In the great offence in the Garden of Eden we failed our period of probation. Our certainties and securities were swept away. We now live in suspense at the evils that might befall us and we are suspicious as to the intentions of God. Our submission to the devil’s lie has caused the infection of lying in our own souls and that has engendered the atmosphere of mistrust among us. Our insecurity has fuelled ambition, ambition has given rise to rivalry, rivalry has resulted in envy, and envy has produced hatred and foul play. We live in such an acrimonious environment that we must always be defensive. The only safety is in taking as much control as possible. We must maintain the captaincy of our own lives to guard ourselves and gain gratification. Like Jacob we must live by our own wits and secure our own interests. We must attain self sufficiency and exert ourselves in the construction of our own safety. The measures we adopt individually and collectively are legion. We are addicted to trusting in the devices of man and the towers (of Babel) that we erect are many. We seek protection from “the changes and chances of this mortal life” and employ all the skills and means that we can muster.
It is not natural for us to truly trust God. We are the descendents of “the pair” that so catastrophically mistrusted him and their truancy in wandering from the truth is an inherited tendency in us. We still seek to circumvent God and commit our own folly. It is a combination of arrogance and alienation. Pride puffs us up with our supposed success. We revel in our own powers and exult in our expertise, forgetting that such things are on loan and easily withdrawn. Not knowing God and admitting his goodness we have lost the capacity to confide in him. The unreliability of our personalities and circumstances has erased any sense of his reliability. We are not accustomed to complete trustworthiness. We have still got to be managers at the best, and manipulators in a crisis. We cannot apprehend the righteous dependability of God “with whom there is no shadow of turning” (James 1:17). We lean on our own works in every aspect of life. We love to dose ourselves on self applause, or pity ourselves when things go awry. Somewhere Luther identifies our sin of excessive introspection, our being rapt in ourselves, rather than looking humbly and hopefully toward God.
The grace of God, having won us by its power, weans us away from our stance of not wanting help to our posture of complete dependence upon him. Much of the alteration in our attitude may come from the awareness of our weakness and inefficiency, our wants and sense of personal poverty in everything that counts, but our greatest encouragement to trust in God will come from the fulfilment of his promises. The course of our lives becomes a spiritual course in learning to live the life of faith, which braces us for the battlefield.
For the believer Jesus Christ is the guarantor of all good things, temporal and eternal. He has reversed the calamity of our failed probation and procured the permanent favour of God on our behalf. He is the demonstration of the divine care in the basics of our bodily life (Matthew 6: 25-34) and he is the one who undertakes for our eternal wellbeing (John 10:27-30). Faith is the living link in our union with God and it is developed, strengthened, and made evident, not toward our merit, but for our comfort. It affords the consciousness and the feeling that we are right with God and that ultimately all will be well. Need emerges and faith arises so that God may prove himself to us. Life is the trial and testing of faith so that it will become absolute. Without problems faith is merely partial, a fair-weather factor.
At first, in our immaturity, and propped up by the many and ready consolations of grace, faith is in danger of becoming presumptuous. Soon the toughening process begins and we are tossed from the nest in order to fly on wings of reliance upon God himself. But none of us ever imagine the frailty of our faith and the strength of our temptations, doubts, and fears until God stretches that faith by reducing the signs and sense of his favour. Through adversity faith is compelled to act, obey, and strenuously contend for the assurances to which it aspires. Faith is easy in favourable times. It is only built up and made muscular under the pressures of trouble, conflict, disappointment, and divine aggression. Faith can only be fully formed when every prop, sign, and familiar support is removed and we only have the bare word of God to trust in. Against all the evidence we must grow into the conviction that God is reliable. We are reluctant to learn in this way without accustomed comforts and no-one wishes to repeat the trials of Job that caused him to utter with all self abandonment and sincerity, “Though he slay me , yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). We wish for gentler tuition. But nonetheless the point is driven home. In varying degrees we each endure hardship so that we might enjoy the deliverance of God. We are often cornered in culs-de-sac of helplessness so that God can reveal his power and compassion and exhibit his faithfulness.
When we are “up against it” God reminds us of the impossibilities he has performed. We recite these to him when we grapple with him in prayer. We cannot discern his intentions in specific situations, nor can we match his wisdom, but we can buoy our spirits up by reviewing the wonders he has done, surveying his promises, and arguing our case before his seat of mercy. Our acknowledgement of destitution is the prelude to his act of restitution on our behalf. When we hit rock bottom we find the rock of our salvation. In our long free fall we discover that “underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27). We are prepared to place our lives and our concerns in God’s hands.