Friday, July 23, 2010

How To Trust God

I've had some great discussions lately with friends about trusting God and it sparked me to think about (and now write about) this in more detail. The questions I've gotten sound something like this:
"Things in my life are really hard right now and I don't know what to do. Sometimes I feel like I hear God telling me this or that, but I just don't know if that's Him or me. When I do know, it's usually something challenging and I don't know how to give up my control to trust that God will see me through. What can I do?"
First of all, let me say that trusting God is no easy task. It's natural - human even - to distrust God and do things our own way. God created us with free will and we choose to exercise it, against His best advice (see Genesis 3). So not only is trusting God difficult, it's impossible apart from Him. Huh? Let me explain. (Image Source)

Trusting God is a matter of truth: knowing who He is as He has revealed Himself to be, and knowing who I am in relation to Him. First (and only first - we must always start with God, not ourselves), I need to know God. Who is He? What is He like? How does He work? These questions can be answered by looking at the history of the world through God's eyes (we call this book the Bible) and listening for God's voice. He tells us (Psalm 136:1-9) over (Jeremiah 31:9) and over (Isaiah 45:5) and over (Habakkuk 1:13) and over (Romans 5:8) again who He is, but are we listening? Think of your friends - how do you know you can trust them? Because you know them - what they're like, how they respond in tough situations, and who they really are. The same goes for God.

If God is on His rightful throne, then where does that leave me? Not on it! It means He was, is, and will always be greater than me. This is not a shameful thing but a truth that brings humility (Galatians 5:16-24) and freedom (John 8:32). King David of the Bible was no wimp on the battlefield, but he also realized his limitations when it came to his relation to God (see Psalm 131:1-3). This truth reflects accurately, according to God's perspective, who He is and who I am. If He is Lord and I have a sin problem that impairs my ability to do good, then I need Him - I utterly depend on Him. (Image Source)

The more I let go of my own reality, my own perspective and worldview, and my own agenda, the more I allow myself to become open to trusting God. Yet letting go is not trusting. Acknowledging that God is able to do what I cannot and giving my troubles to Him knowing He is able develops faith - trust that He will be faithful. James says to consider this process "pure joy" because the outcome is proof of God's faithfulness (James 1:2-8).

If you don't know God, it's never too late to start a relationship with Him. All you have to do is crack open your Bible and start reading. I recommend the ESV Study Bible (linked below on Amazon); it's an easy-to-read translation full of great footnotes that help identify and explain what the passages say about who God is and what His plan for the world (which includes your life and mine) is. Knowing God is essential to trusting Him. You wouldn't give your wallet, let alone your heart and your life, to a complete stranger would you?


BF said...

it seems like you're saying that you can't trust god unless (a) you know him really well and (b) you understand your own place in this world. i think i'd agree with that. unfortunately, most people i know have a difficult time with (b), so they ask god. he either doesn't answer, or they don't know if they can trust his apparent answer because of aforementioned criteria. kinda cyclical.

Aaron said...

How do they know if God answers or not? From my experiences, God answers but it's often not in the way I wanted, expected, or was looking for.

Either way, trusting God has to rest in accepting Him for who He is - on His terms. I think this is what many people have a problem with, too, because they want God to do and be what they think He should be/do.

What do you think, BF?

BF said...

i'm just pointing out that the whole "how do you trust in god" question is really cyclical. i've been hearing similar things for 30 years. Q: how do you know when god is talking to you? A: by knowing him better. Q: how do you know god better? A: by listening to what he says.

that god may answer "not in the way [we] want, expect, look for," only complicates things. it doesn't give me any real insight, except encourages me to further doubt my best reasoning!

what do i think? well, i think it's pointless to try to trust god if we're admitting that it's natural to distrust god. why would god expect a species to act (in order to live in accordance with destiny) contrary to the species' nature? if that expectation is an attribute of "who He is," and i have to wait indefinitely to figure this out, "on his terms," then why trust god at all? the only answer i can come up with is this: trusting god, despite a severe lack of information surrounding god, myself, and the situation i'm trusting god to handle, gives me peace and happiness. personally, i can't fathom that last sentence applying to me, although i often wish it would! :)

Aaron said...

Well it's not quote cyclical. You don't just get to know God better by listening to what He says - it's more than that. Just like you don't get to know a woman by simply listening to what she says (she'll surely sniff you out and know that you're not truly interested in getting to know her). You have to listen to understand, from His intents and purposes.

So I guess the first question is this: do you want to know God?

BF said...

i don't understand the phrase "from his intents and purposes." i have to listen from god's purposes?

of course i want to know god?!

Aaron said...

It's a statement describing the manner in which we must come to God in order to know Him. We must come, listen, and seek to understand Him on His terms.

For example, if I've made up my mind about who someone is before I've met them, I'm probably going to be listening to what they say from a biased perspective. That is, I'm seeking out information to confirm what I already want to think or know about that person.

But if I let them define who they are, and then I seek to understand them based on that, then I will come to know them for who they are... which means, I might find out things I don't fully understand, like, or agree with. Does that make more sense?

Anonymous said...

What if you feel God has let you down in a majorly painful way? I was thinking about your question..."how do you know that you can trust your friends?" I agree with what you said about having to get to know your friends before you can trust them. I have to admit, though, that if I trusted my friends with something dear to my heart, like my children, and something happened to one of my kids, I would no longer trust my friends with my kids again. That's where I'm at with God. The pain of losing a child (even though it was over 10 years ago) is still in the back of my mind practically every time I put my children in a potentially dangerous situation. I often struggle with calming my own anxiety about not being able to protect them 100% of time because I know that givign them age-appropriate independence is good for them. However, I'm also aware of the fact that there are a lot of situations that are potentially dangerous (even letting them cross the road by themselves), so if I know that God would not necessarily protect them from being killed, what am I suppose to trust God about? To not give me anything I can't handle??....that isn't comforting when you've gone through the pain of losing a child. Is that why God created Xanax and counselors?? :)

Aaron said...

That's a much more difficult - but very important - question to ask, Anonymous.

We must always remember that our perspective is limited and God's is infinite. In other words, God can see and understand things that we often cannot. For example, my parents' divorce caused incredible pain and dysfunction in my life but He also used it to give me compassion, to humble me, and to make me into the person I am today. I would never have become who I am without that horrible experience.

I had my time (years and years of it) of questioning God, blaming Him, rejecting Him, and doing everything I could to escape the pain. It was then that I realized God wasn't the cause of the pain - sin's curse on the world is. In fact, God was reaching out in my pain to comfort me. But I had to be willing (and ready) to let Go of my hurt in order to see why God let it happen.

Trusting God will always have an element of faith involved, which is admittedly hard. But if we reserve a place in our minds (and our hearts) to learn why God does what He does, then we may just see life - and God - from a completely different perspective.

BF said...

yes, but it seems like a very noncommittal strategy for getting to know someone/thing. how do you know what god's terms are, except by making educated guesses? hypothesis and conjecture are, after all, among the first steps in acquiring true knowledge.

your last paragraph also troubles me. this is how i read it: 1. i let god define himself to me (method uncertain) 2. i try to understand god based on #1. 3. my understanding most likely includes things i don't understand.

assuming i ever get to #2, how is this an effective way of getting to know someone in a timely manner?

Aaron said...

On the contrary, it actually requires more commitment toward getting to know God because He is unseen and our hears are bent toward rejecting Him.

If your goal is to know God (i.e., head knowledge, book knowledge, and cognitive understanding), then you will likely fail because (1) He is infinite and we are finite, and (2) He is not so concerned with being known in this way.

However, if you want a relationship with God, that's different. It's not so much about knowing but about being with, which requires a certain element of trust.

Knowing is very noncommittal, but being in relationship with is not. Furthermore, knowing is focused on an outcome (such as accomplishing something within a timeframe), whereas a relationship is focused on the process (and is more about the person). Knowing about someone doesn't really require trust; being in a relationship with someone does.

BF said...

hmmm. i'm not so sure we should make such a dramatic distinction between cognitive knowledge of god and being "in a relationship with him." if god exists, he is always with me. if i am cognizant of him, i am with him as well. that is the relationship. my knowledge of god may be reflected in my actions towards him, or his effects, but those actions are still my knowledge of god. it's a relationship nonetheless. i don't think it's healthy to take this comparison much further (i.e. relationship to god is like a marriage, or a friendship) because it is completely NOT like any human relationship you might have.

Aaron said...

Why not? I can read about Plato, Freud, or even Chris Farley - and know a lot about them - but not be in a relationship with any of them.

A few thoughts:
(1) Relationship is not just cognitive knowledge - ask any wife (:-P);
(2) God has made relationship with Him similar to marriage (so that we can understand it); and
(3) God also made relationship with Him possible by sending Jesus to become human; so we are in relationship with God through His Son.

God may always be near us and ever-present in the world, but not in our hearts. He can only enter by invitation only.

BF said...

hmm. well, that last sentence is a little mystical for me.

in response to your 3 points:
1. i understand that relationships are based on experience, but this is filtered through cognition. i don't think i need a wife to know this, and i think that particular comparison drastically colors the way a diverse population of humans might interpret god.
2. we draw parallels between our most intimate relationships and the relationship we aspire to achieve with god. still, these parallels aren't very similar. i imagine it was the best analogy bible-writers had, at the time, given that that sort of matrimonial language is used all the time, especially in the NT. you could also say "god has made relationship with him similar to [father/son relations] so that we can understand it." but you could say that about anything: a pet, a tree, a lover. the point is that WE are making assumptions on what our relationship with god could be like, based on what's currently important to US in our most meaningful relationships. how is this abiding by "god's terms?"
3. 2000 years ago, god becomes human, dies, resurrects, returns to heaven and becomes god again. in terms of understanding and/or trusting god, how is this helpful to me now? :)

Ryan Hofer said...

There's so much going on here, which is what makes it really interesting I suppose. I feel like a lot gets lost between the words, and I feel that, looking back to earlier times, I can better understand the frustrations I experienced within this realm. Can we say that being connected with God is a common human longing? I want that anyway. Growing up there was a lot of language and anxiety put onto that. "Gotta do this," "should do more of that" type rhetoric. You know, slapping water to calm it down. Why didn't someone say that we have the capacity for connection, and we can trust it? It's already there; you might say put there by God. Sure, we can use that way of description. To keep going in this circle of 1) You're not happy, right? 2) You're not happy because you're not doing it right. 3) God is telling you what to do. 4) You would be able to change if you changed your listening to God. 1a) You're not happy with your listening, right? 2b, 3b, 4b, 1c, 2c...I can't see that being good for me. I actually have no problem with 1,2,3 as the beginning of changes in my life, though I would soften the language to read more like: Individuals are usually capable of sensing desirable changes in their life, because they are connected to each other and to a larger world. I take issue, however, with 4 because it is not a tangible and concrete step towards anything. It's not realistic to view people as simply minds with rampant free wills, obliviously trouncing all God's great stuff. But if that's how you see yourself and others, that is your world. I much prefer finding things I can do, things I find immediately beneficial.

The analogy of relating to God as to a wife is opaque for me because I'm not married (egads!), and it's difficult for me to place a God relationship into one box. Again, it just gets really vague, really fast. Trying to relate based on what I think another is thinking, I find that tough. As Aaron said, that kind of predisposition colors my conclusions.

But anyway, as far as relating to other humans goes, I think I am starting to expect a lot more in terms of honesty and specifics. When I expect it from others, I expect it from myself, and vice-versa. Similarly with spiritual connection, when I make changes I can trust those to be efficacious in my life.

To the person who is having a hard time, barring obvious danger and harm, I guess I would wonder what circumstances bring about the dissatisfaction, and what are better things to do. Probably things the person enjoys doing. Seems a big issue is that people feel obligations towards others and society, so we don't do what we want. The more I do what I want, the better I know what I want.

In the first example given, the person is hearing a message suggesting they change. It seems the person is concerned with the distinction between God and their own voice. It's a bummer if God is always giving tough messages and the person feels always rebellious. That seems like a positive feedback loop; more rebel, more tough God. Also, a change can require some small steps and some living with uncertainty. I think most people know what they want based on immediate perception, but then temper it due to other concerns, which are legitimate. But still, I think addressing the want as attainable in some way is healthy.

Aaron said...

@BF: (1) Very true. I wasn't trying to imply that relationship with God can only be found through the similar husband-wife marriage relationship; only that cognitive knowledge alone is not enough. We do filter our experiences through our thinking, but those two are separate things: experiences (emotions) and thinking.
(2) Actually, God was the one who created marriage and who explained to us that relationship with Him is similar to it (in addition to other kinds of relationships such as father-son or master-servant). So it's not a human interpretation of God but a God-revealed explanation.
(3) Well, it's helpful because Jesus was human (still is), which helps us relate to God better. Also, Jesus dwells within those who accept Him - a very mysterious, spiritual sort of relationship that is unlike any other. It is Christ in us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, at the direction of God the Father, that empowers us to trust. I'd say that's extremely relevant to us now! :-)

@Ryan: Thanks for joining in this great discussion! BTW, happy belated birthday!

Yes, we've often made relationship with God behavioral, when it's so much more than that. It's more like: 1) I want a relationship with God. 2) My heart is sinfully bent towards rebelling against Him. 3) I realize there is nothing I can do except acknowledge my inability and my need for Him because He is able. 4) Accept God.

This is still intangible, yes, but a relationship with God is dependent upon our heart condition and 1-4 help change that condition from rebellion/rejection towards humility/repentance (we do the surrendering and God does the changing).

Again, the idea here is that we're coming to God on His terms and accepting Him for who He is rather than who we think He is (which makes Him finite) and who we want Him to be (which makes Him a genie in a bottle). It's a difficult thing to do with other human relationships, let alone with Almighty God.

If we accept Him for who He is, then we can learn about who we are because He's told us as much. However, again, this is not easy to swallow because He's told us that we're 1) created in His image 2) yet sinners, 3) and that our natural desires are evil. By accepting this, I realize that my natural inclinations are not good and that I am not a "good person" apart from Him (rather, He is what makes me good).

Hopefully I was following you well enough here!

Ryan Hofer said...

I feel like a lot of what we are saying is getting at the same experiences. The inadequacy of rational, judgmental thought and the acknowledgment of presence always available. I wonder if people who do not read the Bible, such as most of the people I meet everyday in Japan, are good in the same way you are talking about. I mean, does God make people good regardless of their particular religious tradition.

I wasn't just talking behavior though, I was talking about the state of one's mind, which I see as related to trust. If I get nervous and anxious I will feel the need to do things to relieve my anxiety. I don't see that state as conducive to trusting God to provide a solution for the perceived problems. But by acting in a calm manner and taking small steps I am extending to the solution, which is coming from outside of me and invited in. And turns out the little steps are the actual experience and solution for the perceived problem. And I think this is parallel / analogous to what you are calling a heart condition.

Please elaborate; how are our natural desires evil? I don't see the natural desires of people as evil. I do see many of our methods and patterns as not effective and causing harm.

@Beefer, what would a useful answer to your #3 question look like? I mean what are the qualities of useful answers for yourself?

Aaron said...

God makes good those who follow His paths, His laws, and His ways. Jesus said "I AM the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me." So yes, it is only through Christ that we can come to God who can then make us "good" with His own righteousness (not our own).

Yes, I think heart condition involves both internal state (thoughts and feelings) and external actions. It starts with the heart, though, because actions are a reflection of the internal state. So if you don't trust God, your actions will likely show it in one way or another.

Trusting God isn't just a formula either (though I'm sure I've probably made it sound like it is at times). When you know someone really well, you trust them implicitly. That's sort of what trusting God is like - through knowing His character and how He works in the world, you develop a trust for Him that calms your anxiety and gives you peace. You're literally finding comfort in who He is.

Scripture is clear (Jer 17:9, Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:10-18) that we are born sinners; thus, our natural desires are sinful and the unnatural desire is for God. In order for us to know God and do good, we must acknowledge our ways as evil and seek God who is good to make us good through the life and death made perfect by His Son, Jesus. If we believe - in any measurement or amount - that we are good, then we make ourselves out to be God, no longer in need of God, and no longer in need of a Savior.

Ryan Hofer said...

I like what you wrote about finding comfort in God. I feel a growing capacity to do this. I suppose we face what it means to come to God through Christ. Going by what I hear the most, God has a plan. So the salvation of humanity has always been a done deal. The people who lived before Christ, and those who never heard anything about him, I still feel those people somehow have access to salvation. And this suggests that the reality the Bible points to is bigger than Latin, English, Japanese, Roman Catholicism, Evangelical Christianity, and Sunday morning.

The big creeper is that the Bible suggests people can go to a not-good place. So somehow we have a part in all this. I guess these are the big issues once again: free-will and knowing. Doesn't Paul talk about God's plan playing out so that we can know it?

Aaron said...

Exactly. The Bible is God's Word - His plan for the world (including specific individuals and people groups; they both are part of the bigger plan of redemption), through Jesus for all people of all times. It's bigger than any religion because it starts and ends with God Himself; so it's naturally as big as He is, which is infinite! The Bible speaks about all of this quite cohesively, incredibly.

Right again. Eternal salvation (relationship with God) is a choice of free-will to accept God, just like eternal punishment (separation from God) is a result of choosing to reject God. It may be "not so nice" to talk about this "not-good place," but if we don't then we're only denying reality and ultimately rejecting part of God. Trusting Him means accepting Him for all of who He is: He is perfectly loving (which is why He saves people) and He is perfectly just (which is why He also punishes), because of His perfect holiness.

Yep, Paul starts out his letter to Romans talking about God's wrath against man. It makes you think that the topic must've been very important to God that Paul would address it first thing! But back to your question, Paul states that God made creation wonderfully to reflect Him so that nobody would be able to look at it and not know that He exists; that all men would be without excuse (Romans 1:18-20).

Aaron said...

I just came across a good reading on the heart. It does a much better job at addressing this topic than I do:

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