Whom Do You Trust?

by Gary D. Gibbs

On January 1, 1997, Northern California was inundated with water. It came from everywhere. Melting snow, rising creeks, and swollen rivers conspired together to soak this land.

I shouldn't have been taken by surprise, since I was raised in Louisiana. There we know what rain and floods are all about. There were periodic floods in my hometown of Baton Rouge, but the effects were usually minor because of the superb levee system. The levees along the Mississippi River seem as large as the mighty river itself. In fact, next to a city that sits on terrain flatter than a tennis court, the levees are the highest "hills" around. They're southern Louisiana mountains, if you please. They're big because they're built to be strong.

But here in my new home we had to contend with a massive amount of mountain snow melt and small, weak levees. Within a few days our valley resembled a vast, inland sea. Over 290 square miles of land went scuba diving. The numbers aren't all in, but right now there are 16,000 homes either completely damaged or destroyed. And the price tag for this wild water? A whopping $1.6 billion.

Most of the flooding resulted from levees that broke. Now everyone knows that levees are not supposed to break. So what went wrong? The levees were made of sand. That's right. Sand. And you know what happens to sand when it is subjected to torrents of water? It erodes. And erosion spells f-l-o-o-d.

The engineers who built these levees should have considered Jesus' words of wisdom in Matthew 7:24-27. A foolish man "built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it."

Interestingly enough, the government knew a long time ago that the levee system wasn't worth one good storm. That's why they had a plan to rework them. But the plan was too little, too late. Now eight deaths later and thousands of families destitute, the levee rebuilding program will be implemented.

There are times in life when we feel just like those levees. The trials of life cascade down upon us like a raging storm. We seem to manage bravely, until our support system begins to erode. It is during these seasons-when our bulwark of friends, family, and leaders let us down-that we are flooded with grief, pain, and remorse.

At critical times like these, we make momentous decisions that propel us along a trajectory toward our eternal destiny. How should we react when we have to pick ourselves up just to see the bottom? How are we to survive when we feel like a doormat? These are questions we will need to answer before Jesus returns.

Jesus knows what it means to feel let down by people and institutions that are supposed to protect us. During the last 24 hours of His life, He was betrayed by everyone-His friends, His church, and the legal system. And in a similar manner, God's people will experience rejection during the last hours of earth's history. Every earthly support will be removed from them.

When Jesus went to Gethsemene to pray, he was feeling intense pressure from the curse of sin. He needed prayer because He needed His Father. But He also felt the need for support from His friends. "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me," Jesus told his three best friends (Matthew 26:38).

But the disciples let Him down. They didn't pray with Him or for Him, even though He had spent countless hours in prayer for them. Jesus had stood so many times in their defense. But they all fled when He needed them most. Judas betrayed Him. And Peter, who bravely pledged to fight to the bitter end to defend His honor, later vehemently denied Him with curses.

Jesus experienced the soul-anguish of the psalmist: "Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me." Psalm 41:9. It was a bitter pill to swallow. Nothing sugar coated about it. Jesus could not depend upon His friends in a crisis.

I once heard it said that true friends are like a tube of toothpaste. They come through for us when we are in a tight squeeze. Your friends are the ones you really depend upon when life goes topsy-turvy. And when they're not there for you, it really hurts.

Judy Harkness discovered this when she ended up homeless on the street with her six children. They called their car "home." There was no bathroom. No kitchen. No place to relax. Just shelter from the elements. Meals came mostly from garbage cans in the back of markets. Hot meals were the reward for waiting in soup lines for hours. And their sole source of income came from collecting bottles and cans to return for deposit.

"I felt so all alone and confused," Judy recalls. "I had no family that would let us stay with them, and friends just seemed to disappear overnight." Without friends or family to help, it proved to be a very difficult time.

But even when there are no earthly friends, God is always near to us. "When I felt myself slipping and giving way to my hate, I grabbed my Bible and read," she recounts. "I talked to God as if He were sitting beside me." As the promises of the Bible were personalized, Judy felt new hope and joy come into her life. "I saw Christ on the cross, and I knew in my heart that He really loved me and my children."

Judy soon began attending church and there she felt the love of God through other people. "I escaped the dark life of poverty," she claims, "because people loved me as God loves us all." ("I Escaped Homelessness Because of God's Love," by Judy Harkness, The United Methodist Reporter, Jan. 15, 1993, p. 2.)

Before the end of time, even our church friends may betray us. Jesus has said, "A man's foes shall be they of his own household." Matthew 10:36. And, "The time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service." John 16:2.

Our relationship with God cannot be dependent upon our relationships with our friends. There is only one friend who sticks closer to us than a brother. And He will be the One we will need to know when the support of earthly friends is either eroded or distanced from us.

Sanctuary. It has many different meanings. One is that it is a place where people can flee for protection. The cities of refuge in Bible days provided sanctuary. A few hundred years ago, in certain countries, fugitives could flee to church buildings for sanctuary. And today, the confines of embassies are often sought for sanctuary by political refugees.

The place of sanctuary for most Christians is the church. We go there to seek protection-refuge from the world that beats us up and tries to tear us apart. A place of quiet and peace. Of acceptance and love. We trust the church for this. And when it lets us down, we can easily feel devastated.

Christ understands our pain. After all, it was the church that rudely and roughly yanked Jesus from His place of prayer in Gethsemene. It was the religious leaders who placed him on trial. Their hearts, which should have been full of self-sacrificing love, were clogged with the sludge of Lucifer's first sin. Pilate "knew that for envy they had delivered him." Matthew 27:18. And it was in the halls of the high priest's home that Jesus suffered painful abuse. "They spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands." Matthew 26:67.

The pious and reverent treated God irreverently. "And the men that held Jesus mocked him, and smote him. And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, Prophesy, who is it that smote thee? And many other things blasphemously spake they against him." Luke 22:63-65.

Those who were supposed to be the protectors of truth instead brought false witnesses against Jesus. And it was the religious leaders who provoked the mob to cry out for His death and trade truth for a lie. "But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them." Mark 15:11.

The church should have been Jesus' friend. The religious leaders His allies. But friends and allies were His enemies, and Jesus was not able to find sanctuary in the church.

I occasionally meet people who don't go to church because it is filled with so many hypocrites. They are right; the church does have a lot of hypocrites. But I have to bite my tongue to keep from reminding them that they're still welcomed because there is always room for one more.

Hypocrites are a dime a dozen. After the Los Angeles riots, CBC radio broadcast an interview that Steve Futterman had with one of the riot's many looters. The man was one of many who had raided a record store. When asked what he had stolen, the man replied: "Gospel tapes. I love Jesus."

More recently, an armored truck overturned on a highway overpass in Miami. The back door of the vehicle flew open, and thousands of dollars fell out and covered the streets. Most of the bystanders had no regard for the welfare of the injured drivers. All they could see was money. It wasn't theirs to take or keep, but they scooped up their ill-gotten loot and ran with it. Later, several people justified their actions by saying it was "money from heaven."

If we're looking for hypocrisy to keep us out of God's church, the devil will make sure we see it. But I don't think we should spend our valuable time and energy fretting about the hypocrites in the church. Even Noah's ark had termites aboard, but God didn't allow them to sink the boat. I figure that our mission with hypocrites is to show them a better way. To do this, we must get close to them. Isn't this what Jesus did with Judas, Nicodemus, Peter, and all the other hypocrites we read about in the Bible?

It seems strange to say that "God is a criminal." But that is exactly what the mob was shouting on the eve of Christ's crucifixion. However, it was not for the mob or the religious leaders to make the final determination. Rather, it was for the courts. So Jesus was sent to Pilate.

The charges were made, the witnesses were called, and the accused was examined. Then the judge gave his sentence. "I find no fault in this man," Pilate declared (Luke 23:4, 14).

No fault? "Who cares?" cries the mob. "We want you to sentence him to death. We've already found fault in your 'faultless One.'"

When reasoning fails, Pilate hatches a plan that will surely result in the innocent prisoner's freedom. He offers to release either Barabbas, a known terror to the community, or Jesus, the one who has healed their sick and done so much good for them.

"And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar." John 19:12.

All of Pilate's political maneuvering stalls dead in its tracks. He has pulled every political trick out of his hat. But to no avail. Now the pressure. Pilate's job is on the line. The people threaten to go to Caesar and report him. And things have not been going too well in Palestine lately. This might ring the death knell for his political career.

So, after tabulating the costs, Pilate decides the life of an innocent man is more expendable than his reputation with Caesar. He caves into the extortioners' demands. Jesus is sent off to die a horribly painful and humiliating death on a cross.

You expect more from your government. Justice. Fairness. Protection. But it doesn't always happen this way. Politicians, lawyers, and judges are sometimes more concerned with being politically correct than with being morally wrong. Weather forecasters aren't needed in most capital cities. The politicians are holding so many wet fingers in the air that they can tell you which way the wind is blowing any time of the day. Jesus couldn't depend on Pilate. He let Him down.

If you are the victim of justice gone awry, you can become very embittered. In fact, you can lose your religion over politics. Lots of people have done it. And many more are in the process of doing it.

Not very long ago, a mother made national headlines when she took justice into her own hands. Her child had been molested by the man who was charged. Sitting in court day after day and hearing the defendant's version must have been more than she could bear. Probably fearing that the man would get off completely or receive only a symbolic slap on the wrist, she decided to settle the score. Sneaking a gun into the courtroom, the woman stood up during the sentencing, withdrew the concealed firearm, pointed it at the man, and fired while spectators watched in frozen horror. Now the man is dead, and the mother is behind bars.

What could drive this woman to such a desperate action? Grief could. But most likely it was her feelings that the legal and political system had let her down. Numerous publicized cases of murderers, rapists, molesters, and thieves getting off because they had better lawyers or due to some fluke in the law apparently took their toll and sent this lady over the edge.

Christians should work within the legal system established in our country. We should never take the law into our own hands. And in a democratic society, there are times when we need to use that system to revise laws so that others won't be victimized. But perfect this world isn't. And anyone who puts his faith in a legal system is sure to be disappointed.

It was a hospital visit no pastor ever enjoys, and one I won't forget. The mother was crushed. Her faith was teetering on the edge. The newborn baby, birthed with such trauma and pain, lay cold in her arms. "Why, God?" she cried in bitter sobs.

She had known there were problems. The baby had been in the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit for days. At the same time, the mother had been in Intensive Care, just barely hanging onto life herself. Every waking moment she spent in prayer, interceding in behalf of her defenseless newborn. "Please, God, save my child." And for several days it appeared that her anxious prayers would be answered.

But that was yesterday's hope. This is today's reality. Death had broken the dam of grief, and gushing forth with it came a flood of questions. Questions that threatened to root up her faith.

Where is God in a crisis? Theoretically we know He is there. In the comfort of our Sabbath School class, we know this as a sure fact. In the safety of our stable worlds, we affirm it. But when darkness prevails and all hell breaks loose, then we wonder: "Where is God? Has He forsaken me?"

Jesus had His dark moments, too. See Him there in the garden of Gethsemene. He is spread out on the ground. His face is buried in the gritty dirt. Fingers digging in and clutching this spinning world as though He might be flung into dark oblivion at any moment, the internal pressure is intense. He feels like a wet dish towel. Spiritual forces wring blood from His pores. The mental anguish is unbearable. "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me," He pleads (Matthew 26:39). But there is only silence for an answer. Finally, He prevails. Surrender is breathed in a simple prayer, "Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." Luke 22:42.

The battle is not over yet. There is still the cross and the supernatural darkness that engulfs it. During His hour of utmost need, Jesus hangs suspended. Where is God when all the devils of hell and their commander, Satan himself, are pressing upon Him every threat and inducement to sin? Where is God when He who taught about His own resurrection can't see through the portals of the tomb? When the embodiment of hope is feeling hopeless? Where is God when the cry wells from the bowels of His spirit, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Mark 15:34.

God is there. He is in the darkness. You can't see Him. Can't feel Him. But He is there. Because He always is. And he is Omnipresent. He may seem like a silent God. It may feel as though He is playing a cruel, cosmic game of hide and seek, but He is still there.

Jesus knew this. When the cup of salvation trembled in the balance, He filled it with the bounties of His saving grace. Jesus cried with a loud voice and said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Luke 24:46. Then the Victor bowed His head to die a sinless death.

Jesus knows the loneliness of being forsaken by friends. He understands the penetrating hurt that comes from feeling like you've been betrayed by your church. He has bravely stood in the halls of justice when justice has fled. And He has manfully wrestled in the darkness with dagger-like doubts that assail one's faith. Through it all, He has shown us that if every earthly support system lets us down, we can still have faith. Not faith in our friends, the church, or the legal system. Not a faith that depends upon the sight of day. But faith that lives in the darkness. Faith that trusts God as a loving Father who will never forsake you nor leave you.

Jesus had moments of testing during His last hours on earth. And so will we. During these times, we will need to remember the words of a popular song that says: "God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. So when you don't understand, when you can't see His plan, when you can't trace His hand, trust His heart."


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