Friday, April 23, 2010

Is God really trustworthy?

Recently two of my grandsons have dealt with significant health issues. We have prayed for them, their parents have seen to proper medical attention, and the boys seem to be doing well. We can breathe easier. It seems that God has heard us. All appears to be well. We can trust God.

But what if something goes awry? What if their condition changes and their health deteriorates? What if our prayers do not receive the answers we desire? Can we trust God in that?

Almost twenty years ago, a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given three months to live. He was a devout Christian, and many of us prayed for his healing. His lovely wife and four young daughters loved and depended upon him for their care. He made it seven months and then died. We trusted God for healing, but got death instead. We found no answers to our questions about why such a good man had to die.

I've prayed for others over the years, including three more people who had cancer. One had a small tumor that concerned his doctor. The other two were given death sentences, but still underwent treatment. All three recovered. I cannot claim with absolute certainty why they recovered. Even with grim prospects for recovery, maybe the medical treatment won the day. Maybe God really did bring healing. All I know is that we prayed and they all got better. We were able to rejoice in God's goodness and trust that he heard our prayers.

Both of my grandsons had either birth difficulties or early-age medical problems that would have probably resulted in their deaths had they lived a hundred years ago. Our medical technology intervened and both have been enjoying robust lives. When I stop to think about it, I am grateful that they are in our lives at all.

So who do I trust in all of this? God? Science? Random flukes of the universe?

I need to mention that one of the three above-mentioned cancer victims did later die. His death was due to an accident in his home, not due to cancer. We prayed, he went through treatment, he recovered, and he died anyway. But that is the way of all people--of all living things--isn't it?

I can sit with my grandsons--talking, laughing, playing--and thank God for his care and love. I am grateful that I can trust God for all this joy. But could I sit at the graves of ones I have loved, and then trust God as well? Or is my trust linked only to the delivery of my expectations through prayer?

I think the answer lies in seeing God as trustworthy regardless of our expectations. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus (in Luke's gospel) are disappointed that Jesus didn't turn out to be the liberator that they had expected. They had trusted God, but he seemed to have let them down. The resurrected Jesus--the one who had just recently suffered and died--came alongside them to set them straight. If God is to be trusted, then our expectations and desires have to be subordinate to God's.

I'd like to be in the place where I trust God no matter what. If I (or the ones I love) live, then we trust our lives to God. If we die, then we trust that our lives are fully embraced by this trustworthy God, that we might one day enjoy him in the new heaven and the new earth.

Faith and Trust are interchangeable words in the Greek of the New Testament. But for us, faith can be purely cognitive. We can claim that we have faith just because we've ordered some information systematically in our heads. Trust, however, is relational. It comes out of full engagement with the trustworthiness of another. I can really only trust God within my relationship with him.

In the meantime, I still pray and hope. Within all that, I try to trust.

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