Monday, September 27, 2010

Trusting God

In the preface of Trusting God, Jerry Bridges states the purposes of the book are to “glorify God by acknowledging His sovereignty and goodness. And to encourage God’s people by demonstrating from Scripture that God is in control of their lives, he does indeed love them and that He does work out all circumstances in their lives for their ultimate good” (9). Bridges definitely accomplishes his purpose

Jerry Bridges begins Trusting God begins with a question that is relevant to every believer. Can we trust God in a fallen world and life that is often marked by suffering, brokenness, frustration and pain? His answer is yes we can, if we will view our circumstances through faith. Namely, the faith imparted to us through the Scriptures and applied to our hearts by the Spirit, which teach three essential truths about God (45). God is Sovereign, infinite in wisdom and perfect in love (16). These three truths are basic outline of the book.

In introducing God’s sovereignty Bridges says, “If there is a single event in the universe outside God’s control we cannot trust Him” (35). God is in absolute control and no act or circumstances can occur outside of God’s sovereign will, and no one can thwart his purposes or plans. God has a special purpose and plan for believers. That plan it is to make them like Jesus and it requires some adversity. Bridges goes on to talk about how God’s sovereignty relates to people, nations, nature and human responsibility. He finishes his discussion about God’s sovereignty by exploring the relationship between it and human responsibility. He observes that Scripture teaches both truths, but it is impossible to reconcile them. Bridges adds that God’s Sovereignty does not negate human responsibility.

After God’s sovereignty, the author discusses God’s wisdom. He points out that God is infinite in wisdom, incomprehensible in his ways and never makes mistakes. He knows what is best for us and how to work that out, which often includes adversity.

The next section of Trusting God, chapters nine and ten, focus on God’s love. Bridges begins this section by stating the more we believe in God’s sovereignty the more we are tempted to question his love in adversity. We are apt to think, “If God is in control of this adversity and can do something about it, why doesn’t He” (109)? When tempted to doubt God’s love we must remember God’s love expressed at the cross, our identity as his adopted children and his love continually expressed to us because of our union with Christ.

The final four chapters of Trusting God hone in on personal application. Chapter eleven talks about accepting the way God made us. The following chapter focuses on cooperating with God in adversity to reap the greatest spiritual benefit, which is to know God better. Chapter 13 reminds us that it is not enough to know the truth about God, that he is sovereign, loving and wise, we must choose to believe and act on the truth. The final chapter closes the discussion by stating that if we truly believe in a sovereign God who is all-loving and all-wise, we will show it by thanking him, worshiping him, humbly submitting to him and seeking his glory in adversity and prosperity.

Bridges arguments for trusting God, “even when life hurts,” are excellent. They are well supported and illustrated by Scripture. In fact, one can find little with which to disagree, except for his statement on pages 128-129, where Bridges says that “God never explains to us what he is doing and why.” He says this in the context of his discussion about wisdom and Job’s suffering. While Bridge’s statement is certainly true about Job, it is not universally true at all times. God does sometimes choose to explain what he is doing and why, especially when it comes to suffering.

For example, in 2 Sam. 12:1-14 in the Lord’s confrontation of David through Nathan the prophet, he reveals what he is going to do and why. Nathan tells David that adversity will never depart from his house because his sin against Uriah gave the Lord’s enemies a reason to blaspheme. Then Nathan details for David the specific kinds of suffering that he will experience due to his sin. Granted this suffering was due to God’s judgment of David’s sin, but it does disprove Bridge’s statement that God never explains (128).

In the New Testament, James 1:2-4 also argue against Bridge’s claim. These verses tell us to count it all joy when we encounter various trials. We are to count it all joy because the testing our faith produces endurance and leads to spiritual maturity. These verses may not detail specifics but they do tell what God does and why. God sends trials into our lives to build our endurance and make us spiritually mature.

Heb. 12:1-11 is another passage that confirms that God does reveal to us the “what” and the “why” of suffering. Admittedly, it is not specific in details, but it does show that God disciplines us because he loves us and intends that we share his holiness. In the context of Hebrews, God’s discipline was essentially in the form of persecution and suffering the recipients experienced due to their decision to follow Christ. For us, discipline may come in different forms and reasons but it serves the same purpose.

The three passages just reviewed demonstrate that God does indeed choose to tell us what he is doing and why in regards to suffering. Yes, God is often silent on specifics. However, unlike Job, no New Testament believer has to wonder what God is doing when trials and adversity enter their life. God in his perfect wisdom and love is transforming them into the image of Jesus Christ.

In spite of this lone disagreement with Bridges, Trusting God is a very edifying book that recovers a truth that many in the modern church seemingly have forgotten. God is sovereign! The world is not out of control and God is not up in heaven wringing his hands. As Bridges so aptly writes, God wisely and lovingly guides all things to their appointed end. Nothing or no one can stop His plan. If more Christians really believed and lived out the implications of God’s sovereignty, our churches would be vastly different. They would not be peppered with stressed out, anxious, complaining Christians seeking relief through antidepressants or various idols that appeal to fleshly lusts. Instead, they would be seeking help from the only one who can truly help them, God Almighty.

Another important corrective for modern church is on page 52 of Trusting God. Bridges says, “Trusting God is not a matter of feelings but my will.” Too many in today’s body of Christ today are living by their feelings rather than by God’s truth. They falsely assume that they are never supposed to experience unhappiness, depression or suffer. When adversity strikes, they run back and forth looking for relief rather than clinging to the truth of God’s sovereignty and trusting him for the grace to endure and to grow. Yes, these dear brethren need a strong dose of Trusting God.

As the book’s title communicates, Bridges writes mainly about trusting God in the midst of adversity, but he also gives a timely warning about trusting God in the midst of prosperity (215-219). To summarize, Bridges says that as difficult as it is to trust God in adversity, it can be equally or more difficult to trust him in times of prosperity. The reason for this difficulty is that in seasons of prosperity we are often tempted to value life’s blessings over the one who provides the blessings. Bridges appropriately notes that the nation of Israel fell into this trap repeatedly in the Old Testament. Of course, the ultimate danger in all this is that we can turn the blessings of God into idols. Unfortunately, this has too often been the case in American church, which has experienced an unprecedented period of prosperity in Christianity’s history. We would do well to heed Bridges’ warning, both individually and corporately.

I first read Trusting God in 1990 in a period of overwhelming adversity. During this time, my first wife Melinda, who has since gone to be with Lord, was chronically ill and confined to a wheelchair. I resigned what had been a difficult and draining pastorate to care for her. To top it all off, someone burglarized our apartment and a short time later, someone else stole our car. All of this was wedged in between long hospital stays for Melinda who suffered from one complication after another.

Trusting God was healing balm to my weary soul. Bridges’ book helped me to understand what God was doing in our lives and why he was doing it. It helped me to see that God was not angry with my family and me, and that there was indeed a good purpose for all the adversity. God’s sovereignty, wisdom and love were at work making us more like Jesus. Yes, the suffering was painful, “but afterwards it yielded the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11d). Every Christian should read Trusting God; they will need its medicine at some point in their lives.

1 comment:

Paula said...

I own this book. I had begun to read it a while ago. Just reading the first chapter I was moved. I will pick it up again and continue reading it. I forgot how much I was touched by the reading.