Trust in the Lord
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;
~ Proverbs 3:5
First off, we have to remember this: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” is an aspiration for most Christians, not a reality. It is hard to tell how far one might properly take it. What would we be like if we hit the 99.99% mark? Something like John the Baptist, one would imagine. Or we might rather adopt a lifestyle more like Jesus Himself, because He apparently lived a little more conformant to societal norms than John. After all, He drank wine and ate bread, and even roast lamb, at least sometimes. He wore better clothes than John. He travelled to cities and towns, and seems to have slept indoors on regular occasions.
This train of speculative thought could run on and on, but the gulf between our lifestyle, and that of Christ or any of His disciples, is not the point of Proverbs 3:5. The verse addresses a narrow sliver of our being, i.e., our “understanding,” our thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. I only mention lifestyle to illustrate how far away we are from true attainment. We can easily see, in other words, that we are driving around in a heated automobile and sleeping in a comfy bed, and compare that to walking with only one staff and pair of sandals, or fasting in the wilderness for 40 days. It is more difficult to see how distant our ideas and beliefs are from the commandments of Scripture.
If we think about Biblical principles and compare them to our own lives, it eventually becomes painful. Psychology has a term for this pain: Cognitive dissonance. It occurs when our ideals and our conduct conflict. We spend an enormous amount of effort to avoid the pain of cognitive dissonance. There several approaches. Let's imagine a Christian minister walking past a homeless beggar on the street and not helping him out. How does our minister manage to get to sleep that night?
Strategy number 1 is, believe it or not, simply forgetting. Our minds will bend so that we remember something different than what happened. When our minister reads, even the next day, Matthew 25:31-46 (“Lord, when did we see You hungry . . . ?”), he will not remember seeing the homeless beggar. Indeed, if you stopped him ten seconds after he passed the beggar, he might swear he didn't see him!
Strategy number 2 is rationalizing our conduct. Mr. Minister might tell himself, “Our church donates to a shelter for the homeless, he can go there.” Or, “There are dozens of hungry homeless, I cannot help all of them.” Or, “If I gave him money, he’d just use it to buy liquor.”
But we are interested, today, in Strategy Number 3: rationalizing the ideal. We simply find ways, in our mind, not to read what the Bible says. A respected pastor in my home city recently told his congregation that such Biblical statements as “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities,” (Romans 13:1), or “You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people,” (Acts 23:5), must be “read in context.” He then explained that the authorities of Jesus’ time were totalitarian, whereas we live in a democracy. Therefore, the Biblical statements do not apply to us.
If you guessed that this was said to a politically conservative congregation, while Obama was President of the U.S., you guessed correctly. (I did not have a chance to ask him if a Christian in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia would, then, be obligated to submit to governmental authority.)
There are dozens and dozens of similar examples, of Biblical statements that are inconvenient to our mindsets. Every single one of us has some part of the Bible that we discount, an ideal given to us by God that we warp or discount in our mind, basically — well, basically because we do not want to follow it. We do not “agree” with it. We do not trust in the Lord, but lean upon our own understanding.
So, our assignment is for each of us to identify one or more passages of the Bible that we discount. Write down the cite for a passage you think is outdated, intolerable, unthinkable, illogical, etc. And meditate on this: “Is my criticism of this verse motivated by my obedience to God, or am I trying to satisfy some personal ideology or desire?” Do not worry about the mental pain, for the burden is light. In God’s mercy and forgiveness, we will find our relief.
Lord, lead me to trust you more each day. Amen.
~ Mason Barge
Editor, Daily Prayer