Will people of today ever know how to trust?
Regular Network Norwich and Norfolk columnist James Knight looks at the concept of trusting God over ourselves.
It seems to me, judging from the many people I interact with in my daily life, that the verb to ‘trust’, although not an alien concept, is certainly strange to any who couple it with a metaphysical proposition like whether God really exists. Mind you, I suppose metaphysical propositions are problematic enough for many in this day and age. Perhaps we have come so far with our technology, with our worldwide communication, and with our evidence-based rationale that ‘trust’ has been edged out the door. Faith, in the sense that one could trust a God of unbelievable grace seems rather counter-intuitive – it goes against our every expectation of what the world is really like. Perhaps many have to use their trusting powers so sparely these days that they cannot relate very well to what it must be like living a life in which trust is such an important principle – the trusting of God over ourselves.
All Christians realise, retrospectively, that knowing God is the first step to knowing yourself. I do not think it is something that one can truly know until afterwards - after all, how is a man to realise that he doesn’t know himself very well when all the time, like the ancient Greeks, he has placed ‘know thyself’ at the heart of all he does. Knowledge of God must be by definition an absolute fact of knowledge that cannot be known outside of a relationship with Him. Just as Plato’s hypothetical subjects could only know of shadows within a cave and no more, we too can only know what our present circumstances have afforded us the ability to know. Equally, if trust is a specialty known only by those that have the knowledge of our Heavenly Father in whom we are trusting, how are they to believe us when we say they lack the trust necessary to know Him? This point is compounded by something else: nobody is likely to trust in God until they begin to believe He exists.
So how are we to help someone with such a progression? As Christians we know that when we become fully aware of the fact that is God, not the generalisation or abstraction, but the ultimate fact that is before us, and when we assent with our will to be so known, then we treat ourselves not as ourselves, but as true parts of the very being that is Christ – in fact, as branches connected to His vine. I do not mean that we trivialise our own individuality, nor do I mean that we ourselves are God, I mean that Christ, through His death, becomes a part of us, and reveals to each of us our true selves, giving us the only possible signpost to the acquisition of a ‘full life’ .
Perhaps the principal way that we can help people with trusting is to show ourselves as trustworthy, particularly with our reasoning and our logic; that is, the more of Christ we reflect the more solid the foundation will be for them to trust what they are hearing. Trust is one of those strange concepts - we seem to take delight in others’ untrustworthiness if it appeases our own ego about ourselves, and we seem to be appalled at others’ untrustworthiness if we expect better of them (such as our MPs). In other words, we find it easy to be subjective about ourselves and objective about others, when in truth, Christ called for the very opposite.
Just as the television in the background seems a lot noisier when we are trying not to listen to it, the truth of our dependency on trust is much more perturbing and disturbing when we are trying not to be drawn in to the Christian precepts (hopefully garnered from their relationship with Christians). And here we see the other inroad towards trust; contemporary life has much more to offer an inquisitive soul than it ever did have before. That is why the very concept of trusting in the metaphysical sense can carry a mere contention that when it leads to belief in a personal deity, it is one more subdivision of life, an extra subdivision added to the philosophical, the mercantile, the social, and all the rest – belief in God is then taken to mean what someone enjoys, or what someone has an interest in, rather than an objective definition of what we were created to be.
Christ whose claims are boundless can have no standing as a subdivision. If Christianity is true our whole life is underpinned by it - it affects every part of us. Of course the paradox is that if supernaturalism is false the world would most probably be in a much better state if it were extirpated from every thought of every man, woman and child. Trust is a two way street - one ought to employ it only towards true things, otherwise ‘trusting’ will be associated with blind faith and irrational superstitions. One must remember, we would not think very highly of a woman who says she trusts her horoscopes as scientifically true because they happened to make her feel good.
We live in an age where to call someone ‘a man who trusts in the validity of all faiths’ is, in many eyes, to confer upon them a compliment which breaks off from accusation of naivety. But it is not so. They are using the word ‘trust’ in a different way to what Christian faith really is. In the Bible, the book of Hebrews talks of us being certain of what we do not see. Concealed within the expression ‘trust’ is a means of distilling from the word the things which your desires permit; and that, it seems, is how many relativists and compromisers have reached their conclusions; it is based upon the spurious belief that the claims which show different faiths and ideologies to be contradictory are secondary to the commonalties. This is almost alien from the Christian’s view of trust – the Christian trusts Jesus Christ because he has been given evidential reason to trust Him, not because he is making a virtue out of trusting for trust’s sake. If claims that Christianity is the one true religion were bound to offend those who do not like what Christ is saying, it is not surprising that people try to neutralise the situation by claiming a false unity in belief systems. The word ‘religion’ itself seems to me quite a neutral word anyway, implying in itself neither truth nor falsehood. It is what one might refer to as a generic term, a metaphysical belief which allows as many divergent claims as each individual is willing to countenance.
But there is nothing whatsoever that is neutral about Christianity or, indeed, about Christ’s claims. The Christian usage of the word ‘trust’ is intended to connote two esteemed human qualities, loyalty to Christ and confidence in Him as Lord over all. When Christ said that our faith has made us whole, He was not referring to our empirical analysis, He was referring to our loyalty and our trust. Proof is in the experience of the Christ that is in us when we put our faith in Him, and Him alone. Those who deny Christ’s true claims and create for themselves a different, more convenient, approach to Christianity have shackled it to their special uses, they have made it in their own minds a spoiled thing, thus giving them no chance of clear thinking.
I am not a Christian because of any personal preference for one particular religion. I am a Christian because the risen Christ revealed Himself to me by coming to live inside me, renewing me every day with Divine grace. To go against this would be a solecism against the self; the self which God created, not out of necessity, but out of love and grace - a love and grace which we can all know by accepting that God became flesh and accepting His dying for us.
Trust is as important in this day and age as ever before, and if its freshness or relevance seems to have disappeared in a hazy cloud of contemporary progressiveness, we should do our best to alert the world to its real eternal relevance; that is to say - Christ dying is only a week ago, it is tomorrow, it is timeless, it affects every part of our decisions in life and its position on the earthly calendar is not a singular moment - it is indelibly stamped on every day, on every minute of every day. Therefore it seems quite obvious that one can’t escape the need for trusting – after all, we read in the gospel of John, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ – trusting what is not easy to cognitively purchase is important.
Grace is no bribe
I have found from speaking with some atheists that one of the reasons they find it hard to trust what they have not yet believed is because they think that God bribes us into loving Him. In other words, if the condition is that we must follow God or else go to Hell, one must ask, is it merely a bribe, or is it because there is so much at stake on our decision being right? We all look down on the man that pretends to be filthy rich to win the heart of a girl only to reveal his true impecunious state once she has become emotionally attached to him. But to me, the allure of Christianity works in almost the opposite way (at least it is partially synonymous). The way Christ seems to offers us insight into following Him is a little like the rich man who withholds his wealth in the hope that the girl will love him for who he is and not for his money. The analogy dos not encapsulate all aspects of becoming a Christian, but it is valid, I think, for one specific reason - God wants us to explore enough so that we can reach a level of spiritual maturity before He can begin to reveal the true wonders of knowing Him. Wow! What a blissful way to take our trust and develop it into something glorious. That, I suppose, is why it might seem like a bribe from the outside – not because God is bargaining with us but because Christianity’s rewards are not immediately obvious - not instant enough to remove all thoughts of bribery. And if we are to believe Keats...
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
…we will only have our thirst for truth quenched if we trust that Christ has the water of eternal life. There are no objections to Christianity that are 100% false, therefore it is not surprising that the grains of truth found in objections are sometimes enough to convince the doubter of the whole truth of his or her statement. This must make a man feel vindicated when he claims that ‘trusting’ is reserved for those who have hope in their hearts but little reason in their heads. But one must be careful not to fall in error. Facts about astronomy do not validate claims about astrology; facts about chemistry do not validate claims about alchemy. If one is looking into the validity of Christianity, then it is not good to judge it on extraneous things; we do not, for instance, infer the falsity of one set of beliefs by the existence of another, any more than we judge the merits of socialism by its capitalist counterpart. At best we can, as we do with socialism, ascertain the qualitative disadvantages by offering proposals that are seen as better. But with Christianity we are not talking about whether it is beneficial (some false things can be temporarily beneficial), we are talking about whether it is true – and once a man has sifted through a little bit of the falsehood and realised how sweet the melody of truth is, he will perhaps be able to agree with Keats and trust that those melodies he has not yet heard could indeed be even sweeter.
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James is a Norwich local government officer, author and Proclaimers church member in Norwich. You can access his current collections of columns here
Meanwhile, if you want to find out more about Christianity, visit: www.rejesus.co.uk