Who Do You Trust?

The essential question about our spiritual journey is "Who do we Trust?" We can say we are trusting God, but our actions may show something else.

The easiest trap is to believe that because we are "doing something for" God or our church, our community or even "the good of the world" we are helping our salvation. God wants us to trust in Him. Our "good works" (the Jewish term is Mitzvahs) are something that should flow from our trust in God instead of being a way to "earn" his love.

There are many ways we can get distracted from focusing on God. Many of them occur in the context of a church or other place of worship. Sometimes we let our task become the most important thing and argue with other church members about how things should be done.

Yet, the workings of a house of worship are where we learn to practice love. The problem with every church or church hierarchy is the same: It is filled with human beings who have faults and issues. If we are truly following God’s direction, our time with our fellow sinners will give us more trust in God and a better understanding of His love for them.

There are many temptations outside of church which try to present themselves as an object of trust. Money, cars, homes, IRA’s and jobs can all be false sources of security. In tumultuous economic times it is easier to see how this security is false. Yet we want to cling to that hope.

There is another group which more actively competes to be our focus of trust. This is governments and politicians. Jesus’ famous direction to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s" becomes at some level a threat to Caeser.

It is becoming more obvious by the day that some political groups, from the local level to the international level are becoming more opposed to churches and traditional morality than they have ever been.

Robert Nisbet, in an out of print book called The Quest for Community, talks about the role of "intermediate associations" and how they cause problems for any political entity which seeks to totally control its citizens. These groups come between the individual and the state. They offer a different focus of loyalty. The two major "associations" are the family and the church, or other religious group.

In Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg talks about Otto von Bismarck and the German Catholic Church. Bismarck was a Prussian, from the Northern, largely Lutheran section of Germany. He was concerned that Catholics in Southern Germany, particularly Bavaria, would focus on the religious differences and delay the coming together of the German state. The German word Kulturkampf or what we call "Culture Wars" is part of this effort. It is an attempt to push the churches aside to prevent their interference with either the goals of the politicians or the loyalty of the people to the governing class.

Let me de direct. No political party or political leader can save us. The bible is clear:

(Psalm 146) "Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation."

It is our duty as citizens to look into the various candidates, parties and programs and vote our best judgment about the better path. But no party or politician can save us. Heaven on Earth will not happen because someone is elected to or voted out of office.

Even if we are highly committed to a service group, a charity or any group trying to help the world, that group can’t save us.

We eventually realize that no person, group, policy or action will save us or protect us. It the end, when we tire of searching anywhere us, we can turn to the only One who can be trusted, God.


Being Accepted

For those who believe in coincidence, I just had a whopper. I was dwelling on the difference between doing and being and my reading brought the point home in a hurry. The book is “Shame & Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve” by Lewis B. Smedes.

The chapter entitled “the Beginning of our Healing” describes the true nature of grace and how it changes the entire nature of the religious quest. Before this chapter, he discusses the ways we accept shame or shame ourselves. He also discusses those who constantly try to do things to make ourselves feel worthy. He talks about Martha, who is busy serving food to Jesus instead of enjoying his presence, and the Prodigal’s brother who is constantly “doing what he is supposed to” with a feeling of duty instead of joy. These people do things in order to be acceptable to themselves or others. They can’t just be relaxed.

In most self-help classes, and some religions, the answer offered is, as Smedes says, “Persuading ourselves that we are just fine the way we are.” This doesn’t work for many people.

He then writes:

[T]he experience of being accepted is the beginning of healing for the feeling of being unacceptable.

Being accepted is the single most compelling need of our lives; no human being can be a friend of herself while at the edges of her consciousness she feels a persistent fear that she may not be accepted by others.

This is the dilemma for those who feel they are not accepted.  They do everything they can to be accepted and yet it never works. In the end, they still feel the same way about themselves. Smedes writes that we are not ready for another answer until “we are bone tired of our struggle to be worthy and acceptable.”

He avoids heavy theological discussions about the nature of God and grace and cuts to the chase by describing four ways we experience the “Grace of God.” The pertinent one, for now, is

We experience grace as acceptance: we are reunited with God and our true selves, accepted, cradled, held, affirmed, and loved. Accepting grace is the answer to shame.

This is the difference. God’s acceptance of us is never earned; it can only be experienced and welcomed. We can’t do anything to earn acceptance, we can only be aware that we are accepted.

Jesus said we had to come to Him like a child. Smedes description of this truth is:

To experience grace is to recover our lost inner child. The heart of our inner child is trust. … Shame cheats us of childhood. Grace gives it back to us.

… Trust is the inner child we rediscover in an experience of grace.

Grace overcomes shame … by accepting us, the whole of us, with no regard to … our virtue or our vices. … Accepted at the ultimate depth of our being. We are given what we have longed for in every nook and nuance of every relationship.

I find no comfort in a general idea the universe somehow accepts me. The universe has no personality. Christianity offers a grace I can understand, at least somewhat. It says the God of all there is loved the world, and me, enough to lower Himself to a human state and suffer for my benefit.

I remember a prayer session many years ago when I asked, “If I were the only person who needed your great act of love, would you have gone through all that for me?” It was clear to me His love was so great the answer was “Yes.”

Another time, after an extended period of prayer, I had the experience of Jesus just standing beside me with His arm over my shoulder. It was the deepest feeling of peace I have ever experienced. He was asking nothing of me. There was nothing to do but stand there and be at peace with nothing to worry about.

Yet, I strive to impress Him or earn something. He doesn’t want that, but I forget to be trusting and try to do something for Him.  Today, I was trying to figure out the difference being doing and being. At that moment, by coincidence or “God-incidence” I happened to be reading the exact chapter in the exact book which perfectly describes the difference.

It was God’s polite way of saying that no matter how much I try to do for Him, His love for and acceptance of me will always be more than I can earn or ask. The trick is simple, lighten up and look for and be willing to receive his gifts.