-candy deity who only exists to please my every carnal desire. A “god” whose “truth” is no more than whatever I want it to be, and never any less than whatever makes me happy at a given moment. A god whose truths are tied to the trends of the times. A god no bigger or stronger than my own desires and imagination. A god that can fit comfortably inside my own head – or pocket.
You want a god made in man’s image? That’s it.
However, a God who is bigger than I am will often handle things differently than I would – or wish that he would. And that kind of God is big enough to help me be strong enough (with his daily help) to handle some very unpleasant things to get to a much better result. The further I go in life, the further I see that I have to go. But I can say that when it comes to developing trust, there are much worse things than an uneventful life. Sometimes it takes surviving bad times to have a clearer understanding of what trust even is.
“Better is the end of a thing than its beginning” doesn’t just mean that once something is “over” it will be good. “End” in this case means “goal” or “purpose”. God has a good plan for a much better outcome than we can imagine.
And as much as satan would dearly love for me to give up before that outcome is reached, or to delay it through disobedience, unforgiveness, or general bitterness – I’m in this for the long haul.
There have been times in the last two years when I really have not liked God. But I like him a whole lot better than the alternative. Any time I get too upset with him, it’s a useful exercise to remember that satan is my other option.
And that is not an option.
Two of my favorite verses are:
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'” Jeremiah 29:11 (New Living Translation)
“Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.”
Ecclesiastes 7:8 (English Standard Version)
Though getting to that future, getting to the “end of a thing” can be a long hard slog.
As far as answers to God’s questions for us, my favorite is from Ezekiel.
God had set Ezekiel down in a valley full of “very dry bones. The LORD said to him, “Son of man, can these dry bones live?” Rather than going with the human answer of “What do I look? Crazy to you? Of course not.”, the prophet said, “O Lord GOD, you know.” This could have been taken as a dodge, a wily reply. To me, it was a wise one.
For as much as I like to say, “God, you can do anything, all things are possible with you, you are the maker of all flesh, there is nothing too hard for you” – and all of these things are true and I truly believe them – there are many times when I am just too tired. I may not feel I have the strength to believe for whatever impossible dry-bones-knitting-together-into-a-living-army plan God may have – or I may just be too tired to even say the words.
But, “O Lord GOD, you know”? I can handle that.