Trust and Verify

Trust and Verify February 23, 2024

Trust and Verify

The lectionary lessons for the Second Sunday in Lent are an unusual mix: Genesis 9, Romans 4, and Mark 8. Walter Brueggemann observes, “The lectionary committee has done a hard and mean thing to us. It has juxtaposed to these powerful texts about Abraham and Sarah a Gospel story in which Jesus says, ‘I must die, I must be crucified.’ Then Jesus, in the face of Peter’s resistance, gives us a powerful, frightening invitation: “If anyone would follow me, let them …. take up their cross …. Those who lose their life for my sake …. will save it.”

There is a huge gap between Peter’s confession of faith, “You are the Christ,” and Peter’s rebuke of Jesus’ mission of suffering and death. We have millions of believers, but how many of us are willing to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake?

Photo by Pixabay

I grew up singing “Trust and Obey.” This was a happy, smiling, easy going faith. This was happy, sappy, and snappy, the snap, crackle, and pop faith. The Rice Krispies church. Add sugar and enjoy. This faith drove away the shadows, the clouds, the doubts, the fears, the sighs and tears, the burdens and sorrows. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way / To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

The lyrics didn’t match the reality of everyday life. My fellow evangelicals are not a happy bunch today. They are feeling angry and ignored. Roderick Hart, in his work Trump and Us, argues they are feeling conflicted, ignored, trapped, besieged, and tired. “Trust and Obey” fails to touch these deep emotions.

There’s another phrase that may be more honest. I borrow it from President Ronald Reagan. In dealing with the Soviet Union, Ronald Reagan skillfully used the phrase “trust, but verify.”

President Ronald Reagan
Photo by Pixabay

We believe a God who created the universe – whether from nothing or from pre-existing matter – but a universe prepared for our coming. We believe a God who promised an old man and an old woman – when they were as good as dead – a son of promise. We believe a God who brought up an obscure people from the slave pits of Egypt in defiance of Pharaoh and gave them a promised land. We believe a God who demands our total allegiance through a Son who was born, suffered, died, and raised from the dead. And we spend our lives verifying the faith – in word and deed.

Peter correctly says Jesus is the Messiah. But he doesn’t get Jesus’ mission. Joel Marcus, in his Anchor Bible Commentary, Mark 8-16, says, “Peter’s objection to Jesus’ prophecy, natural though it may be, represents a fall from grace into the realm of demonic delusion.”

We think we have God all figured out. Then God acts in a way that we didn’t see coming. At ease in Zion, we are blind to the ways of God. In the Jewish traditions and the New Testament, the devil is frequently portrayed as the blinder of human beings. We have eyes but do not see. What if the problem is our blindness?

What if we get “who” but fail to understand “how”. After all, we are good at spouting beliefs. Creeds, statements of faith, articles of belief, confessions of faith.

No matter how secular we are, and we are so secular, everyone still wants Jesus on their side. People may not be going to church as much, but they still want to think Jesus is on their side. Jesus has become the sponsor of more hair-brained ideas and schemes than we can count.

The recent controversy about the “He Gets Us” ads during the Super Bowl has liberals and evangelicals criticizing the message in the ads. The evangelicals thought the ads pushed a social gospel Jesus – an image they can’t stomach. Liberals thought the ads were wrong because they were sponsored by fundamentalist billionaire who keeps his stores closed on Sunday and has supported anti-gay causes.

In Believing in Jesus Christ, Presbyterian theologian Leanne Van Dyk writes, “You can order a Visa card from the Internet with a picture of Jesus on it. A Jesus Visa. The whole site pitches the card with the line, ‘Show the world your love for the most high’; the more you use your credit card, the more you show your love for Jesus. . . . You can load a Jesus screensaver onto your computer. You can buy Jesus playing cards, Jesus bumper stickers, Jesus bookmarks, key chains, lapel pins, earrings.” Van Dyk says that ever since Jesus walked and talked with his followers 2,000 years ago, people have defined him to reflect their own priorities, agendas, and aspirations and “enlisted him to support a hopelessly long, often contradictory, and sometimes spectacularly foolish list of causes and convictions.”

Popes, bishops, and soldiers in the Middle Ages believed Jesus was summoning Europe to the cause of the Crusades. The church has believed Jesus approved colonial conquests of Africa, Asia, South America, and North America in the Age of Empires. American Christians believed God allowed, even required, the institution of American slavery (Van Dyk, pp. 1–2).

What if the gnawing human insecurity leaves some of us always needing some group that we can feel superior to and better than? When all the groups are made equal in the sight of God, what are the Christians going to do?

Into our mistrustful, selfish, greedy culture Jesus calls us to lose our lives for his sake.

Trust the God who spoke the universe into existence. Trust the God who gave a baby to old Sarah and Abraham. Trust the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

Stay in verification mode all the time. Checking everything twice. Going over the evidence, all of it, a third time like a detective known as a “grinder.”

Look under every rock. Turn over every leaf. Read everything. Use everything. Ask every question as if you were an inquisitive three-year old. Is that what Jesus meant when he said “become like a child”? “Just checking.”

Trust and verify.


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