In God We Trust
I once read an article in which the author mused on how much we have to trust an anonymous driver we know nothing about as we zoom down a two-lane highway at 60+ miles per hour with the oncoming car closing the distance between us at a similar rate. (1)The two vehicles speed down the road, staring each other in the headlights until they narrowly miss a head-on demolition separated by only a flat, narrow, painted, center line.
This article resurfaced in my musings when Aspen and I were in Türkiye, (the traditional pronunciation for what most of us know as Turkey). Although we walked over 110 miles during our Middle Eastern adventure, we couldn’t use our feet to get everywhere, so we boarded a 15-passenger tour bus to visit the ancient city of Ephesus. The driver was a good-natured, laid-back man who was clearly very comfortable behind the wheel. As we sped down the narrow two-lane, he conversed with the tour guide, chatted on his cell-phone, and responded to texts. Any professional driver in the US who did the same would lose his license, but clearly, the tour driver had never heard of such prohibitions.
I began to think about what it means to be a tourist in a strange country depending on (and thus trusting) whoever is driving the bus/taxi/Uber/tour bus/airplane. In their country, the roads are governed by customs, laws and traffic conventions they understand far better than I do. Still, sometimes it takes a conscious decision to trust the driver and concentrate on enjoying the unfamiliar scenery.
A week later, in Petra, Jordan, we opted to take a camel ride just for fun. Being unacquainted with camel physiology, I was unprepared for the extreme angle that resulted when the driver ordered his beast to get up—rear end first; I was nearly pitched out of my saddle over the camel’s head. Once we were again level, the driver gave the command to move out, and the camel began her rolling walk across the ancient city. Sitting atop this very-tall creature (decorated in henna because her handler thought she was the most beautiful of his camels) who periodically expressed her displeasure with a loud yawl, I was struck by the necessity of trusting both the camel and her handler, since I had no idea about the nuances of the art of camel caravanning.
A few days later in Amman, we dropped off the rental car Aspen had been driving around the desert of south Jordan. The rental agent kindly offered us a ride to our Airbnb. Initially, I was a bit taken back to find the customary distance between moving vehicles reduced to fractions of inches. The former taxi-driver maneuvered through rush hour talking and gesticulated with his hands, pointing out sights along the way, and narrowly missing all four cars around him as he shifted unflinchingly from “lane” to “lane,” with hardly a glance in the rearview mirror. Again, I had to take a few breaths and remember to choose not to worry about whether we would arrive intact. This was, after all, his city.
During our stay in Amman, we rode in a variety of Ubers, few of which had seatbelts—those that existed were so stiff with disuse that they were virtually unbuckle-able. It seems seat belts are not a thing in Jordan. And then there was the taxi ride from the ancient Roman city of Jerash back to Amman. The bright yellow car was equipped with no shocks so we felt the metal jolt of the frame with every bump. It putted up the hills on the Jordanian equivalent of an interstate at about ten miles an hour, then roared down the other side gathering speed so that it wouldn’t lose putt-putt power before it reached the top of the next steep hill (Jordan is a very mountainous country). I became a bit concerned when the brakes began to smoke, but then I realized it didn’t matter—the driver didn’t know how to use them anyway. Having already come to the conclusion that my job was simply to trust whoever was driving whatever conveyance I found myself in, I just swallowed and waited for Amman to appear on the horizon.
Later, when we crossed the King Hussein Bridge from Jordan to Israel by commercial bus, we had to trust the driver not only for his road skills, but also for his understanding of the very complicated, multi-step system of checkpoints that involved getting on and off of the bus, loading and unloading our luggage, and waiting through long lines directed by grumpy passport-control officers several times on each side of the border (the Jordanians and the Israelis don’t trust each other much). It was a tense and stressful process in which the bus driver served as immigration guide. We just had to do whatever we were told, little of which made sense as we had only a limited understanding of the arduous process and understood neither Arabic nor Hebrew.
All of this trusting-by-virtue-of-necessity made me wonder about trust in general. We Americans (and particularly we western Americans) kind of like to be in control. We prefer to drive our own cars whenever possible. If we aren’t following our own itinerary, we at least want to know the agenda, so we can keep watch to make sure the plan hasn’t gone awry. We are quick to make “suggestions” if we don’t think someone is handling things quite the way they should (or the way we would). We do, out of necessity, trust the oncoming driver to stay in his lane, but we would really rather be handling our own fate.
But are we ever really in control? Or is being in charge just a comfortable fantasy to which we cling? Because we were in someone else’s world during our Middle Eastern travels, Aspen and I often had to abandon that illusion, but is it different when we are home in our own comfort zones? We understand the situations better and know what to expect, but can we really control our own circumstances any more at home than we can abroad?
We certainly think we can influence our outcomes. We follow American rules about not texting and driving or wearing our seatbelts because we believe they make us safer. After all, we’ve all seen the test videos showing unseatbelted crash dummies smashing windshields in contrived collisions or pictures of mangled cars after texting accidents. Yet throughout our travels, no one seemed particularly worried over these things, and we got where we were going just fine.
The truth is that whenever we tuck ourselves into a metal compartment and accelerate to highway speeds (or airspeeds), we are forced to trust not only the oncoming driver, but also the engineer who designed the vehicle, the mechanic who tightened the lug nuts on our tires, the programmer of the traffic lights, and hundreds of other unknown people whose existence we rarely acknowledge.
When we trust all those fallible individuals and the systems that integrate their efforts to keep everything running smoothly, we are, in reality, resting in the hands of the only One who is truly trustworthy. Only He has real power over our safety, our well-being, our peace of mind, or our potential for joy. When we worry, (though He told us not to (Matt 6:25; Luke 12:22)) and let our story-telling minds build all kinds of scenarios about the most unfortunate outcomes, we don’t remove ourselves from His protection. We do, however, put ourselves through the mentally-constructed trauma as if all the worst things we can imagine had happened. We can remain more at peace, even in dangerous situations, if we concentrate on trusting the only One who is in a position to influence the result.
A sign on the wall of a church I visited recently read, “When fear knocks, let faith answer the door.”(2) Of course it isn’t ever as easy as that sounds. It takes years of practice before trust instead of fear becomes our first reaction, rather than a last resort when nothing else has worked. Even after we have become pretty consistent at remembering to trust first, fear can wiggle its way back into our souls and make us forget everything He has so painstakingly taught us.
Nor do trust and faith provide guarantees that He will fulfill His promise to be ever-faithful in the ways we request or anticipate (our prayers, after all, are often just extensions of our own plans in search of a divine stamp of approval). He told us we will face difficult, even agonizing situations (“In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33b)), but even when He leads us into something unexpected, bewildering, or unpleasant; even when it seems to us that disaster is immanent (or has already occurred), He is still in charge (“…but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33c)). Our circumstances haven’t degenerated into chaos, although they may seem quixotically confusing and sometimes bear painful or unwanted lessons.
Through it all, God continues to sit next to us. Like a cockpit trainer flying with a fledgling pilot, He constantly instructs, corrects, and reassures even as he sets up terrifying training scenarios designed to teach us the nuances of flying this thing we call life. He allows us to panic and even to screw up as we gradually become conversant with both the dangers and the joys of flight, but He is always there to take the wheel at the last minute before we crash irrevocably.
The problem is that His definition of irrevocable is based on His eternal altimeter, while we see only from a terrestrial vantage point. What seems a truly unrecoverable disaster to us may, in His infinite estimation, be only minor turbulence. We have to trust Him without being able to assess His wider view (“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29)). Once again, we find ourselves with little choice but to trust what we cannot control or comprehend.
None of this means I am planning to abandon my American habit of clicking the seat belt every time I sit down in a car or an airplane, but just as I had to do during the very long taxi trip from Jerash to Amman, I will practice choosing not to worry and remember that I am in the Hands of the One who knows the whole flight plan.
In Christ’s Peace
Notes: (only for those with an academic’s pedantic need for citations)
(1) This is where, as an academic, I should credit the author of said article, but I can’t. I have no idea who came up with the idea that led to these musings, where it was published, nor when I read it. It is just part of the body of uncreditable thoughts in my head which I can’t claim as my own, but for which I have no recollection of the source. The truth is that very little of what I think I have thought up is truly original. We all build our inspirations and ideas from construction materials collected over years from things people have said, bits of reading that have stuck in our heads, random observations from our experiences and the lives of the people around us, and occasional Divine nudges (not all of which we recognize as God’s instead of our own). My mental construction shed looks a lot like my husband’s shop—a left over brick here; a scrap of board there; a few nails and a random screw swept off the floor; a can of not-quite-congealed paint from the top shelf; and something kept safe in a small tin with a lid that once bore a label, now faded beyond reading. Out of these bits and pieces, with a little slightly-unconventional cerebral engineering, perhaps I can construct something interesting, educational, thought-provoking, or entertaining. Unfortunately, the many contributors to this effort must remain unnamed for lack of proper cataloging. Perhaps my own cobbled-together inspirations may find their way onto the anonymous shelves in the mental tool sheds of my readers, to be recycled later into their new ideas and further developed insights.
(2) Blue Ridge Community Fellowship, Seneca, South Carolina.