One of the most contested issues in theology has to do with the Bible. On the one hand, it is easy to believe that the biblical texts are the works of human beings who are interested in communicating and propagating their own perspectives on things. On the other hand, it is not at all obvious why anyone should believe that these human words are also the Word of God. Why believe that God speaks through Scripture? Closely related to this are still other questions: Why believe that what the Bible says is true? And how can one know which books count as Scripture and which do not?Continue reading “Why believe in Scripture?”
Even though the Bible contains texts from very different periods of time, written by very different people, concerned with very different things, there is nevertheless one theme which is consistently present from the beginning to the end: trust in God.
Many texts in the Old Testament have to do with trust in God. Psalm 4:5 says: “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.” Proverbs 3:5-6 enjoins us to “Trust in the Lord with all our heart.” Moses castigates the Hebrews because, in spite of the many signs and miracles which God had done, they had “no trust in the Lord their God” (Deut. 1:32). Psalm 37:5 tells us commit our ways to the Lord, trusting in Him, and He will act. And Psalm 84 ends with these wonderful verses: “No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you” (vv. 11-12).
In the New Testament, we find that the theme of “trust” in God is continued, although in different terms. The New Testament word for trust is “faith,” but it seems to me clear enough that they are talking about the same thing. When we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews that “by faith our ancestors received approval” (Heb. 11:2), what else can this mean except that they trusted in God? Consider all the examples that the author gives in that wonderful chapter: for example, Abraham leaving his family and home in order to follow God into a strange, new land. Is that not the very definition of trust in God? And it is also a clear act of faith! For this reason, it seems to me clear that the New Testament does not teach anything new with its language of “faith.” It teaches exactly what the Old Testament does: that we should trust in God.
Christ does not teach anything different than the Old Testament or the Apostles in this respect. He also teaches us to trust in God, whom He calls our Father:
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?Matthew 6:26 New Revised Standard Version
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) alone, Christ tells us that God is our Father eleven times. Notice that Christ never says that God is the Father of the birds, and yet He takes care of them. How much more, then, will He take care of His own children! And He even insists that God is not a Father like the fathers that some of might have had:
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!Matthew 7:9-11 New Revised Standard Version
No one whose mind is right would mistreat his or her own children – and this in spite of the fact that we are, all of us, nevertheless evil and corrupt in various ways. How much more, then, should we trust in God, who does not share in our imperfections!
Christ, the Apostles, and the Old Testament teach us that we should trust in God, who loves us and is our Father. One could even say that this is the very essence of the message of Christianity: trust in God.
But this is not necessarily easy. Trust is a decision that you have to make. And there is something peculiar about trust. On the one hand, we only want to trust someone if he or she is trustworthy. But on the other hand, the trustworthiness of a person is something that can never be proven before we trust in him or her. After all, there is always the possibility that there is something else going on “behind the scenes.” We can always come up with a story about how this person, who seems trustworthy, may not really be so. There is always the possibility of interpreting what a person does or says in a suspicious rather than trusting manner. And because this possibility is always there, it means that we cannot discover the trustworthiness of the other person unless we first trust them.
What Christianity teaches us is that we should trust God. This is easy to say, but it is hard to do. We are confronted with things every day that would drive us away from trusting God: misfortunes, calamities, bad luck, sickness, failures, disappointments. We might think to ourselves: Why are these things happening to me? If God loves me, then why does He let them happen? What if God is really against me? What if He is trying to undo me?
This is the ultimate temptation: to refuse to trust God. And because it is always possible to come up with a suspicious interpretation of what God does or says, it will always be possible for us to refuse to trust Him. God cannot prove His trustworthiness to us if we do not first trust in Him, just like a person cannot prove his or her trustworthiness to us unless we are first willing to trust in his or her honesty and goodwill. This means that we cannot first seek to establish that God is trustworthy and then trust in Him. Rather, we first have to trust Him and then see His trustworthiness.
This is not at all easy to do or to think about. And there will be many times in life when we meet with problems. Then we might hear ringing in our ears the words of those who mocked Christ at His crucifixion: “He saved others; he cannot save himself… He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to!” (Matt. 27:42-43). But Christ, who trusted God with His entire life, was not let down. God raised Him from the dead!
And this is what we celebrate every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). Notice what this says: we are not merely proclaiming the Lord’s death, as if He died and that were the end of it; rather, we are proclaiming His death – reminding ourselves of it – until He comes, because He is not dead anymore!
Every week, then, when we gather together with other believers and partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are once more encouraging ourselves and one another to trust in God. All the problems of our life are like the cross we have to bear. But don’t lose hope! After the cross comes the Resurrection!
Everyone worries about things. Some people are more prone to worry than others, but more or less everyone can agree that it makes sense to worry about at least some things. Indeed, some people might look at you quite strange if you do not worry about things! For that reason, it is all the more surprising that Christ teaches us not to worry:
So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.Matthew 6:34 New Revised Standard Version
How is it that Christ can teach us not to worry? Why does He tell us this?
What I think is most fascinating about this teaching of Christ is the way of life to which it calls us. Worry has to do with two things: things in the future, and things we do not know. More specifically, worrying is a way of thinking about the future. Worrying means thinking that something in future either will be or could be bad for us. By telling us not to worry, Christ is effectively turning our minds away from the future and onto the present moment. As He says, “Today’s trouble is enough for today.” In other words, Christ teaches us not to project our expectations of harm and suffering onto the future, so that we only concern ourselves with what is “right there in front of us,” so to speak.
There is a deeper significance to all this, and if we grasp the deeper significance, then we will be able to understand the truly radical and profound nature of Christ’s teaching.
People have a natural desire to know things. That is what Aristotle famously said. One of things people desire to know is the future – what will happen to them and to the ones they love, for example. Now, we know things by making judgments about them. We judge that a thing is this way or that, and when we see that the thing is as we judged it to be, we gain knowledge. The problem is that the future is not visible in this way. We cannot simply look into the future to see what it will be like. And yet we want to know what it is! That is why we worry. Worrying means making judgments about what the future will be, – more specifically, making judgments that the future can or even will be bad for us, – even though we cannot see it.
But Christ teaches us that we have nothing to gain by worrying. He says: “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matt. 6:27). Obviously not! But notice the deeper significance of this. We have a natural desire to know things, so that we are benefited by knowing. If there is no benefit to worrying, then it follows that worrying does not secure knowledge! Even knowing would be a benefit. If there is no benefit in worrying, then there must not be any knowledge gained by it, either.
How can Christ teach us that we do not gain knowledge by worrying? Let’s return once more to the definition of worry. Worrying means forming the judgment that the future can or will be bad for us. If worrying does not produce knowledge, it must be that the future will not be bad for us. And that is in fact what Christ teaches:
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? … Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ … Indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.Matthew 6:26, 31-32 New Revised Standard Version
We have now arrived at the reason why we should not worry, which is also the reason why worrying does not produce knowledge. It is because God loves and cares for us! That is why there is nothing to worry about: because God, who is control of all things, loves us and looks out for us. That is why there is nothing to worry about. As the Apostle Paul says elsewhere, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
The teaching of Christ is truly radical. He teaches us not to worry. And He tells us the reason why we shouldn’t worry: Because God, who is greater than all and in control of everything, is Himself our Father who loves us and looks out for us in everything. So do not worry about anything!