CAN GOD BE TRUSTED?
Who would dare to question the integrity of God? Who would dare suggest that God cannot be trusted? Yet with this incredible accusation, the Biblical account of human history begins.
The one who raised this charge had not always been God’s enemy. He is pictured first as highly honored, standing in the very presence of our heavenly Father. As God’s trusted spokesman he went out among his fellow angels bearing light and truth. He was called “the Light Bearer”—sometimes translated “Lucifer” or “Morning Star”—a name belonging also to the Son of God himself (see Ezekiel 28:14; Isaiah 14:12; 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16).
But Jesus later called him “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). The last book in the Bible describes him as “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).
“Of course you will not die,” the serpent said to Eve. “God knows that as soon as you eat it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God knowing both good and evil” (Genesis 3:4, 5, NEB, margin). “God has no respect for your freedom and dignity as intelligent individuals,” Satan argued. “In selfish tyranny he is depriving you of knowledge and experience that are rightfully yours. He has lied and is not worthy of your trust.”
With such falsehoods Satan had already led one third of the angels to side with him against God. Though he is a created being, he had come to think of himself as divine. “‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high;… I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High’” (Isaiah 14:13, 14). Insane pride led him later even to ask Jesus, his Creator, to bow down and worship him (Matthew 4:8–10).
To set himself up as God he first must undermine confidence in the One he wished to supplant, and he sought to do this by destroying God’s reputation. Since he could find no fault in God, he must resort to deceit.
So began that long struggle for the loyalty of God’s free, intelligent creatures. Who was right—God or the brilliant Light Bearer? Could it be true that God was arbitrary and severe, unworthy of the love and trust of the beings he had made? What kind of god would allow his character to be so challenged? Was it strength or weakness that led him to permit such long debate, to allow this controversy to spread throughout his universe?
Finally Satan and his followers even ventured into open revolt. Then God, in his farsighted plan for the best good of all concerned, expelled the rebels from his presence, and the great controversy was extended to the planet on which we live.
As described in the frequently symbolic language of the Book of Revelation, “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels waged war upon the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought, but they had not the strength to win, and no foothold was left them in heaven. So the great dragon was thrown down, that serpent of old that led the whole world astray, whose name is Satan, or the Devil—thrown down to the earth, and his angels with him…. But woe to you, earth and sea, for the Devil has come down to you in great fury, knowing that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:7–9, 12, NEB).
Some day soon, before Christ returns, Satan will make a last, desperate attempt to win us all to his side. He will appear as an angel of light—the Light Bearer again; Lucifer, the Morning Star (see 2 Corinthians 11:14). He will even proclaim himself to be God. Just as he tried to persuade Christ to worship him in the wilderness of temptation, so he will seek to win our worship now.
The Bible predicts that his efforts will seem to be completely successful. The whole world will worship him—except for a few, “the remnant” (KJV), who will not be deceived. On the contrary, they will take their stand with the loyal angels and maintain their trust in God (see Revelation 12:17; 13:1–8; 14:12).
All of us are unavoidably caught up in this struggle and its results. Throughout history Satan has had vast success in corrupting man’s ideas of God. Millions have worshiped deities who use fear and force to have their way. Even among those who call themselves the followers of Christ, the cruelest of persecutions have been conducted in God’s name—men and women tortured at the stake to force acceptance of perverted Christian faith.
How often religion has sought to crush man’s freedom and deny his sacred right of individuality! How often religion has insulted human dignity, demanding blind submission and belief!
All this bespeaks an arrogant and arbitrary God. Is this the truth that Jesus said would set men free? Or are these Satan’s lies about our gracious God? Does God desire the obedience of fear or the obedience that springs from trust and admiration for the rightness of his ways?
No wonder that, for many, God is dead. The deity some have worshiped is perhaps far better dead. But in the vacuum that follows, will worse caricatures of God crowd in to take his place? Man was not designed to live alone, without friends and without God.
What picture do you have of God? Is it the truth? Has it set you free? Do you have friends who rejoice in this same truth, and has it made them people you can trust?
The Bible describes a special unity that exists among those who know and worship God—that is, among those who trust and admire him as he really is. What security, happiness, and peace are to be found in the company of trusted and trusting friends!
I shall never forget the doctors and their team who worked so hard to bring our oldest daughter through a frequently fatal disease. For two months they could offer only guarded hope. But they never had to add that they were doing all they could. Of course they were, and we were glad they knew we knew it.
For years we had known them as the finest experts in their fields and as trusted friends. They all believed in God and spoke freely of their faith. Often we had met for conversation about God, and our shared confidence in him brought great assurance in a time of stress. If our daughter had not been healed, we still would have known that our friends had done everything they could.
I often think of my father and how he would come to the rescue when one of us needed help. I knew I could trust him with my reputation and my life, and both would be as safe in his hands as he could keep them. Even after we had grown up and gone our separate ways, he was ready to go halfway round the world to help in any emergency. And Mother cared just as much. Trustworthy parents make it easier for children to learn to trust in God.
Besides, my father had written more than a hundred books especially to help children, as well as adults, to see how worthy God is of our trust, and we had all grown up with these books. Now we read them to our own children and grandchildren and hope they too will choose to trust. For we must also give them their freedom, if we tell them the truth about God. But though the trust God desires must be individually confirmed as our own, I gratefully realize how much we were helped by our trustworthy parents.
But what of the person for whom the word father is anything but a symbol of trustworthiness? In his extraordinary paraphrase of Bible stories entitled God Is for Real, Man, Carl Burke, then chaplain of Erie County Jail, New York, tells of trying to assure a boy of God’s love by saying, “God is like a father.”
“If he’s like my father,” the boy replied, “I sure would hate him.”
Then there was the little girl, abandoned at eight years old on the streets of a large city. She asked him, “If God loves me like you say he does, why did he let Mommy and Daddy go away on me?”
Burke struggled to find something in the lives of these inner-city children that could symbolize what he wanted to tell them about God. He asked some of them to help him translate parts of the Bible into terms they could understand.
One small boy, who felt that no one in the world had any interest in him at all but who seemed to be longing for someone he could trust, helped paraphrase the twenty-third Psalm. There was only one person who seemed to care, and the boy had come to admire him very much—his probation officer. And so “The Lord is my shepherd” became “The Lord is like my probation officer.”
God is the Father of us all, and in his sight we are equally members of his one huge family. But how can he speak to his children, how persuade them to trust, when they think of Father as an aimless drunk and Mother as one who runs around with other men?
How can he hold the trust of his Jewish children who were taught to believe they had no need to fear, for God was with them? They memorized such promises as “I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you’” (Isaiah 41:13). Then, in the land where Luther had preached, they watched millions of their people die and heard their neighbors betray them to their enemies.
How can God hold the trust of the gentle people of Cambodia who ran into the streets to welcome their Communist saviors, only to be beaten, shot, and driven by the millions from their homes? In less than two years, between one and two million of Cambodia’s seven million people may have died. “There is no love anywhere,” one young refugee is reported to have said (see Murder of a Gentle Land, condensed in the Reader’s Digest, 1977). And the men behind the guns made no secret of their scorn for faith in God. How can the people of that ravished land ever be able to trust God and their fellowmen again?
As the Bible describes our beginning, this world was to be a place of perfect freedom and security. Trusting each other and trusting God, what would there be to fear? But the enemy of God is our enemy too. The one who would deceive us into distrusting God works also to destroy our trust in each other and our own trustworthiness. And where there is no mutual trust and love, there is no real freedom, no real security.
Yet these are the things in life we all desire the most. How good we feel when in times of emergency we show what friends we could always be! How pleased we are when countries work together to rush medicine and food to a neighbor struck by some natural disaster! The whole world applauds when the ship of one nation steams to the rescue of another—especially when it flies the flag of an old enemy. How the world was moved to watch that rare moment of unity in respect and grief when the leaders of the nations stood together at the grave of John F. Kennedy!
If only universal trust could somehow be restored, then we could enjoy again that peaceful assurance that comes with faith in God and confidence in each other. Then we could feel once more that vital sense of dignity and self-respect that come with knowing that God and our friends can safely place their confidence in us.
But we have lost so much of our ability and willingness to trust. Besides, the risk of trusting sometimes seems too great. So often we have let each other down. And with loss of trust in each other, we may begin to wonder if it is even safe to trust in God.
Can God really be trusted? No mere claim can settle this question. The devil has made many claims, and with impressive authority and power. What is required is the truth, the truth about God. We can not, dare not, trust someone we do not know.
But can God be known that well? As the Infinite One, has he revealed himself in such a way that we may understand and be confident that this is the truth? Does what we see and hear about him add up to such weight of evidence that we can say, “Indeed you can trust God”?
The Bible points forward to a time of worldwide peace, a day when love and trust will fill God’s whole universe. Then “‘no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord’” (Jeremiah 31:34).
This time has not yet come. There are still many neighbors and brothers who do not know God as he is. In ignorance, or blinded by Satan’s lies, how can they decide about God? And how can they meet the last worldwide effort to deceive?
It should be no surprise to hear our Lord explain that the gospel must go to all the world before the end can come (Matthew 24:14). God would not ask anyone to face the final, indescribable time of distress without a chance to prepare (see Daniel 12:1–3).
As a schoolboy I always considered it an honor when my teacher would ask me to deliver an important item of news. The more important the news, the greater the privilege of telling. It is the inestimable privilege of those who have already made up their minds to trust God, now to spread the Good News, the everlasting truth about our gracious and trustworthy God.