There are people who like to think that they do not trust anything or anyone. It used to be common for people to say that they only believed what they could know by reason. Nowadays, reason seems to be so restrictive and passé, so we are more likely to hear emotional calls to ‘go with our hearts’. Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg’s recent speech on ‘Climate Change’, delivered to dignitaries at the United Nations, was applauded for being heartfelt, but it was decidedly light on in terms of content. There was more angry hectoring and self-dramatisation than anything else.
The truth is that we all trust something or someone in life, everyday of our lives, in fact every moment of our lives. If we are worried about our security and safety, we might trust in chariots and horses – or their twenty-first century equivalents (Ps.20:7). It is obviously not wrong to use horses or to ride them, but the Psalmist does not want us to rely on them, to give us a sense of security. Paul tells us not to put our hopes on the uncertainty of riches (1 Tim.6:17). Again, it is not wrong to own riches, but it is wrong to trust in them, to treat them as though they constitute what life is all about.
Some trust in people, even princes (Ps.118:8-9). Friends are a blessing in this earthly life, and even princes can sometimes warrant a certain level of trust. The perspective of the Bible needs to be maintained: ‘Put not you trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish’ (Ps146:3-4). The greater the claim, the more wary we ought to be. The regimes that have done the most damage have been those which have claimed the most – the Thousand Year Reich, for example, or the various Workers’ Paradises. The man who trust in man is cursed by God (Jer.17:5).
The pinnacle of wisdom these days is often presented in the form of ‘Believe in yourself.’ That is a recipe for pride if we think we have succeeded, despair if we experience failure, or mental instability if we waver between these two poles. ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding’ (Prov.3:5). The Bible does not mince words: ‘Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool’ (Prov.28:26). It was the Pharisees who trusted in themselves and so treated others with contempt (Luke 18:9). Nobody who trusts in himself will ever humble himself at the cross or love his neighbour as himself. The trials and dangers of life are meant to drive us out of ourselves, and to cause us to rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Cor.1:9).
The sad lesson is that we become like what we trust. If we trust idols, we become like them – useless, lacking in wisdom, and lifeless (Ps.115:4-8). There is even an ever-present temptation to misuse what God has given us to aid us in the faith. Because of the grumbling of the Israelites in the wilderness, God sent them a plague of serpents as a punishment. To rescue them, He had Moses set a bronze serpent on a pole with a promise that if a serpent bit anyone, he would only need to look at the bronze serpent to be healed (Num.21:4-9). Calvin famously called the human mind a factory for idols, and so it has proved over the years. The next time we hear of this bronze serpent is about 800 years later when King Hezekiah of Judah destroyed it because the Hebrews had been making offerings to it, having given it a name, Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:3-4). Such is the deception of the human heart that we can take what is God-given and designed for good, and turn it into a stumbling block.
A few weeks ago, I came across something even worse. I had been reading up on Thomas Aquinas when I received a claim from a Catholic organisation. It stated that when Our Lady of Mount Carmel gave the scapular (a religious garment) to St. Simon Stock (an English Carmelite from the thirteenth century), she gave it with the following promise: Take this Scapular. Whosoever dies wearing it shall not suffer eternal fire. It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and pledge of peace. The Bible says that it is the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation (Rom.1:16), but apparently this scapular will do as well.
When J. G. Paton was trying to find the word to designate ‘faith’ in the language of Aniwa in the New Hebrides, he was sitting in his study chair. He asked one of the ladies passing by: ‘What am I doing?’ ‘You’re sitting down,’ was the reply. Then he lifted his legs, rested his feet on the cross bar of the chair and leaned back. ‘Now what am I doing?’ he asked. ‘Fakarongrongo,’ was the answer in the Aniwan language – ‘You are leaning wholly. You have lifted yourself from every other support.’ Not in horses, nor in riches, nor in people or ourselves, nor in false gods, nor even God-given props for our faith, and certainly not in religious superstition, but in leaning wholly, totally on the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Every person on the planet trusts in something; those who are saved trust wholly in the grace and free mercy of Christ alone.