Those who trust in the LORD are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever. Psalm 125:1
Trust – Trusting YHWH doesn’t matter until it matters. When life is consumed by the routine, we don’t think much about trust. If we think of it at all, we think about the expectation of its consistency. I don’t have to trust that the sun will come up tomorrow. I don’t have to trust that tomorrow will be another day of writing or traveling or phone calls. Those things fall into the category of inevitability. They happen because the universe generally follows a cause and effect scenario. That’s why I have an appointment calendar. Life is not normally chaotic.
Trust is important when life isn’t so routine. That doesn’t mean you have to have an externally observable crisis like a terrorist attack or the loss of your job or a devastating injury. Life can be chaotic on the inside too. It can be filled with doubts, fears, loneliness, heartache; things that are hidden from the observation of others but are quite apparent to the one feeling the chaos. While you might not need an example because you already know this experience, indulge me here. I am often afraid. Of course, I don’t talk about my fears and I do my best not to show them publicly, but I know very well that they are there. I fear failure. I fear shame. I fear being left behind, being alone. Most of my fears are emotionally charged projections of self-induced despair. I simply don’t think I’m good enough – for my wife, my family, my friends or for God. I have a long history of sins. I know guilt in the first degree. That’s why trust is such a critically important experience for me.
I resisted writing that trust is a concept or an idea. Concepts and ideas will not remove the inner terror. I must experience trust to know it is real. Trust is found in behavior, not in dictionaries. If I hear my friend say, “Trust me,” but I see him act in ways that appear to be irresponsible or personally damaging to me, his words become nothing but words. I might suggest that he become a politician but I probably won’t give him my checkbook. This is even more critical when I have to deal with my most intimate inner fears. There has to be a reason to put confidence in someone and that reason cannot be a verbal assertion of fidelity.
But trust contains a paradox. In order to trust someone, I must take a risk. You see, no matter how much behavioral evidence I have that the other person is trustworthy, I know they might still fail me. I know this because I know myself and I have produced considerable evidence of trustworthiness and yet still failed to be 100% faithful. And if I can fail myself, others can also fail me. How can I really trust if trust requires me to risk what I don’t trust?
The psalmist exhorts me to trust YHWH. But why should I? Have I seen His invisible hand moving in my life? Am I confident that He will shelter me from my personal terrors? Do I feel safe with Him? I certainly can’t answer these questions with a resounding “Yes!” unless I have experienced His care and concern. But even if I have, there is this tendency to doubt His continued care, especially when I have no doubt at all about my sinfulness. This is when I need to know the difference between the Greek words for trust and the Hebrew word for trust.
Hebrew expresses trust with the word batah (Bet-Tet-Chet). The pictograph is “inside the surrounding fence.” In other words, the principal idea behind trust is protection. Trust is expressed in feeling secure, in being able to rely on someone, in being unconcerned based on confidence in another. Hebraic trust is about feelings! It’s not a lofty theological concept. It’s real behaviorally-based emotional security. The most important words that I can say in any relationship are these: “I trust you.” That means I place my well-being in your hands because I am confident that you are reliable, responsible and concerned about me. I believe that you will bring me shalom. If I don’t believe these things, then no matter what I say, I don’t trust you. When I say, “I trust you,” I take the risk implied in the equation of trust. I hope that my risk is rewarded, but I don’t know for sure. The Greeks noticed this inherent paradox, so their expressions of trust tend to be a little different than the Hebrew idea of security.
Greek doesn’t have an exact equivalent for this feeling of inner safety. In the Greek New Testament, several different words are translated “trust,” but none of them fits the Hebrew perfectly. Greek uses elpizo (to hope, to expect with desire), peitho (to convince, to persuade), pepoithesis (from peitho – trust or confidence), pisteuo (to believe, to have faith, to trust) and proelpizo (from elpizo – to see ahead, to know or foresee). You can see the cognitive orientation of the Greek terms in opposition to the emotional orientation of the Hebrew word. You can see that the basic idea of trust in Greek is tied to hope, not security. That doesn’t mean the Greek expressions aren’t correct. It just means that Hebrew is a “rubber meets the road” approach. In Hebrew, trust is about living, not just about thinking. In Hebrew, it’s about what I am experiencing now, not what I wish to experience if everything works out the way I hope it will. Perhaps that’s why we find this startling fact of the Hebrew Scripture: there are hardly any verses that actually describe people who trusted YHWH. There are plenty of verses that exhort us to trust Him but there are less than a dozen verses that tell us about people who actually did trust Him. Apparently the most important element of any relationship is not only difficult among human beings who can and do fail us, it is just as difficult with a God who never fails us. We might reflect on this fact when it comes to the lives of Yeshua’s disciples. There is no doubt that Yeshua demonstrated His trustworthiness, but every disciple ran when put to the test.
Now we have discovered why trust requires such an effort. Others fail to uphold our trust. Havvah failed Adam. Adam failed Havvah. It’s been the same ever since. Based on my experience with other people, I can never completely trust anyone. That is not a reflection of their deliberate malfeasance. It is simply a statement of the human condition. Everyone stumbles. I have failed to be trustworthy innumerable times. Just ask those who love me the most. I have failed to keep confidence with myself. Just ask God. So how can I trust someone else? They are just as human as I am. How can I put my well-being in the hands of someone else with unconcern for the consequences? In spite of the fact that the Bible exhorts me to place my well-being in the hands of my wife (Proverbs 31:11) in the same way that I would place my full confidence in YHWH, I struggle to do so because I have experienced pain and suffering at the hands of those I trusted. I am afraid because I know what it means to be double-crossed. To trust is to risk myself.
Paradox is at the heart of trust. Coming to grips with this paradox is the task of the human condition. I cannot become what God intends until I risk trusting Him and others. Other people may disappoint, but that cannot prevent me from risking myself with God. I must take myself by the neck and say, “What’s the matter with you? God doesn’t fail. Ever! It doesn’t matter what the circumstances happen to be. He is completely trustworthy even if you can’t figure out how He is engineering your life to bring about shalom. Stop peering in from outside the fence. Put your hand on the gate and step in. Of course it’s scary. But who are you to judge this situation? Is God like you? Not a chance! Put your fears away and take the risk to trust Him no matter where it goes. Put Him to the test. He’s up to it.”
Topical Index: trust, batah, risk, security, Psalm 125:1