Hours after Wednesday’s inauguration, I stepped away from the online celebrating and into an alternate universe. Rather than expressing elation and relief, people were posting videos of their teary meltdowns and angry rants; they were pouring out their grief and rage that what they had fully expected to have happen that day had not come to pass.
Some who posted were coming to terms with the possibility, the reality in fact, that they had been duped by QAnon and an outgoing President. Their words on Wednesday were painful confessions. They had put their trust, their faith in the untrustworthy and the faithless. That day, many were seeing what they had been unable to see even a day before: that they had genuinely but wrongly believed the promises and propaganda served up to them on heaping platters.
Viewers of these videos were not particularly understanding, at least judging by what I read in the comment sections. I did not leave remarks but believe me when I say I was truly heartbroken for these folks and those like them.
I could identify with how gutted they felt. How betrayed. How embarrassed after the fact. Imagine realizing you had put your faith squarely where it did not belong. Imagine finding out too late that you had been played, that your loyalty and your pocketbook had been exploited by those who never really gave a rip about your wellbeing.
We have seen all this before, of course. End-time preachers have long preyed on the vulnerabilities and fears of their flocks, convincing them of things that others are able to dismiss. Remember Y2K and its doom peddlers? They kept many agitated and afraid, urging the anxious to stockpile guns and provisions to see them through the impending societal collapse.
In seminary, I got a little glimpse of what happens when people put their trust where it does not belong. A charismatic classmate had what she insisted was a prophetic dream: the Bay Area would soon be struck by a devastating earthquake. This second-year student quietly announced the day and hour of this fast-approaching doom and implored us all to clean out our bank accounts, pack up our cars, and drive inland to ride out the seismic apocalypse when it hit.
That dread day and hour came at last and do you know what happened? Nothing, nada, zilch.
I ached for all those bright, capable students who had believed this woman and had done exactly what she said, my roommate included. When the prophecy did not unfold as promised, when it proved to be a flop, I watched my peers trickle back to campus with their shoulders stooped and their eyes lowered. The only genuinely loving thing I could think to do was to say nothing and give them time to sort themselves out.
In whom and in what ought we place our trust? This is the perennial question, one none of us can avoid, no matter our circumstance. In whom and in what should we place our trust?
Although we don’t know what happened to the psalmist that would inspire him to write the passage we hear this morning, something did and my guess is that it wasn’t good. Isn’t that most often where our wisdom comes from? From having first engaged in folly?
Maybe what sparked the psalmist’s wisdom was finding out his business partner didn’t really mean it when he said they would split their profits evenly. Perhaps the psalmist was let down by a community leader who turned out to be a charlatan. Or maybe the psalmist was reflecting on his own lack of trustworthiness, noticing how often he failed to follow through on the promises he made to others.
Whatever it was, surely something happened that brought the psalmist to the realization that only God deserves our trust. Only God can supply the safe refuge, the sure footing we need in life. Only the God of gracious power and steadfast love is reliable enough, capable enough, loving enough to see us through life’s ups and downs, challenges and uncertainties, box canyons and betrayals.
This single line from the psalm says it all: “Trust in God at all times, O people; pour out your heart before God; God is a refuge for us.”
This is a process, of course. Not a one and done. Trusting in God is like breathing, something we must do again and again, practicing as we go, refining, too, as we go. Trusting in God is like eating right or getting exercise, something we must do repeatedly if we hope to thrive.
Just like driving turns out to be more difficult than it seemed when we were but passengers, just as writing a poem is a more daunting effort than simply listening to one being recited, so learning to trust God proves more involved than the statement “trust in God” would suggest.
I don’t know about you but telling myself to trust God doesn’t get me very far. It’s well-meaning but not particularly helpful.
What is helpful is reminding myself of times when I have been trusting. Reliving those times, even. What is helpful is sitting with stories from scripture, scenes from Jesus’ life, in which God’s trustworthiness is evident. What is also sometimes helpful is drafting off the witness of others; their clear trust in God often bolsters my own.
The psalmist has a couple suggestions. Straight out of the gate in our reading this morning, he says trust begins from a place of silence. Quieting our bodies and minds isn’t always easy but this practice can be profoundly fruitful; it gives God a place to land, a way to be heard when life’s noise gets cranked up.
The psalmist also suggests we take care not to let bad actors or circumstances embitter us or dissuade us. I don’t know about you but I’ve found that taking inventory of the untrustworthy and the unlovely only serves to reinforce my reluctance to trust.
It strikes me that part of learning to trust God means noticing when and where and how we misplaced our trust previously. In a 401k perhaps. A relationship. A plan we hatched.
Although it’s tempting to judge ourselves when we put our trust where it doesn’t belong, self-incrimination is rarely a helpful pursuit. Self-acceptance is the only way forward as far as I can tell.
Also helpful is summoning a sense of God’s deep gladness when we are again ready to trust. (Anyone needing reassurance here would be wise to keep company with the story of the Prodigal Son; notice how that father behaves when his son returns after a long absence.)
“God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, I shall not be shaken,” the psalmist sings this morning. “On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.”
We who find ourselves breathing more easily and sleeping more deeply now that we have new leadership in the White House have reason to rejoice. What we do not have is permission to transfer that trust that rightly belongs to God onto the newly inaugurated, as tempting and understandable as this may be.
In the coming weeks and years President Biden and Vice President Harris will no doubt give their best. But their power and capacities are limited; they are human, not divine. And so we pray for them as they seek to lead us out of one of our nation’s darkest, most disturbing times. May God work through them in ways great and small.
Also deserving of our ongoing prayers are the countless many who placed their trust in a President who utterly failed them, people who relied on conspiracy theories that grew more convoluted and dangerous by the day. Their angst is real and their suffering profound.
We pray also for those Christians who for four years genuinely believed that God would bless the unthinkable in order to accomplish God’s perfect will for this nation and the world.
Evangelical writer Ed Stetzer recently wrote of the great reckoning that must begin to take place among Christians in his camp. I quote Stetzer now: “Tempted by power and trapped within a culture war theology, too many evangelicals tied their fate to a man who embodied neither their faith nor their vision of political character.”
If Ed Stetzer is to believed, that evangelical Christians must now enter into considerable reflection and reckoning, then I would ask: to what is God calling us, we who follow the same Jesus but in very different ways?
We pray for them. In earnest. Even as we confess that we have not always been treated well by this part of the Christian family. We have been judged. Misunderstood. Dismissed.
The reckoning that awaits our evangelical kin will not be easy or brief. So we pray. And we place our trust in God that God will be at work within these Christian kin as they reckon with the fact that in losing Trump they have lost worldly power and as they grapple with what Ed Stetzer suggests was a betrayal of the gospel to attain and sustain that power in the first place.
Rocky Mountain Conference Minister Sue Artt has often said that the last, best hope for the world is the church. The last, best hope for the world is the church. But this hope can only be realized when the church is whole and healthy, not when it is broken and willful. Not when it trusts its earthly leaders more than God, not when it compromises God’s love, God’s power to advance its own limited, limiting vision.
We cannot do our brethren’s spiritual work for them. But we must pray for them in earnest while they do it.
And as they do their work, we have our own to do. That is, to practice trusting God in all things, in all times, in all ways. To bear witness to the good news we have been given to share. And to practice asking God to help us be of service in a season in this country’s life that will require much from all of us.
Although outwardly different, our work as people of faith is ever the same. It’s right there, waiting for us in this morning’s psalm: “Trust in God at all times, O people. Pour out your heart before God. God is a refuge for us. On God rests our deliverance and honor.”
Let us pray:
Gracious God, God of all hope and new beginnings, we thank you for seeing us through years that were incredibly hard on our hearts, on our spirits, and on our country. Let each of us and all of us pour out our hearts to you in the coming days and weeks. Be with those who are angry, those who are fearful, those who are breathing more easily, those who are unsure, those who are grappling with complicated feelings about a complex time.
Enable us all to more fully trust you in this time. Shore up our faith. Strengthen our bond with you. Anchor us in your presence, that we might bring your peace, your hope, your power, and your love to bear in a time in sore need of you.
All this we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.