Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Learning to trust in God

In Romans 8, Paul writes that the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law -- indeed it cannot (8.3). At times this notion seems exaggerated to me. Are people really all that hostile to God? Don't we all seek the good and the true, even if we are mistaken about what those things actually are? Can it be that human persons actually are hostile to the source and fount of all goodness?

I was reading recently from Deuteronomy, and I came across one of the most fascinating passages from the whole of the Old Testament. Moses is speaking to the people of Israel just as they are about to enter the land which God had promised them. Remember that they had been slaves in Egypt, and they had seen the miraculous manner in which God had saved them from that place. They were witnesses of wonderful things which the LORD had done for them. And yet when they are on the threshold, ready to enter into the promised land, they are afraid and begin to blame God:

But you were unwilling to go. You rebelled against the command of the LORD your God; you grumbled in your tends and said, "It is because the LORD hates us that he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to hand us over to the Amorites to destroy us. Where are we headed? Our kindred have made our hearts melt by reporting, 'The people are stronger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified up to heaven!'" (Deut 1.26-8)

This is fascinating and deeply troubling: though God had done so many wonderful miraculous things for them, yet they are convinced that he is trying to kill them; the mere sight of adversity and challenge nullifies everything that YHWH had graced them with until that moment, and they are now convinced that God is not to be trusted. Far from acting out of benevolence and grace, he is acting out of malicious hatred and a determination to see us destroyed! -- Such is the thinking of the Israelites.

The human condition is fascinatingly complicated one. As Augustine said, our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord. We seek after goodness and life in everything we do, and yet this all comes from God who is the Good and the source of life itself. Yet while we are apparently structured and constructed to seek after God, at the same time we have a deep mistrust and aversion to him. He tells us that the things we like are actually not good, and that we shouldn't spend our time with them; he tells us that we are doing evil when we think we are doing good. He stands in the way of our becoming who we want to be, and so we see him as compromising our freedom and our very identity.

How can the dilemma be overcome? We naturally seek after God, and yet when we come across him, we feel revulsion. It would seem the problem is insuperable, except that God is good and he makes accommodations for our weaknesses. He knows that we have a hard time trusting him, so he does things for us that we can easily recognize as good: he gives us sunlight and rain, he gives us strength in our bodies and health and joy in our hearts (Acts 14.17) from the things he has created. Even more than that, he saved the Hebrews from slavery and oppression in Egypt. And to top it all off, he saves each and every one of us from sin and death by taking on a human nature such as our own, coming down from lofty heaven to die for our sins and be resurrected, assuring us through his victory over death that we too will enjoy life forever.

What more can God do for us before we will learn to trust him in everything? Something dark and twisted deep inside us is determined to make us question everything that God does. It works hard to prevent us from trusting him and from following his leadership. God does good to us over and over again so as to teach us that we can trust him. We need only to say No to that voice of darkness which keeps us from trusting him.

This should be one of my New Year's Resolutions: to trust God.