In December of 1987 Ronald Reagan, in his attempt to build a cautious relationship with Russia, coined the phrase, “Trust, but verify.” The Russians, who particularly loved proverbs, understood that Reagan would work with them, but only in so much as the Russians could back up their end of a deal through honesty and credibility. And that would need proof. I wonder if we ever, even unconsciously, deal with God in that way. I think I have. “God I trust you, but I need you to verify in some way that you will live up to your end of the bargain.” And so we look for some kind of proof, verification of sorts, that He will do what he promised he would do. Like Gideon’s fleece (Judges 6) and Moses’ staff (Exodus 3) or Peter’s water-walking, (Matthew 14.)
In 1999, the year our son was dying, I submerged into what I call the dark side of faith. It’s easy to trust God when things are going your way. Faith, in those moments, is riding the wave, skimming the surface with no effort needed on your part because the wind kindly and boldly pushed you across the water’s wakes. Trusting God when the wind dies, and you fall into hard cold water is another thing all together. This other side, the beneath-side of faith, absent of wind and light, and all you seem to have is your own effort, can be frightening. During those ten months, as our son’s condition worsened, and death seemed inevitable, I trusted God with little verification.
But I trusted –
And that was it –
No promise, no vision of what it would be like when the wind’s final wisp settled and ended in death.
I tried once asking God to prove to me that I’d be okay on the other side of this loss when it came, but my words got lost in the darkness.
I heard nothing.
And so I went back to what I knew to be true of him from scripture. Certain things I believed; my theology, doctrine, suddenly mattered. And that was my answer to asking God if I would be okay. When I resurfaced from this dark pool, I’d fallen in love with His character, and nature and redemptive work.
In loss, doctrine matters most.
God said it. I believe it. That settles it.
Since then – and friends who know me well are nodding incessantly right now – I’m a cynic to all sorts of claims carried on the back of faith. A sign in the sky, a prophetic word from someone, a vision, a dream or word of knowledge I hear as unnecessary ways to get God to verify, while we trust. Why do we need all that when we have all his promises in the scriptures? I’ll mutter. The proof of how good, and involved and caring he is, is all recorded. And so we hear people like David, while looking only at the dark side of faith in Psalm 13, who can still say by verse 6, but I will trust in your unfailing/steadfast love.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. – Psalm 13
In this world where God-things happen to so many, I feel left alone sometimes, in my own world where all I seem to have is the silence of God.
Oh, and trust… in his unfailing love.
Oh, and obedience to what he’s told me to do and how to live especially when walking in the valley of the shadow of death.
That seems to be when I am strongest. Not when God shows up, but when I find that God-given strength, that gift, to obey what he told me to do, in suffering, in loss, in the chaos, and even in the lack of answers.
Trust and Obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.
I spoke to someone hurting last week about this kind of faith. He’s got little vestiges of faith left, a strand or two, but that’s it. I asked him to define faith for me and he told me it was something like believing in God. But believe him for what? I asked. He wasn’t sure, so I explained.
Faith has to have an object, and that object is Jesus. We put our trust in Jesus. In who he is, and what he came to do. Once we capture the essence of the gospel, that Jesus tore into this sin-full world and rescued sinners, but left them, us, here for awhile until he comes back, we learn to just trust him. (Maybe that is why we are left here, to learn to trust him more deeply.) In my darkest moments, I just knew it would be okay because I know him. The friend I was talking to really doesn’t. And so, rather than talking him into having greater, or BIG faith, and trying to match his insatiable appetite and lust for evidence and proof with clever answers and stronger arguments, I just kept telling him more about Jesus, and what he’s like and what he came to do, for us, sinners, who outside of him would have no future other than hell.
Whatever verification we need from him, is there for us, at the cross. An empty cross and an empty grave and an occupied throne is proof enough that we can trust him. If I never hear from Him again, that is all the verifying I need.
When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey. – John H. Sammis, 1887