Monday, July 27, 2009

Trust and God

I've been reflecting a lot on the amount of distrust I encounter in life, particularly from Christians who express concern over my academic, entertainment and even health choices. I freely admit that I make choices that many of my friends would not entertain, but the assumption that my choices are naive and leading me towards a supposed path of destruction, well that really troubles me. I've often commented on the culture of fear that is North American Evangelicalism, fortunately it is not all there is to Evangelicalism, but it is pretty darn pervasive. So it has me thinking about the roots of fear and the reasons why, Evangelicals in particular, should not be ruled by fear. So I want to reflect here on the connection between trust and God.

Now, my presupposition here is a particular understanding of God. I am not confident that these observations will translate for readers who have either no concept of God or an impersonal concept of God. In the abstraction of god concepts the rules change. But for those of us with a commitment and conviction towards the personhood of God, it is the relationship with that person that hinges entirely on the notion of trust. This clearly translates into human-human relationships (and even relationships between other animal species, for example your trust for your dog will dictate the freedom to which your dog will be given). When I distrust another human person, then I withhold something of myself in the relationship. The reason for this is my fears (often well grounded) in the other's ability to compensate my trust appropriately. Here is precisely the issue that theodicy seeks to illuminate - how can we trust in any God who allows evil to ravage the earth? But here again the presupposition of God's personhood is called into question: is our confidence in God based on a notion about how God should act towards our species? Based on what? I love the answer that Job provides - surveying all that goes on in this world with all the various forms of life God asks Job if Job might not be able to do things better? Job is silent where often we are not.

In our discomfort with the often harshness of reality, we make God out to be the villain. In fact the Jobian account does the same in the introduction that intimates God as the bad guy. Certainly, the primitive karmic notion should work in favour of our comfort - should it not? Probably the best proof against such naive notions of God-human relations is the incarnation of Jesus. In the incarnation God is not distant and arbitrary, but present and made co-sufferer in the rigors of life. Jesus does not come advocating our comfort, but rather doing the right thing no matter the outcome and the cost to our comfort. The maxim of if it feels good, do it is utterly washed away in the self-emptying of God through the person of Jesus.

Often when I encounter people who are suspicious of my life they are not interested in hearing the ways that I integrate my spirituality into such activities - even when I play games with friends I am hoping and praying for opportunities to see God's Kingdom manifest (even if that is so simple as entering into the rigors of their lives with them). But that is not what the accusers hear, it is that I am living outside of the constraints their own fears have inflicted upon them. So there is not even an opportunity to find God in the midst of these activities, they reveal the limits of their trust in God.

Now, to be certain, there are activities that are not healthy for anyone to engage. That is not the question here. I would be the first to declare that immoral actions play havoc on ones soul. And even in very wholesome activities, one can encounter situations that should be suspect, lest we think that there are safe places where we can be comfortable in a naive way. (BTW I wholeheartedly reject the notion that naivety is somehow closeness to God, I think often it is more of an unwillingness to let God be God, but this should be another post.) The proof is rather to be fully engaged and aware when one lives. Aware and conscious of God's presence, but even more our own presence towards the situation. Often, I am convinced, it is simply assumed that I engage in activities without thought, as if I'm blindly stumbling towards a trap.

An example is my recent adoption of a yoga practice. The reality is that I've spent a lot of time thinking about yoga, discussing and learning even before I attempted to get on the mat. And once I got on the mat I didn't stop, in fact I'm even conscious of the music that is used in practices, did you know that there is Sikh worship music that sounds incredibly contemporary Christian? It is precisely because I know yoga is a spiritual practice that I engage it with a critical mind. Unfortunately that term critical mind often means, for Evangelicals at least, critical about there being any value in something rather than coming to understanding and really thinking through the implications of a practice. But it isn't just thinking something through that becomes my criteria for engagement - it is a matter of trust.

Trust, in the context of God as person, means that I don't enter into any practice alone. In fact it is in the context of engaging with life that the character of my trust relationship is defined and honed. This doesn't mean I'm naively assuming God will rescue me from any wayward decision I might make - heavens forbid. Rather that God is ever present, even in terrible mistakes, and a hugely contributing factor to my ability to engage, understand and partake in all life has to offer. My friend George once said that the need is to trust God's ability to lead more than the devil's ability to deceive. I think that is wise. Trust brings freedom. When we trust our relationship with God then it opens space to have real relationships with each other. This is foundational to ecumenical dialogue, and the chief obstacle for Evangelicals to engage with other religious traditions (except to denigrate those traditions in an attempt to maintain the comfort of assumed superiority, in other words to pander to fear).

Trust is the way past fear. Perfect love actually cannot allow fear to rule the day. Which leads me to question how much North American Evangelicals actually get the message of God's love. I am not advocating doing what feels good, or even whatever you want. But trust is about doing the right thing, even when it is a risk, even if it risks the notions you have which seem to protect your comfort. My hope is that my fearless life might be an example, an example of life lived to the fullest in and through the presence of God.


colin benner said...

You do make some interesting points Frank. I think that in some ways fear is a pervasive element in some aspects of evangelicalism. I do not think that all of things you discuss as fear and trust are necessarily those two things however.
My trust of my dog, when I had one, was directly related to his performance and, therefore, my hard earned wisdom relating to his behaviour. Some folks reaction to your choices, whilst not always coming in a clever and intellectual way, might possibly come from the wisdom they have gained through their experiences. To say that is fear is perhaps a little too simplistic. I am not saying that they are correct but I am not sure is just a trust issue.

One of Freedom said...

Hey Colin. I was hoping to draw a distinction between trust and fear, while I think they can co-exist I see trust as the way past fear. I do find this pervasive and it has to do with the presuppositions in evangelical theology (that is theology of witness). I also find it very refreshing when fear isn't the dominant dialogue partner in conversations with fellow evangelicals.

But you are right about the need to draw from the wisdom of our experiences. And I'm not trying to short circuit that. For instance the issue of alcohol. Many have experienced first hand the ravages of alcoholism and rightly suspect the use of alcohol in any context. If fear is ruling the conversation then discovering that the person you are talking to drinks will shut down the conversation and any ability to engage with the other. If love rules the day then one will seek understanding - why does this person feel that is a good liberty? What is their attitude and history with alcohol? etc.

I was taught, as a young Christian, to fear anything that didn't fit within a narrow band of parameters. The issue at stake was essentially my salvation (as if my salvation depended on some assent to a particular belief system.) This is a poor foundation for a faith relationship.

Trust is a way past that, a trust relationship with God that is.

Is that clearer?