Trust in God Crucial to Proper Human Functioning and Flourishing

[Note: read a shorter version of this article here]On the surface, human beings have many problems: addictions, injustices, abuse, anxiety, and depression.

No doubt these problems have many psychological, physical, and social elements.

Beyond all these is a theological problem. Most theological analyses of our problems are excluded in the modern world. In spite of this, belief in God remains widespread, and so, even if we exclude those who do not believe in God, such analysis may be helpful to a large proportion of modern people.

In this essay, I would like to propose that trusting in God is necessary to proper human functioning and flourishing.[1]

This is merely an application of Saint Augustine’s famous statement in The Confessions: “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

The Human Problem
Human beings were created good.

But human beings are also dependent beings. They can’t survive on their own. They need knowledge, purpose, love, and physical resources from outside of themselves.

Individuals not only lack these resources and need a continual influx of them from outside, they completely lack the ability to secure the continuation of that influx.

Out of this basic problem all anxiety arises. We need things from outside, and we can see the possibility that they would not be provided.[2]

If we had to live in this uncertainty, the human situation would be tragic indeed.

However, God made human beings and blessed them (Gen. 1:26).

God’s blessing was (and is) the basis for human assurance in the security of the provision of their needs. The obligation of human beings was to trust that God would provide.

God would provide love, purpose, guidance, physical provision, and security.

Primary and Secondary Assurance of Blessing
God’s primary assurance of provision for our life is His Word and His promise of blessing.

However, God also gave secondary assurances of His provision for human beings. For example, God gave love to Adam, but He also gave him Eve. He promised him blessing, but He put Adam in a garden filled with things to eat.

Adam could wonder, will God provide for me? Then, he would look around and see all the food and say, “Of course He will!”

God’s Himself always had to remain the ultimate source of blessing, but humans could enjoy secondary sources and assurances of His blessing.

The important thing is that this order not be reversed. For example, while God’s love is infinite, human beings only have a limited ability to love one another. No matter how many friends you have, you always have to retreat into the loneliness of your own psyche.

You may have plenty of food, but you can always imagine scenarios in which those provisions are no longer available, especially if you have a vivid imagination.

The point is that you can’t press too hard on the secondary assurances and sources of the blessing of our lives. They won’t give an ultimate answer to our problems because they aren’t ultimate.

Sin
If human beings were obligated to trust God, then the ultimate sin is failure to trust God and His assuring word.

The alternative to trusting God is not ignoring the basic human problem of neediness but seeking one’s own resolution to the problem.

Instead of trusting God’s guidance, human beings took the guidance of the devil and sought their own solution to the problem of human finitude.

This is pride. It is the exaltation of our abilities out of their natural bounds.

This then leads to injustice because human beings then try to control, abuse, and take from others in order to alleviate their own neediness.

Idolatry
When human beings seek to come up with their own solution to the problem of human neediness, they seek to make use of one or more of the secondary means of assurance as the source of their ultimate security, love, meaning, or guidance.

Addiction is a good illustration. The thing to which one is addicted become the center of their lives. It becomes deeply ingrained in their lives. It leads them to sacrifice other things that they should and profess to hold dear.

Another example is money. There is nothing wrong with money. Providing us with money or savings is one way God shows that He will provide for us.

However, what happens when money becomes an idol and the source of our security? All sorts of good things are sacrificed to the attainment of money including our relationships, health, relationship with God, enjoyments, and so on.

In addition, money cannot actually assure us that we will have security. When riches increase, so do thieves. You may be able to buy the best health insurance, but some diseases are incurable. Money can come, but it can also be lost. Money simply cannot ultimately secure a state of blessing, and anyone who thinks it can is setting themselves up for disillusionment.

What about relationships? Human relationships can be a blessing and source of love, but they cannot cure our existential loneliness or provide us with an ultimate sense of love. Even at their best, people simply cannot be there all the time for us.

But what happens when we make them ultimate, an idol? We seek to control the person’s reactions to us. If we can’t, we become fixated on the problems of that person. We can also simply dissolve ourselves in that person and sacrifice even being a self.

And what happens if that person is removed from our lives for some reason? Then, our world will be completely shattered. Losing people is hard, but when we have made that person our ultimate source of acceptance, guidance, or security, then despair or total desperation can be the result.

In addition, human beings are not made to be our ultimate source of anything. When we seek to make them such, we do lasting damage to those whom we try to turn into our idols.

Restoration
The solution to idolatry is repentance. We turn from trusting in our idols to trusting in God for our security, acceptance, guidance, and meaning.

However, there is another problem. If we have sinned against God, then how can we be sure that God will take us back? Whatever people may claim, God is a holy and just God as well as a good and merciful God.

That’s where the Christian Gospel is so powerful. What it says is that God takes our sin and the offenses we have committed against Him on Himself in the person of the Son of God.

Since God has taken our sin, and the Son of God has suffered for us, we can be forgiven. The result is a message of reconciliation and forgiveness: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19).

Ironically, God puts us in an even more secure position than we were before humans sinned. Before the fall, sin could separate us from God. In Christ, sin is paid for, and so there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:31-39).

In Christ, we have the restoration of the assurance of blessing but strengthened by the assurance of the blood of Christ. “In Him all the promises of God are ‘yes’ and ‘amen'” (2 Cor. 1:20).

Learning to Trust
There are two truths that we must believe in order to be able to change our hearts and lives by trusting in God. First, we must believe that God is the ultimate source of human blessing. Second, we must believe that we can be forgiven and accepted in Christ. Third, we must believe that we have done so.

Once we know that we are restored in Christ, then we have a foundation for trusting in God for all that we need.

However, this is far from the only thing that needs to be done.

We have lived most of our lives not trusting in God. We have relied on all sorts of idols for our identity, love, security, guidance, meaning, and purpose. The interaction with the failure of these idols has shaped our lives, increased our anxiety, and produced a pattern of dealing with these things.

This usually does not change over night. It is deeply wired into our physical and psychological selves.

So, we need to re-wire and re-program. How do we do this?

Let me suggest that we need three things: self-understanding, understanding of our environment, and the Word of God.

All Christians should meditate daily on the Word of God. We should not only read it but meditate on it, think on it.

Second, we need to know ourselves. How do I react to things? What is my personality? What are the patterns of my behavior? How do I react under stress? What is my story?

Third, we need to know our environment. What are the people and things that are in my life? What importance do they have? To which have I given too much importance? What things, events, and people have shaped my life?

In all of this, don’t forget to pray and ask for guidance from the Lord and from trusted friends and leaders.

It is only as we see how we have relied on idols and interacted with them that we can see our sins and need to repent. This is a lengthy process. I do believe that there can be substantial healing, but we will always be far from perfect functioning and flourishing in this life.

Accepting Secondary Assurance
God wants us to trust in Him, but He rarely makes us rely exclusively on Him alone for our provision for a long period of time.

What I mean is this. God is the ultimate source of love. His view of us is what ultimately matters. It is rare, though, that God will not bring people into our lives who will also love us and care for us.

The trouble is that we generally get fixated on particular ways that God helps us. We may have had a group of friends that were particularly helpful to us, but then they go in a different directions.

What people generally do is look for another group of friends that is very similar, and when that does not occur, they give up. They don’t see that the former group of friends was just one way in which God supplied their need for companionship and love. He can fill them with a sense of love without them, and he can do it with a complete different type of people.

In addition, it’s possible that we have given too much importance to our friends. It’s good to grieve the loss of friends. It’s not good to let it paralyze us and send us into deep depression. When we see that the loss of something brings debilitating results, then we may want to ask if we relied on those people or things more than we should have.

This will also be a lengthy process.

The Result
When put things in the right place and learn to trust God first and let secondary things be secondary, then we can have peace.

We will grieve when we lose secondary assurances of blessings, but we won’t fall apart. We trust in God, and we can continue functioning and flourishing even in the ups and downs of life.

It’s important here to emphasize that this does not mean that we will not grieve. We grieve but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but we do grieve.

Sometimes well-meaning Christians can attempt to squash any negative emotion with, “Where is your trust?” This is a mistake for several reasons. First, it probably won’t help that person. Second, it’s not true that trust and anger, sadness, or fear cannot go together. Third, we are all a mixed bag, so we should be patient and compassionate with one another.

The place to start is with ourselves. What do I value too much? What would happen to me if my job, retirement account, people I love, church, or home was taken away from me? Would I be OK? Could I grieve in a healthy way? Could I trust God, if He took x away from me?

Because trusting God is the key to life. It is crucial to human functioning and flourishing. “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:3–4).

_________________

Notes

[1] I am not providing many citations in this article, but I’m indebted for this way of explaining things to a wide variety of theologians and writers including Saint Augustine, Francis Turretin, Robert Lewis Dabney, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, Tim Killer, Richard Lovelace, and writings that were not specifically Christian such as those of Stephen Covey, Irvin Yalom, Jim Gaffigan, and many others.

[2] I would suggest that this ability to see the gap between our needs and our ability to supply them provides the context for the fall, though seeing this gap is not in itself sin.

print

One Reply to “Trust in God Crucial to Proper Human Functioning and Flourishing”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *