Sunday, October 19, 2008

Proverbs 3:5-6

(My back yard)

One of my very favorite parts of the Bible is Proverbs 3:5-6, which states: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

I find so much wisdom in these words that I don’t know where to begin in explaining them. When I became a Jesus-follower many years ago someone showed these verses to me and, like many others I suspect, they became part of my spiritual DNA.

“Trust.” This is a heart attitude that cannot co-exist with “control.” Every time a person trusts, they let go of controlling. This is a challenge, since for many “control” is their DNA-default-setting that overrides trust.

One might ask, why not just control everything? My response is: the parts of our life and experience that we control amount to what - 5%, if even that? We don’t control the weather, the stock market, other people (though many try here), our physical bodies, what others think of us, insects, diseases, hurricanes, our solar system, the global economy, … and of course we don’t control God (though some treat God as their butler, which he’s not).

Everyone trusts something. Everyone has to trust something. The question is not “to trust or to control?” The question is: “What do I place my ultimate trust in?”

The correct answer is: God.

Trust in the Lord. Trust… in God. Everyone trusts in someone or something. Everyone has someone or something they place their ultimate trust in. Many years ago Bob Dylan wrote a song that said everyone has to serve somebody. I think that’s true. The question is not to trust or not to trust. The question is: who or what do we place our trust in. Do we place our trust in our own self? In other people? In money? In sex? In power?

If God did not exist then all we’d be able to trust in are finite things. The problem then would be that finite things have their limitations, breakdowns, inconsistencies, and failures. Place your trust mostly or entirely in your own self and you’ll quickly be disappointed. Should we place our trust in people’s abilties to manage the global economy? Should we place our trust in money and the stock market? I’m not saying the market won’t rebound. But I don’t know. My understanding is that even economists don’t know for certain. If someone has placed their trust in the economy then I think that trust is now being eroded. What can a person do? Where can one place their trust today?

The most solid thing a person can place their trust in is God. And what do we mean by “God?” I mean: 1) creator of this universe; 2) a Being whose essence is to exist (God cannot not-exist; and therefore is a-temporal and unchanging); 3) an all-powerful Being (God can do everything that is possible to do); 4) an all-knowing Being (a being who knows everything that is possible to know); 5) an all-loving Being (God IS love; God’s essence is to love; God - within his being - is relational [here's the Christian idea of the Trinity]); 6) the source of objective moral values (if God did not exist, all moral values would be merely subjective, and thus matters of personal taste, and thus non-binding).

Many years ago I chose to place my trust in God. The immediate result at that time was that I got out of a drug lifestyle and never turned back. To me, this was amazing. I attribute this to God. This set me off on a life-long pursuit of God - to know about God, to know God, and to be known by God. The result to this point is that, as best as I am able, I give every day to God. I trust in God. My trust is in God. I’ve found God to be trustworthy, or worthy of placing my trust in.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” Rely on God with your entire being. This means, among other things, that a person who really believes in God will live their life in full reliance on God. This is not just about the words we say, or what we say we believe in. It’s not about belief in God in the sense of someone who says “Yeah, of course I believe there’s a God.” It’s much more than that. For someone who actually, really beliueves in God will, necessarily, live a life of God-reliance. Because: God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator of the universe. Who wouldn’t place their life-trust in him?

We must distinguish between theoretical God-belief and a life of radical dependence on the living God. For me, many years ago, I converted from theoretical God-belief to actual belief, which meant that I now desired to live each day in reliance on God and in touch with God. I mean, if God is for me, who can be against me, right?

Real followers of Jesus are whole-hearted towards God. Are they perfect? Of course not. Do they actually trust in God all the time? I know I still fall short of doing this. Have they made God the thing they trust in when it comes to their existence? Yes. This makes all the difference to me. God is my hope. In the middle of a world where things come together and fall apart all the time, God becomes the anchor to attach one’s heart to.

“Lean not on your own understanding.” Don’t put too much weight on what you understand. Why not? Because: what you and I understand is phenomenally small.

Some years ago when I was in Chicago I stopped at my all-time favorite bookstore which is adjacent to the University of Chicago. It’s in the basement of an old building, and it’s filled with books you’d never find at Borders or Barnes & Noble. This bookstore is an academic wonderland of brilliance. On this particular day as I wandered around this store I had a sense of of my own great ignorance. I’m not trying to be humble now. The truth of how very, very little I know was revealed to me. I felt like the self-made man in Sartre’s novel Nausea, whose goal was to read every book in the library beginning with the ‘A’s’ and working through to ‘Z.’ At the end of his life he hadn’t gotten out of the ‘A’s’ because more books with titles beginning with ‘A’ kept being published. I looked at all these old and new scholarly books on every subject you can think of, and realized I’ve read hardly any of them. And if I did read them I wouldn’t come close to understanding them all. If ever I thought I understood a lot of things, this bubble got burst that day.

Just be born and it won't be long before you face a situation that no human understands. I meet people in such situations all the time. Drug addicts, sex addicts, terminally ill people, impossibly broken-down marriages and families, and the dirt-poor. The collective wisdom of humanity cannot help. So where can one turn? And as they come to me for answers, where can I turn when all understanding fails? My experience is that we are not left hopeless here. Here’s the answer of Proverbs: 1) Lean not on your own understanding, precisely because there’s not much there to lean on anyway; 2) Instead, trust in God. Place your trust in God today.

“In all your ways acknowledge God.” Take God into account. Look to God for life direction. I began to do this when I was 21. Everyone looks somewhere for direction in life, for someone or something to guide their way. For me, if God did not exist there wouldn’t even be such a thing as a “way” in life and a direction to go in. The idea that your life and my life has a “way” at all depends on the existence of a Creator God who made you for a purpose.

When I came to really believe in God I was at a point where I needed big-time direction. My life was screwed up because I was a self-directed person. I came to see that I didn’t know what I was doing, and that’s when I decided to try God, if there really was a God, and see if that would help.

It did. At least, that’s how I interpret it. I know everyone doesn’t believe this. As a philosophy professor I’m always dialoguing with students and others about these issues. There are people who think God does not exist, there are people who believe in God but think God is not into helping us (that’s called Deism), and there are other variations of God-belief and disbelief. What can I say to them? I can tell them my story, which is this: 1) I once followed my own desires only; 2) I got in a lot of trouble and felt like I lost my way in life; 3) I chose to place my trust in God and not in my own ideas; 4) I saw my path starting to straighten out and got direction and still get direction from God; 5) I cannot disbelieve that it was God who has done all this for me.

As I look around I see a lot of examples of the failure of trusting in human understanding. Looks like we’re in global trouble now. Why not try trusting in God?

"God will make your paths straight." This cannot mean "God will endorse whatever your heart desires." What kind of things is God interested in? The answers include: 1) his kingdom; 2) worship of him; 3) love of him and he loving us; 4) righteousness and holiness; and 5) truth. Trust in God, acknowledge God in all your ways, and God will direct you to himself. This will be good for you, since God made you and you were made to love and worship God. Such things define your life's purpose. Find that, and the result is peace and joy.