Trust is the bedrock of human relations. It is a necessity in a world of finite creatures. We do not know everything and we are powerless over many of the events that occur in our lives. We depend on others to make life work. We cannot afford not to trust. Trust deepens us as individuals by bringing us into mutually satisfying relationships. It enables us to know, love and learn from each other. The tragedy of life is that the one person who we can truly depend on and deserves all our trust, is also the person we struggle to put our trust in. When it comes to trusting God, we are all bankrupt. This poverty is most acute when we go through pain and adversity. Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God aims to help us take a fresh look at God. To help restore our confidence in the goodness and sovereignty of God.
This issue is important because though many of us claim to trust God, our thoughts and actions speak otherwise. In our private moments we often ask: how can we trust a God who is supposedly good, but yet allows so much evil to happen? What exactly is trustworthy about that? These probing questions particularly in times of struggle can force us into two extreme positions. Either God is good but powerless. Or God is powerful just uncaring. Jerry Bridges observes that the truth is that God is both good and sovereign. It is this truth that we must hold onto in the midst of our pain, whatever form it may take. Whether our pain is trivial or traumatic, temporary or interminable. Regardless of the nature of the circumstances, we must learn to trust and glorify God in them.
Jerry Bridges begins his case by rightly observing that it is much easier to obey God than to trust him - obedience is rational, trust is experiential and messier. Central to trusting God is to believe what the Bible teaches that God is sovereign and good. God is sovereign over all things not just some things. He is Lord over personal and impersonal forces. His sovereignty also extends to people and nature. But lest we think this means we do nothing, Jerry Bridges is quick to note that God's sovereign rule does not negate our responsibility. On the contrary, it strengthens it because God’s sovereignty enables us to pray because we believe God is able to answer. That said, it is the reality of life that the more we believe God is sovereign the more challenging it can become to accept his love. For we ask, how can a loving God let x happen? In those times we need to reassure ourselves by reflecting on God's love so powerfully demonstrated on the cross of Calvary and remembering his daily provision for us.
Of course many Christians know these truths for themselves. So, the question is why don’t we trust God as we know we should? According to Jerry Bridges, part of the problem is that many people struggle to accept themselves. We need to accept that God made us who we are. We also need to accept that God has made us what we are - including places and talents he has placed us in. When these two issues are understood we will move towards trusting God for guidance. The other part is that often we undervalue the value of adversity. We don’t seem to fully appreciate that adversity in life is an essential part of God’s task of growing us. We may think we are okay in one area until a test comes! Trouble is we want to grow but don't want to be tested. But scripture clearly shows God works through adversity. Because God is at work, we respond to what he is doing. All adversity is ultimately intended to foster growth in our relationship with God.
The central thesis of Trusting God as described above is cogent and anchored in the Bible. . In particular, I found Jerry Bridges’ observations on the dislocation between truth and personal experience quite insightful. Equally helpful are his reflections on the interface between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility, especially in relation to prayer. He also challenges quite powerfully that God’s sovereignty empowers us to take “righteous risks” (my term) because God is sovereign in both our failures and successes. Perhaps his most helpful observation occurs when he discusses how adversity grows our "spiritual muscle system".
However, there are inevitable weaknesses. There are many areas where key issues are not expressed properly or simply ignored. Four important omissions stood out.
First, whilst Jerry Bridges rightly notes that God is both sovereign and good, Bridges fails to make an important point that these are necessary attributes of God because one presupposes the other. Similar omissions are made in discussion of love and sovereignty. God cannot truly love if he is not sovereign because he would not have control over his own love! We may even say he may not even “truly” know that He loves because true knowledge presupposes sovereignty.
Secondly, the book does not fully explore the contours of doubt. Bridges does not acknowledge more explicitly that we should not hide from our doubts about God, but bring them before God. The whole area of being honest with ourselves and God is surprisingly not fully explored, which is odd given that trust and openness go together! Similar gaps arise in discussion on the role of persistence in the Christian life. Whilst Bridges rightly notes that we should not be demanding, he does not coherently explain how we can be persistent in knocking on the door without infringing on God’s sovereignty. How can we pursue the Father like a child without finding ourselves disrespecting his character? An important question that deserved more discussion!
Thirdly, Trusting God does not fully express man’s fundamental problem with divine sovereignty. I am under no doubt that a key issue with sovereignty is not that we don't want God to be sovereign per se. Human beings go through phases. Sometimes when it suits us, we wish God was less sovereign than he is. For example when we sin we wish God does not hold our foolishness to account through severe punishment or correction. But other times, we desire God showed his sovereign control more prominently. For example when we are going through addictions, and we genuinely want to be delivered, we wonder why God does not immediately bring it to a stop! Even an atheist when all his world comes crumbling down quietly wishes God was there to change things. Indeed it is the source of much of the atheistic hatred for God. Too often they say, “Where was God when I needed him?” In short, I think at the heart of the human problem is not a problem with God's sovereignty per se. It is the desire to have God become our employee. My sinful heart has no problem with God’s control, as long as he dances to my tune. It is the ancient satanic temptation that seeks to supplant God and in his place erect myself as the lord of my universe. That drive works perpetually to eliminate any trust in God.
Finally, the book does not sufficiently interact with culture. It surprisingly does not acknowledge that a huge reason we struggle to trust God is that through we are creatures of trust, we live in a world where increasingly very little can be trusted! The culture around us is partly telling us to trust in money and riches as answers to our deepest problems. At the same time it tells us nothing really can be trusted because when it is all said and done nothing really is objective (except that statement)! It tells us, “Only YOU can be trusted”! That is the confused, but deeply popular message we are accustomed to hearing. Christians live within this culture and our trust in God is challenged by it. As a result we find our trust in God hard to develop.
Like most books, some parts of Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God are good. Other parts not so well articulated. But in general, the subject is certainly worth reflecting on. Despite its flaws, it certainly achieves to get us interested not only in the issue of trust, but to ask ourselves the vital question: how much do I truly trust God? For those two reasons alone it is worth a look!