In God We Trust

Do you know what the official motto of the United States is?  No, it’s not “E Pluribus Unum” (from many, one), which was adopted by an Act of Congress in 1782 and was used on coins and paper money since 1795.  Our official motto is “In God We Trust,” which was first used on a 2 cent coin in 1864.  In 1955 the U.S. Congress passed a law that “In God We Trust” would be on all U.S. coins and currency and would be adopted as our country’s formal motto. 

Despite occasional opposition from those criticizing the religious implications of “In God We Trust,” the Supreme Court in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984) upheld the motto, saying it has “lost through rote repetition any significant religious content.”  Such “ceremonial deism,” the Supreme Court claimed, has lost its “history, character, and content.”  Ceremonial deism is a legal term which refers to nominally religious statements that have been deemed non-religious through customary usage.

Trust is a reliance on and confidence in the integrity, character, steadiness, and consistency of a person or thing.  Perhaps the phrase has lost its religious meaning as a national motto, but for people of faith “In God We Trust” is a theological statement which undergirds the hope that we have in God through Jesus Christ.  The ability to trust God and others and be trustworthy ourselves is foundational to a healthy and holy life.  Some of the most beautiful passages of scripture talk about trust.

  • “Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust.  Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” (Psalm 143:8) 
  • “The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” (Isaiah 32:17)
  • “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord.  They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.” (Jeremiah 17:7)
  • “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mt. Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.” (Psalm 125:1)

Trusting God

What kind of God are we teaching our children to trust?  Is our God a vengeful, capricious, and unpredictable God who delights in scaring us into the kingdom and punishing those who stray?  Or is God a trustworthy God who patiently and steadfastly loves us into the kingdom through the grace of Christ?

Although I grew up in a secure and sheltered home, I eventually learned that not everything that happens to us is good.  Because of the trust that my parents and church instilled in me as a child, I came to know a God who created a world where natural disasters as well as amazingly beautiful events occur and where humans have the freedom to choose evil as well as good.  My God was only good, and I believed that if I lived close to God, I would not only be able to make it through the difficult times but my faith would grow stronger. 

My growing edge has always been acknowledging the tension between trust and control.  When I trust God I have to let go of my own desires and place myself in the hands of Mystery as well as Mercy.  I rest in God’s grace despite not always knowing.

Trust is not ceremonial deism for a Christ-follower, for trust does not equate with comfort, success, wealth, or power.  Trust implies a willingness to take up our cross, to be so disturbed by sadness that we work for transformation, and to be so empowered by the Holy Spirit that we offer ourselves in servanthood.  Trust makes our life harder.

Trusting Others

Trust is communal.  Human beings experience fullness of life when we rely on others whom we can trust.  Galatians 6:2 reminds us that we can’t make it through life on our own, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” 

Despite our cultural ethos where we are taught that independence is a virtue, if we need help we are weak, and that we should not burden others with our problems, we are like babies diagnosed with “failure to thrive” when we cannot trust.   If we do not surround ourselves with those whose caring engenders trust, we will not be healthy.

At the same time, conversations about trust often elicit cynicism because we’ve all experienced betrayal.  Some have been scarred for life because of violations of trust by the church, government, family, friends, or financial institutions.  We live cautiously because of the lingering effects of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse or loved ones with addictions, mental illness, or physical illness.  So wounded that we cannot risk being hurt again, we tightly control our environment and withdraw.

Spiritual maturity involves learning whom to trust and whom not to trust.  Our capacity to trust depends on being with trustworthy people in trustworthy places.  Both family and church should be sanctuaries of safety and refuge and repositories of trust.  Because of the nurturing and unconditional love of others we learn that humans and the world do not always reflect God’s goodness.  Nevertheless, through God’s grace and loving human relationships, there is power to heal and transform past experiences of mistrust so that we are set free to live fully and wholly. 

Being Trustworthy

Tomorrow I am leading a transitions workshop for all the new clergy who have been appointed to the Grand Rapids District as of July 1.  During our time together we will discuss the 90 day plans that the pastors have developed for the first 3 months in their new ministry setting.  At the top of their “to-do” list will be 5 words: build trust by building relationships.  Effective ministry cannot take place until trust has been established between the pastor and church members.

In Kent Lineback and Linda Hill’s new book, Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader, they make the argument that people will trust their leaders when they display two characteristics: competence and character.  If others can rely on us but we don’t have the skills to do the job, we are not trusted.  On the other hand, if we are highly capable but do not have integrity, transparency, or consistency, we are not trusted, either.  Being a nice person isn’t enough; nor is intelligence enough.  No matter the job, people are not able to work creatively, eagerly, and joyfully with their leaders without the presence of trust.     

Tips for Creating Trust in Local Churches

  • Build trust by your competence and character
  • Don’t predict that the end of the world will occur on May 21
  • Don’t force your vision on a church: work toward a shared vision
  • Communicate often, openly, clearly, and well
  • Trust your staff and lay leaders to think, dream, imagine, risk, and be creative as well as complete the daily tasks of their job
  • Follow through: do what you say you’re going to do
  • Form policies and procedures that ensure safety in the church
  • Practice attentive listening and be open to the suggestions and counsel of others
  • Express gratitude to those you lead: tell them often that they matter
  • Be predictable, fair, and steady, but don’t be afraid to express appropriate uncertainty
  • Create a congregation that is a sanctuary of healing, wholeness, and courage
  • Do not hesitate to act boldly, trusting in God’s guidance
  • Model the peace that passes all understanding when we learn to trust God and each other

What role does trust play in your life?  Have you ever asked yourself these questions?  Why is it so difficult for me to trust God?  What prevents me from putting my trust in others?  What is it about me that makes other people hesitant to trust me?  How can I build greater trust in my church?  Feel free to share your ideas.

“Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly.”    George MacDonald


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