“In God we trust”

“In God we trust,” the official motto of the United States of America, was affirmed in 1956. Even before then, in 1864, the words were inscribed on an American coin. It’s a popular slogan. In 1860 Nicaragua had already adopted the phrase; as did the Canadian Province of New Westminster on their coat of arms. It invites some reflection.

This morning I read Psalm 56—a psalm attributed to David after the Philistines seized him in Gath. In verse 3 we read, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” He repeated it in verses 10-11: “In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

The episode in David’s life that fits here is in 1 Samuel 21:10-15. The king of Gath had a chance to kill David—his Israelite foe—but David pretended to be insane and the king let him go. The escape was also celebrated in Psalm 34.

But does God always promise us the happy ending David had in Gath? As Christians are we likelier to escape cancer? Will we have healthier and happier children? Or get the new job we’re hoping for?

All that would be great. But it’s not what God promises. The Bible also tells stories of some who trusted in God but still faced tragedies. A later king, Josiah, who recovered lost Bible books in his day and led major spiritual reforms in Judea, “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in the ways of David, his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or the left” (1 Sam. 21). Yet when Pharaoh Neco of Egypt marched through Josiah’s kingdom he killed the faithful king and conquered Judea. So Josiah’s trust in God seems to have been unrewarded.

There’s another much greater example of this sort of disappointment, of course. Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, had entrusted his soul to his Father but Pilate still killed him through the hideous process of crucifixion. So if the Father let Jesus die why should our own trust in God make any difference?

I hope many of you will pause here: “But wait, it was God’s plan for Jesus to come and die for our sake—so the crucifixion was exactly what God had in mind! Read Isaiah 53 where we find that it was ‘necessary for Christ to suffer!’”

Exactly! So why do so many preachers today suggest, or even promise, that if we trust God, attend church, and keep up with our tithes and offerings, everything will turn out fine? If we trust God enough we can expect that ugly cancer to go away; and we’ll have some gift arrive that will pay our heating bill!

Yet the truth is, more often than not, the cancer kills the one we love. The bills remain unpaid. And we lose confidence both in the preacher and in God; but mostly in God.

The lesson of Christ’s crucifixion is God’s answer. His frame of reference is eternal. Ours is all too temporal—focused on this life. So that God becomes a flawed Genie who usually fails to give us what we want from him.

Yet in God’s broader view—what the Bible actually offers us—his greater question is whether we love the Son. And whether we’ve learned to give thanks in everything, even when “everything” includes pain and losses.

So when any of us are bold enough to say “In God I trust” we’re entering in a life of faith in God’s character and goodness. And not into a life of winning the Lotto or getting whatever we want.

The big ambition of faith, then, is to know God the Father through what God the Son reveals to us. And this comes by the ministry of God the Holy Spirit who lives in us and knows how to build increasing confidence—or trust—in our hearts. So the real prize is eternal life when and where we will get to share in the glory the Father had with the Son before the world began. It’s a much bigger picture than most of us can grasp, but it’s also a picture that gives us peace that passes understanding—so “I shall not be afraid.”

Enjoy!

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