Dr. Peter Marty: The Art of Trusting

Christians fasten their trust onto the biblical promises of God

If you've ever wondered whether birds sleep at night, rest assured they do. They don't enjoy the same dead-to-the-world snore that many humans do. But they do sleep. By necessity their sleep is on the light side as they keep an ear alert for danger and often one eye open for predators.

Birds sleep well thanks to a little flexor tendon that automatically tightens in their leg when they land on a tree branch. It's a tiny tendon that runs down the leg and into the toes, which in turn curl around the configuration of the branch.

The beauty is that the bird doesn't even have to think about this tightening to make it happen. It occurs involuntarily. The tendon only relaxes when the bird consciously lets go.

The capacity to sleep with true peace of mind is one of the best things going for our little feathered friends. No wonder Martin Luther could speak of God "making sparrows into theologians." It's their carefree way of unconcerned living that caught the eye of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, and later Luther's own eye.

Spiritually speaking, we have something akin to this miniature tendon found in birds' legs. It is called trust - trust that God is with us and for us both day and night.

Could the psalmist have been studying a bird on a perch when he wrote: "I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety" (Psalm 4:8)? Possibly. Of the two most common ways for us to sleep well - sheer exhaustion on the one hand, or confidence that all is OK on the other - the psalmist hints at the latter. To sleep in peace is to conclude a day in unworried fashion, confident in God's care. 

Trust works like this unworried state of confidence. Its value often comes into play when our defenses are down and we are in a vulnerable position. Sleep may be the most obvious occasion for having our guard down. It's that prized moment for turning all unfinished business over to God. Believing that God really does look after us, we relinquish our hold on the day and relax into a good night's sleep. In trust, we hand life over to God.

Whether falling asleep at night or rising to a new day, Christians fasten their trust onto the biblical promises of God.

At the forefront of those promises is a pledge of presence. The constancy of the Lord's presence does not mean we become magically free of all obstacles that can induce fear. It only means we have a working tendon to match the challenge created by those obstacles.

Our major stumbling block with trust is that it happens to be a reality we talk about more easily than we engage. Just think how often we speak or sing of trust on Sunday morning, only to collapse in distrust on Monday morning.

The disappearance can happen in a doctor's office. It can occur through a discouraging phone call from a friend. Never mind the place. We fall off our little perch unable to bear the least bit of unwelcome news. The little flexor tendon in us called trust relaxes unhelpfully. We begin to behave like individuals who know nothing of the biblical promises of God, and like others who couldn't care less about the presence of God. Life suddenly falls into the grip of panic.

Lutheran Christians appreciate the role of trust in their lives because it is so fundamental to faith.

In the Middle Ages, fides was the key word for faith. Believers understood the life of faith mostly as an intellectual assent to certain propositions.

In place of fides, Luther helped popularize the word fiducia, meaning personal trust. We know what it means to have a fiduciary relationship with a bank. We aim to trust the bankers with our money, investing it in their care. 

Deep Christians trust their whole life to God. They "bank" on God as the worthy center of everything that matters. They think of trust as a form of freedom, that liberating possibility to leave the worrisome things of life to the embrace of God.

[Taken with permission from the August 2011 issue of The Lutheran magazine.]