Getting Closer to God: Trusting vs. Understanding

I was recently asked how we can understand God better – specifically, His decisions and what happens to us. The answer is that “understanding God” is essentially a contradiction in terms. No amount of theological study can bring us to understanding the ways of God. If it did, the human race would most probably have achieved it by now. For several thousand years, hundreds of thousands of priests, ministers, saints, and theologians have prayed for understanding, for innumerable hours — but God remains as mysterious as ever. Jesus’ teachings bring us closer to trusting, loving, and fearing God, and for preparing for our life after we leave this world, but they do not bring us closer to understanding God’s ways for us here on Earth.


Even Jesus didn’t understand God, at least during Jesus’ manhood. His prayer in Gethsemane said “please take this cup from me”. On the cross, he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”


In fact, nowhere in the Bible does it tell us that we can understand God. The Imitation of Christ, one of my favorite books and the most significant devotional work of all time, has a passage that says, “Give me O Lord, heavenly wisdom, that I may learn to seek thee above all things and to find thee, to relish thee above all things and to love thee, and to understand all things, even as they are, according to the order of thy wisdom”. However, asking for “heavenly wisdom”, or to “understand all things” – noble as the intention may be – is to set yourself up for disappointment.


Fortunately, there is an alternative to understanding which is simple and, though difficult at times, very reassuring: Trust.


Trust is found in many places in the Bible. Proverbs 3:5 states, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding”. Jeremiah 17:7 states, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him”. The Psalms contain numerous passages about trust (13:5, 20:7, 56:3, 84:12). In the New Testament, there is that beautiful passage from Jesus at the end of Matthew 6 (verses 25-34), where he tells us not to worry. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, talks about faith and hope, which are forms of trust, and mentions trust again in 2 Corinthians 1:10: “Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.”


But why is trust so difficult?

Frankly, as we get further and further into adulthood, we get less used to doing it. Our culture, especially in America, teaches us that everything needs to be questioned and that there should be a reason for everything. It is against our education and culture to blindly trust anything, and most people who are “once bitten” by misplaced trust become “twice shy”.


However, we should recall that before the Enlightenment, such blind trust in God did not seem odd. It was actually the norm. As we got used to solving more problems ourselves, through science and technology, we began to assume that everything could be understood. We should also think back to our childhoods, and how we blindly trusted our parents to provide for us and guide us. It is not until our teens, when we think we know everything (viz. the word “sophomoric”), that we lose the notion of blindly trusting.


Thus, when it comes to trust, everything that society teaches us is against it. At the same time, since trying to understand God is futile, trust is often they only thing we’ve got. Fortunately, it costs nothing, and is in direct obedience to what God asks of us. At no point does God ask us to understand Him.


God knows that trusting Him is not always easy. Even the best of us, Jesus, found it difficult to trust God all the time, as seen in his cry of abandonment when he was on the cross.


Trusting through suffering

Some type of suffering is part of God’s plan for all of us. While nature and chance account of a great deal of suffering, we must admit that a lot of suffering is caused by ourselves. At the same time, even when we make poor decisions that cause suffering, those decisions are often based on careful consideration. Life has included suffering as one of its main ingredients, regardless of how much we try to avoid it.


Christ endured the suffering of pain, abuse, and humiliation. While he cried out in agony on the cross, we can assume that throughout his Passion he was filled with trust. In the same way, we must view suffering as a test of our trust, and also a way for our trust to grow. As seen with Christ, God had not abandoned him, and three days after his agony he awoke to eternal life.


St. Paul, in Romans 5:3-5, states that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope”. I mentioned above that hope is closely related to trust. In a way, it is the “enthusiastic” component of trust – the part of trust that says, “This suffering is not going to beat me. Things are going to get better. I am going to get through this.”


Trust is also a source of peace. What could give a greater feeling of peace, than knowing that the almighty, all-powerful force in the universe is thinking about you?


God also wants us to trust him despite our suffering. He wants us to love Him unconditionally, just as He loves us unconditionally. Furthermore, recall that trusting God doesn’t mean sitting back and doing nothing. As always, showing our trust and love for God is made clear by Jesus: Love thy neighbor as thyself, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you ever wonder how to put your love and trust in God into action, just start by being kind and generous to those around you. And don’t forget to tell God that you trust Him in your prayers!


Tom McKinley is the author of Winning the Fight to Be Happy and Make the Right Decisions Early.


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