Column: I Trust in the Steadfast Love of God Forever and Ever?
By Drew Williams
In the course of various unsuccessful surgeries and disappointing procedures, I was struck by David’s extraordinarily bold statement toward the end of Psalm 52. He prays, “I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever” (Psalm 52:8, ESV). Knowing something of the setbacks and battles that David had endured, I wondered if that boldness expressed his prayerful aspiration of the moment, or his deeply imbedded confidence, despite his own disappointments, waywardness and pain. As David knew well, that kind of confidence is built and tested in the dark, in the valleys, and during the backbreaking battles of life.
Of course, the Lord’s primary objective in my life has not changed: to help me trust His unconditional love rather than my own merits and strivings. Having found me and saved me out of the “barren and howling waste” that had been my life in rebellion (Deuteronomy 32:10a, NIV), His objective remains to bring me to a place where, without caveat, condition, or contingency, I can honestly say, “I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.”
No matter our belief or unbelief, desperation may be the only thing that can move us to cry out to God. The New Testament story of Peter and the disciples caught in a brutal storm on a lake is one such example, including Peter’s awkward, fumbled attempts to walk upon the water (Matthew 14:22-33). David’s statement gave me a new lens through which to re-examine this familiar story (also with gratitude to the writing of Jon Bloom).
1. Deeper into adversity and disorientation. Isn’t it curious that just when we feel at our absolute wit’s end, struggling with more than we could even hope to manage, the Lord sometimes appears to move us into even deeper adversity and disorientating darkness?
Matthew tells us that Jesus “made” the disciples get into the boat and start off without Him while He dismissed the crowds and went to pray (verse 22). They probably didn’t give this too much thought at the time, although the weather was soon against them. After crying out to Jesus in the midst of a worsening storm and watching Him walk on water and calm the wind and seas, I am sure they were grateful just to be alive. At the same time, they might have wondered, “If this Jesus has the power to calm the storm, why would He knowingly send us, exhausted and weary, into a squall He had to know would terrify us?”
In my own moments of fear around my illness, I have to admit I had a similar question. Why would He let me undertake a surgery that would tip my neurological system into a meltdown? How is this His way of bringing me to a place of confidence where I can say, “I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever”? In the darkness of that mystery, and at a time when I was more exhausted and weary with pain than at any other time in my life, it felt like He sent me into a bigger storm—all the while knowing He was calling me to trust Him.
Trust, as I have experienced it, is not a passive state of mind. It’s a spirit-fueled, red-blooded, gritty act of the soul by which I am given the freedom to lay hold of the promises and character of God. Of the questions that come up for all of us in the midst of loss, disappointment, shame, grief, tragedy, sickness, pain, addiction, sin, and more, C.S Lewis wrote, “When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’”
2. Unexpected, late and unrecognizable. I find that Jesus often shows up in my own life in a way that I was not at all expecting. He seems to arrive at a very surprising hour and often late (in my opinion). Let’s go back to the disciples, battling the storm. The account in Matthew notes, “Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake” (verse 25). That sounds rather casual. It may have been between 3-6 a.m., and by this point the disciples had no doubt been crying out in prayer for their lives, terrified they would perish and imploring God’s immediate help. Jesus finally showed up, but only after hours of sheer terror, and in such a manner that, at first, they don’t even recognize Him.
With respect to our own “storms,” to continue to trust the steadfast love of God may require us to jettison many of our assumptions and expectations, especially those that assure us that we have Jesus completely figured out. Rather than striving to manage all of life in our own wisdom and strength, Charles R. Swindoll recommended, “We must cease striving and trust God to provide what He thinks is best and in whatever time He chooses to make it available. But this kind of trusting doesn’t come naturally. It’s a spiritual crisis of the will in which we must choose to exercise faith.”
3. God likes impossible prayers. Does all of that sound like “blind faith”? Are we really supposed to believe that God can (and just may) perform the impossible? If this account in Matthew is any indication, it actually seems to please Jesus when we ask Him for the apparently impossible.
Back in the storm, Jesus is standing about ten feet away from the disciples’ boat on the tumultuous, unruly waters as if they were granite, and Peter was bold enough to ask if he could join Him. (Would that be your first request? Frederick Buechner wrote, “If you have never known the power of God’s love, then maybe it is because you have never asked to know it—I mean really asked, expecting an answer.”) “And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ [Jesus] said, ‘Come.’” (verses 28-29)
At Jesus’ command, Peter exercised the fledgling faith that he had in Jesus and walked on water. Of course, when Peter took his eyes off Jesus and put them back on the storm, his faith weakened and he sank (verse 30). Yet Peter’s cry to Jesus to rescue him illustrates that Peter knew the source of the real power to uphold him. As the Psalmist says, “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:8). Afterwards, Jesus may have admonished Peter for having “little faith” (verse 31), but most certainly with compassion and affection. After all, was not Peter a faith giant in comparison to the quaking souls of the other disciples?
It would be hard to make the case that the disciples were in any way ready or receptive to the breaking news of Jesus’ resurrection. And Jesus did not deny Thomas his impossible prayer in placing his hand in the wound of a man who was supposed to be dead. In the book of Acts, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to the disciples. Now newly empowered well beyond their natural abilities and shaky faith, we see the same disciples graduate to a place that even from within the fiercest storm they can pray, “I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.” My deepest suspicion is that, in the steadfast love of God, He will do no other but to put us all on the same trajectory of deepening love and trust.
The Rev’d Drew Williams, Senior Pastor of Trinity Church, has been living with severe, debilitating chronic pain for more than three years. After five surgeries and innumerable neurological procedures, he knows the desperation that comes with wondering if he would ever be pain free. At the same time, he shares, “By the grace of God, that desperation has also brought an increased intensity and honesty, as well as a deeper intimacy, in my relationship with God.” He now shares something of his struggle in a series of devotional writings for the Greenwich Sentinel. One of the more perplexing features of the past three-year saga around my health has been the ongoing battle between hope and disappointment.