In her article, “Confidence: I Have Everything I Need” [Weavings, Volume XXVII, Number 3] Jan Johnson writes that, “The most frequent command in the Bible is: ‘Don’t be afraid.’ ‘ Fear not.’” She observes: “The commandment not to fear is a practical application of a major Biblical theme ‘trusting God.’” At first glance this seems like a ‘no-brainer,’ especially when we reflect, as she does in her article, on the beloved 23rd Psalm.
Unfortunately, this core theme of Scripture has become counter-cultural. Our world does not lend itself well to trust. Virtually every sector of society has someone or some institution that has abused its trust. There are people and groups who deliberately make others afraid in something in order to manipulate and control them for their own purposes. So, before the hard realities of life can we really believe that, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil.”?
Johnson quotes Biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman on what he calls ‘confidence Psalms:’ “They speak ... of a relationship with Yahweh that is utterly trustworthy in the face of every threat,” so much so that the Psalmist “... cannot imagine a situation that would cause doubt or trouble enough to jeopardize the trust.” That said, one has to wonder: is such a trust practical or even possible in our world today?
Trust does not come easily for me. I grew up in a town where child and spousal abuse was rampant, and bullying in school was commonplace. I had to be careful about trusting certain people in our little town. Our little church was different: I felt accepted, loved and encouraged, and I grew to trust the people there. It was like living in two different worlds. The folks in the church weren't perfect, but they were trustworthy, and, for me, it made all the difference.
Years ago I had the privilege of being in a retreat with the Reverend Doctor Howard Thurman, then the Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University School of Theology. It was during the era when the country was deeply divided by the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. It was a time when trust was in short supply. I don’t recall the theme of the retreat but being in the presence of Howard Thurman had a profound effect on me. There was a settling calm about him that brought a richness to conversation. And when he prayed, I imagined that heaven itself paused to listen. Once again I had encountered someone who was trustworthy and it made all the difference.
The dictionary defines trust as “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence, or confident expectation of something; hope.” That said, we know that trust is fragile and easily damaged or broken. We know that there is an intangible quality to trust that makes it difficult to describe. But we also know real trust when we experience it, and it always comes wrapped up in a person. Howard Thurman had modeled trust for me during that retreat.
I have thought often of how that experience shaped me. I had encountered a man who, though he grew up in the demeaning atmosphere of segregation, exuded dignity and integrity and modeled trust. He had walked through the darkest valleys to become one of the giants of the faith. I had encountered a man who, though he walked with ease the halls of academia, was more at home centered before God in prayer. He spoke with God with reverence and trust
I have come to realize that if we are to set about restoring the dimension of trust in our approach to life, we must begin with a devout certainty that in God we have all we need to endure the darkest valleys of life - that we can trust God. I have come to realize that if we are not grounded in prayer, we lose our bearings in the universe. I have come to realize that if we want to be trusted, we have to be trustworthy. It comes down to this, as Jan Johnson puts it: living in “...the steady companionship of God that results in a life that flows with blessing for others.” This is how one overcomes the corrosive effects of fear and begins restoring the dimension of trust.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body. [Proverbs 3:5-8]