The subject of trust, or rather lack of trust, is in the headlines these days. I’m writing at a time when new allegations of sexual abuse by priests are being reported every day. Hundreds of people are coming forward to say that someone they trusted — indeed, someone who supposedly represented the highest degree of integrity — deceived them.
We’ve all heard of the Enron debacle. We are told that when the wealthy knew the ship was sinking, they bailed out on well-endowed life rafts and left the common investor to float on the open sea. One retiree said that her $700,000 investment ended up as $20,000. “Who can you trust?” she asked.
Opinion polls tell us that the majority of college students say they cheat (if you can believe what they tell you!!). Quite frankly, we have good reason to be skeptical; we have good reason to make sure that the people we depend upon are worthy of our trust.
How do we tell the good guys from the bad guys? How do we know who is trustworthy and who is not? There is no easy answer. Just ask a young woman who has been abused by her father, a respected deacon in his church. Everyone, including his family, believed he was the epitome of integrity and dependability. But in the end, the man proved to be deceitful, and indeed evil. Sometimes we cannot even trust those who should be most committed to our nurture and care.
Why are people untrustworthy? Though we like to think that we are driven by rational instincts, the truth is that we are driven by our selfish desires. And because we want to be well thought of, it is easy for us to pay careful attention to our outward persona, and totally neglect the integrity of our hearts. In fact, sometimes people not only deceive others, but they actually end up deceiving themselves. When our self-deception is complete, we can become wicked, destroying those around us to protect our sick self.
As all of us know, rebuilding destroyed trust is well nigh impossible. Just ask a woman who has discovered that her husband has been having an affair for the past two years. Or, think of someone who has betrayed a secret, or that man who agreed to repay a loan, but ignores the commitment. Trust, like a vase that falls from the mantelpiece, can be put back together, but only with much time and care.
So, who can you trust?
Thankfully, there are many people who have proved many times over that they can be believed; there is a match between what they profess and the way they live. But the Bible warns, “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on the flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5).
But, we ask: Can God be trusted? If we are honest, we must admit that trusting our heavenly Father is sometimes more difficult than trusting our earthly father. But trust Him we must. I hope the following article will help all of us put our faith in the God who is worthy of deepest loyalty and trust.
Who can possibly calculate the buckets of tears that human beings are shedding at any given hour in this fallen world? Can we trust a sovereign God who could, at any moment, put an end to such suffering and yet doesn’t?
There are some encounters with evil that are so horrific they challenge the foundations of faith in a benevolent God. Elie Wiesel has written for millions of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust, and we must hear his anguish:
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the faces of the children whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.
Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.1
In the face of such evil, how can we honestly trust in God’s goodness?
“Flee the hidden God”
Luther, in pondering the mystery of God’s hidden purposes, urges us to “flee the hidden God and run to Christ.” Of course, the “hidden God” and the God who was made flesh are one and the same, but it is precisely because the two are one that Luther’s advice works. We must run away from the mysteries of God’s providence about which we cannot know enough to understand (because God has revealed so little about them), and run toward Jesus Christ in whom we find God adequately revealed. Jesus assures us in His Word that He is for us and that nothing shall separate us from His love.
Stretching Our Faith
Suppose God wanted to create a set of circumstances that would stretch our faith in His goodness and loving concern as a test of our loyalty. How could He best do that, except by making it look as if He is acting in a way that belies those exact attributes? When He appears to be on the side of the enemy, do we still believe that He knows best? Can we believe Him, no matter what?
“If God wasn’t there for me as a child, why should I think He will be there for me now?” a woman asked me. She had been abused as a child and as an adult she could not understand how her heavenly Father could possibly not have intervened when she was being brutally raped and whipped. Thankfully she does believe, but it is difficult; every inch of spiritual growth is contested.
Blessed Is the One…
After John the Baptist was thrown into prison, he began to doubt whether Jesus was the Messiah. Christ seemed to be reneging on Old Testament promises about the Messiah opening the doors of the prisons. Unjust suffering always fosters doubts.
So John sent a delegation to Christ to ask pointedly: “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3, NASB). In response, Jesus reminded John that miracles were occurring and then added, “Blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me” (verse 6, NASB). We could paraphrase, “Blessed is the one who is not upset with the way I run My business.”
Blessed is the one who does not say, “I am never going to trust God again because He did not keep me from injustice and abuse.” Or, blessed is the one who does not say, “I find the doctrine of hell so repulsive that I will not believe in the God of the Bible.”
Blessed is the one who understands that we must trust God’s heart even when we cannot understand His hand; blessed is the one who knows that we must stand in awe in the presence of the mystery of God’s purposes. Blessed is the one who goes on believing no matter what.
Blessed is the one who lets God be God.
1. Elie Wiesel quoted in John Stackhouse, Can God Be Trusted? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 47.
We’ve sung the words a thousand times: “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant… O come let us adore Him.” We envy the shepherds who actually saw the baby Jesus, and returned with a message of joy that pierced the midnight air. We can’t join them in Bethlehem, but thankfully, we can adore Jesus right where we are, for today He is at the right hand of the Father. That’s why the invitation is to all of us—“O come let us adore Him.”
But how do we “adore Him?”
When Christians stand for truth in a pluralistic culture, conflict is inevitable. Increasingly, that conflict is with our own government. This is the first of four messages about Christians in conflict, and how we should live in view of those conflicts.All Sermons by Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer