Posted by: Philip Rushton | August 17, 2015

Grounds For Trust

“Irredeemable harm does not befall those who willingly live in the hand of God.  What an astonishing reality!” Dallas Willard

On August 5, a group of us from the church climbed Mt. St. Helens.  In preparation for the climb I encouraged our group to memorize psalm 121 – one of the psalms of ascent.  I thought it would be an appropriate scripture to meditate on as we made our ascent up a large mountain. The passage begins by saying, “I look up to the mountains, where does my help come from?  My help comes from the maker of heaven and earth.”

As we were on the final stretch of the climb, however, I started to regret my choice.   You see, the psalm proceeds to say, “He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber.”  The problem is that one of our hikers’ feet did slip and he had a pretty serious calf injury.   For the next few hours we struggled to help him off the mountain.

Our situation on Mt. St. Helens was relatively minor and everyone got down the mountain fine; however, it serves to illustrate the dissonance we often experience when a promise of scripture does not seem to match our reality.  These types of situations can cause us to question God’s trustworthiness, especially if they are more serious.

Fifteen years ago a middle school student named Jennifer slipped off a cliff and fell to her death about 30 feet in front of me.  I remember getting very angry when I read psalm 121 a few months after this tragedy.  I still have my bible from back then and there is a big question mark in the margin with the words – “what about when our foot does slip?,” angrily engraved into the page.

The reality is that we do face tragedy and suffering.  If our trust in God is contingent on the absence of suffering we will inevitably have a crisis of faith.  One of the reasons why we struggle to fully surrender our life to God is because deep down we often question his trustworthiness.

This past week I read Dallas Willard’s book The Renovation of the Heart.  I discovered a great sense of freedom when I came across the above quote.  “Irredeemable harm does not befall those who willingly live in the hand of God.

Willard reminds us that scripture never indicates that we will be spared from harm.  In John 16:33, Jesus says to his disciples, “in this world you will have trouble.”  David, the writer of the psalm in question, faced betrayal, war, homelessness, and countless tragedies.  Paul faced beatings, slander, rejection, shipwreck and poverty.   The biblical narrative reminds us that our grounds for trust in God is not based on a pain free life.

However, Willard points us to the hope that a follower of God will never face “irredeemable harm.”  Our grounds for trust, then, is based on the hope that when we do face hardship God will be able to redeem it for his purposes.  In the midst of intense hardship Paul was able to write, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

This is not a new idea for me.  For some reason, however, these words set me free this weekend.  It was like I discovered the key to an impossible equation that I had been struggling to solve.   I (re-)discovered a resolution to the underlying dissonance in my heart.

Truth be told, my ability to surrender to God is often hindered by memories of past pain, or stories of other people suffering.  While I was on vacation I discovered that the church of my childhood was going through a major crisis.  There was a coup of sorts that split the church and forced the pastor to resign.  Stories like this (which are far to common) often haunt me.  They sometimes prevent me from leaning fully into my pastoral vocation.  They cause me to question whether I can really trust God with my future.

Yet, as I read these words from Willard I experienced a renewed ability to surrender to God’s plans.  I was reminded again that we do not have to fear suffering or harm.  Willard writes:

“What a crucial lesson this is for spiritual transformation!  We cease to live on edge, wondering, “will God do what I want?” Pain will not turn to bitterness or disappointment to paralysis.  Such one has learned, in the words of Tennyson, to

. . . so forecast the years,

And find in loss a gain to match,

And reach a hand through time to catch

The far-off interest of tears.

The ground on which our trust is built is on God’s ability to bring about redemption even when things go wrong.  No harm is irredeemable.  No cross is faced without the hope of resurrection.  “In this world you will have trouble,” says Jesus, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

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