Trusting experts or trusting God

Trust in the Lord

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not into thine own understanding.” Pass under this sign whenever you enter St John’s Church Hall (Knypersley, Staffordshire, Great Britain)

In traditional translations, Psalm 146:3 says not to trust in princes. We don’t have very many princes around any more. Even in traditionally Christian countries that still have kings and queens, they reign, but don’t rule. Perhaps we could update it to say not to put trust in politicians, but what’s the point? Everyone obeys that commandment, Bible or no Bible. But let’s look at how The Message renders the verse and read ahead a little more:

Don’t put your life in the hands of experts
 who know nothing of life, of salvation life. 
Mere humans don’t have what it takes;
 when they die, their projects die with them. 
Instead, get help from the God of Jacob,
 put your hope in God and know real blessing!

The trouble with experts

Don’t trust experts: doctors, lawyers, teachers, business leaders. Why not? I can think of at least two reasons.

First, although most of them try to be trustworthy, some don’t. Take away the openly dishonest experts, and you have a bunch of people who will do their best, but their best doesn’t mean that they’ll always come through with what they promise you.

One time my dentist gave me a clean bill of health. That very night, I cracked a molar at supper. There was a weakness in the tooth he had failed to notice. The last time I made an appointment with him, he didn’t show up at all. His excuse for that failure? A fatal heart attack a few weeks earlier.

Isn’t that what the psalm says? When the expert you rely on dies, his plans die with him. He can no longer follow through on anything he intended to do.

There is a second, and more important reason not to put our trust in experts, in mortals that can’t provide all the help we need. God can provide all the help we need. He he usually chooses to work through other people, but if we put our trust in people, we’re not putting it in God.

A warning from Scripture

Asa was one of the good kings of Judah, one of the reformers, but he got a little lax late in his reign. When one of his neighbors pestered him militarily, he did not seek God’s help, as he had when he faced a dire threat. Instead he bribed another king to attack the pest.

God sent Asa a prophet to scold him, but by that time Asa had become proud and persecuted the prophet–the first king of Judah who dared to do so. Late in life he got some kind of disease in his feet. Here’s what the Bible says about it: “In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the Lord, but only from the physicians” (2 Chron. 16:12).

He reigned for 41 years. Having first put the king of Syria and then the physicians ahead of God, the last two years of his life must have been very painful. And all he had to do to get help from God was to remember to ask, to restore his trust in God to where it had been as a young man.

The blessing of trusting God

The psalmist says, “Happy (or blessed) are those whose help is the God of Jacob.” This verse is in the form of a beatitude, the last of several in the psalms. In the Beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus explains each blessing in a single sentence. The psalmist takes five verses, fully half the psalm, to explain how those who hope in God are blessed. The explanation has three parts.

God is creator

First, God made everything. He’s the creator. He designed the whole universe. Therefore, he has wisdom and knowledge about the way the universe operates that no other being, human or angelic, can match.

You are part of the universe. God made you. He knows how you are supposed to operate as a whole person, as spirit, soul, and body. He knows how you are supposed to operate in your relationships with other people and the rest of your corner of creation. If something goes wrong, he knows what it is, what caused it, and how to set it right.

We know all kinds of people who have the wisdom and knowledge to help us with something. But that doesn’t mean they’re willing to help. That doesn’t mean they care anything about us. God’s wisdom and knowledge by itself would not bless us.

God is good

God is goodSecond, God is good. He cares. He wants to help. In describing God’s goodness, the psalmist makes several statements about his grace, but he bookends them with two statements about God’s judgment.

Somehow the modern church has trouble keeping God’s grace and judgment in mind at the same time. Most of us tend to specialize in one or the other. Many Christians today place tremendous emphasis on God’s grace. They say that nothing in the universe is powerful enough to overcome God’s grace. Ultimately, even the vilest sinner will return to God because of the power of that grace.

That sounds pretty impressive, but in the process lots of them deny the reality of hell. There can’t be a hell, they say, because no loving God would ever subject anyone to eternal punishment. If there is any sin that requires God’s righteous judgment, I don’t recall seeing or hearing what these people think it would be.

The idea of universal salvation and that there is no hell for people who choose to reject God’s grace is unscriptural. Jesus himself warned of judgment more severely and described hell more vividly than anyone else in Scripture.

Others put great emphasis on God’s holiness. He sets his face against sin. He does not tolerate the least sin. No sin or sinner can get into heaven. Repentance is the only way to heaven.The Bible says that if we confess our sin, God will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. But what if we don’t confess it? Someone who doesn’t confess can hardly repent. Hell is reserved for such.

That, too, sound impressive, but where’s the love and grace? Also, the emphasis on holiness can easily degenerate into the kind of rule keeping that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees. Fear of God becomes not reverential awe, but fear of eternal punishment. It’s difficult to see how anyone can love such a God. The Christian life becomes a desire to placate him. That, too, is unscriptural.

These extremes have been part of the church almost from the beginning, and most teaching of the church has managed to avoid going too far in either direction. But keeping them in proper balance has remained difficult.

Look how the psalmist does it. At the beginning of verse 7, he says God executes justice for the oppressed. At the end of verse 9 he promises that God will ruin the wicked. Sin has consequences. The psalmist doesn’t specify what kind of punishment awaits the wicked or unjust, but the promise of ruin means that God takes sin and injustice very seriously and will not tolerate it.

Between these two statements of judgment, the psalmist promises that God rights wrongs and fixes harm for the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners, the blind, the burdened, strings, orphans, and widows. In this life, bad things happen. As the mention of prisoners makes clear, some bad things are a consequence of bad deeds and bad choices that people make.

God allows punishment. God inflicts punishment. God’s judgment is severe. But God always stands ready to extend grace

So in terms of the beatitude, people who trust in God are blessed not only by God’s unlimited wisdom and knowledge, but also by his goodness. It is the goodness that guarantees that the blessing of God’s wisdom and knowledge will not be withheld.

God is eternal

But there’s a third kind of blessing for those who trust in God. Remember my dentist? Suppose he had been the best dentist who ever walked the earth. Suppose no dental problem had ever escaped his notice. Suppose that his treatments had all been permanently effective and never failed. (In the days of amalgam fillings, that would have been impossible, by the way). His death eventually would have robbed me and all his other patients of that supreme excellence.

But the psalmist assures us that God will reign forever. He will not simply exist forever. He will not simply live forever. He will reign forever. As the Christmas hymn expresses it, God rules the world with truth and grace. No power can ever successfully challenge his rule.

Blessed are people who trust in God, and in nothing less than God. Because God is all knowing, all wise, all powerful to be able to bless. He is all gracious and all loving to desire to bless. He is everlasting so that he can and will bless eternally.

Photo credits:
Trust in the Lord. © Copyright Neil Lewin and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
God is good. Some rights reserved by David Woo

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